Your sex ed class probably looked a lot like mine: Awkward laughs, a nervous teacher, even more nervous students, and a whole lot of blushing at diagrams and videos. But that might change soon. The future of sex education could be peer-led teachings — or at least, it should be — according to a new study in the Journal of Sex Research by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The researched looked at 15 reviews of peer-led sexual health education programs to see how effective these types of programs actually were. And what did they find? Well, teens teaching each other about sex is way more effective than you might think.
In 12 of those programs there were increases in sexual health knowledge and in 13 there were 'attitude' improvements. Only 10 of the studies looked to see if there had been behavioral changes— like having safer sex— and they found that students would need longer exposure to the program to show improvement. But one thing was really encouraging: the researchers found that participants were more engaged in peer-led sessions. Which makes sense, because who are you going to pay more attention to when you're a teenager being forced to learn about sex— your chemistry teacher who looks mortified when they have to say the word "penis" to a room full of students? Or someone your own age, who you could actually imagine yourself talking to? And the more students are engaged, the better a chance they have at actually learning something.
"Having a peer teach them about sex has the ability to be able to speak to them on their level."
"It's no secret that we need to reassess the way we approach sex education for today's teens," sexologist and relationship expert Dr. Nikki Goldstein tells Bustle. "They are most exposed to sexual imagery than every before and many learning from porn. Having a peer teach them about sex has the ability to be able to speak to them on their level. Some adults might feel disconnected to them and also in a position of authority, which could take away from education and make sex feel like a taboo, something that will only entice teens to explore it more. However it also seem that this type of program has still more to go with behavioral changes being non significant. It would need to be ensured that the peer who is teaching is doing so in an adequate way with the right information and support and that others feel comfortable with them."
Though it's important to note that the authors were not surprised that there were no behavior changes, because there was only a short time before the follow up took place and it normally takes longer for programs to have a behavioral influence. So it would be interesting to see if there were behavior effects after students were taught by your peers for a longer time.
With a new study from Teva Women's Health, the makers of Plan B One-Step, and The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, discovering that most sexually active college students admitting to not using contraception consistently — or believing that they're at risk for unintended pregnancy — it's crucial we step up sex education. And if peer-led sex ed is a way to get teens engaged, I'm all for it.