Science-Based Higher and Virtual Education Decreases Sexual Prejudices and Discrimination

Most people believe in sexual myths (Nobre & Pinto-Gouveia, 2006; Williams, 1990) — for example, “a woman’s hymen determines her virginity.” Believing in sexual myths often leads to sexual prejudices and discrimination. As a replication and extension of Lucas, Fox, et al., 2019 — who found science-based sex education decreases the chances of a person believing in sexual myths, the present experiment tested if science-based sex education decreases the chances of sexual prejudices and sexually discriminatory behavior from occurring.

Method

86 students (mean age of 24.6 years, SD = 6.5) from three different colleges taking human sexuality courses (Higher Education Condition, HEC); and 44 people (mean age of 22.5, SD = 2.9) recruited by the experimenters to view science-based sex education videos (Virtual Education Condition, VEC), served as participants.

39 of the HEC participants completed a sexual myth test (SMtest), sexual prejudice test (SPtest), and sexual discrimination test (SDtest) before and after completing their human sexuality courses. (47 HEC participants did not complete these tests after their human sexuality courses.) 39 of the VEC participants completed the SMtest, SPtest, and SDtest before and after watching ten videos on the YouTube channel 5MIweekly. (5 VEC participants did not complete the tests after watching the videos.)

The SMtest has 35 true or myth questions about sex. For example, one of the true questions about sex is, “The average length of an aroused clitoris is greater than 4 inches,” and one of the myth questions about sex is, “Masturbation negatively affects a person’s psychological and physical well-being.”

The SMtest ranges from 0 to 35 with higher scores being equal to believing in less sexual myths.

The SPtest has participants rating their feelings about 10 sexual situations on a 5-point Likert scale: -2 “I have a lot of negative feelings about this situation” to +2 “I have a lot of positive feelings about this situation.” For example, one of these situations is, “When I think about elderly people having sex, it makes me feel…”

The SPtest ranges from -20 to +20 with lower scores equaling negative feelings about sexuality and higher scores equaling positive feelings about sexuality.

The SDtest has participants choosing one of five answers about how they would behave in five stories about sexuality. For example, “You are a member of Human Resources and have three applicants for a job at your company. Your three applicants have bachelor’s degrees and between two and four years of work experience. One applicant identifies as a man, one identifies as a transgender woman, and one has chosen not to identify their gender.

Who do you hire?

a. The man.

b. The transgender woman.

c. Hire the person who did not give their gender.

d. Do not hire any of them.

e. Hire the one with the most work experience.

The SDtest ranges from -5 to +10 with 0 being equal to no sexual discrimination and negative and positive scores equaling reverse and non-reverse sexual discrimination, respectively.

Click here for a copy of the Sexual Myth, Sexual Prejudice, and Sexual Discrimination Tests with a key to their answers.

Results

Higher Education Condition participants mean percentage of correct answers on the SMtest before their human sexuality courses was 63.1% (22.1/35, SD = 4.2) and after it was 75.1% (26.3/35, SD = 4.2), t = 7.13, df = 38, p < .0001. Virtual Education Condition participants mean percentage of correct answers on the SMtest before watching 5MIweekly videos was 63.6% (22.3/35, SD = 3.7) and after watching it was 68.5% (24.0/35, SD = 4.1), t = 3.60, df = 38, p < .0009.

HEC participants mean score on the SPtest before their human sexuality courses was -1.1 (SD = 3.5) and after it was 0.4 (SD = 4.6), t = 2.41, df = 38, p < .02. VEC participants mean score on the SPtest before watching 5MIweekly videos was -0.2 (SD = 5.0) and after watching it was -0.6 (SD = 4.6), t = 0.70, df = 38, p > .05.

HEC participants mean score on the SDtest before their human sexuality courses was -0.4 (SD = 1.5) and after it was -0.8 (SD = 1.4), t = 2.10, df = 38, p < .04. VEC participants mean score on the SDtest before watching 5MIweekly videos was -0.5 (SD = 1.1) and after watching it was -0.8 (SD = 1.0), t = 1.9, df = 38, p < .06.

Discussion

Completing a college-level human-sexuality course significantly decreases the chances of a student believing in sexual myths, having negative feelings about sexuality, and behaving in sexually discriminatory ways. Whereas watching science-based sex education videos significantly decreases the chances of a person believing in sexual myths and behaving in sexually discriminatory ways. These results are evidence for science-based sex education having benefits beyond an increased knowledge and including personal, social, and societal development. Further, the science-based sex education videos’ results in particular demonstrate a college-level human sexuality course is not required for people to acquire these benefits.

This is the abstract of a talk given at the 2021 Southwestern Psychological Association. A video of this talk can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmPNygWw8Bo

References

Lucas, D. R., Fox, J., Kelley, K., Goguen, D., Matthews, T., Cefre, K., & Faulk, E. (2019). Dispelling sexual myths with higher and virtual education. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Psychological Association, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Nobre, P., & Pinto-Gouveia, J. (2006). Dysfunctional sexual beliefs as vulnerability factors to sexual dysfunction. Journal of Sex Research, 43, 68–75.

Williams, W. (1990). Sexual myths in the male. Australian Family Physician, 19, 857–860.

Dr. Don Lucas, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. He loves psychology, teaching, and research.

If you like this story, then check out Don’s videos on his YouTube channel, 5MIweekly: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQFQ0vPPNPS-LYhlbKOzpFw/featured, follow him on Instagram @5MIweekly, like him on Facebook: http://fb.me/5MIWeekly, and check out his website: http://5Miweekly.com

I am a Professor of Psychology at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. My research focus is human sexuality. I also host a YouTube channel, 5MIweekly.

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