About the Author: Kalina Lamb is a Health Psychology PhD student at Oregon State University researching sexual minority health and religion and health topics. She is passionate about health equity and inclusive education. This is part of our series of Research Advancing Pedagogy (RAP) blogs, designed to share the latest pedagogical research from across the disciplines in a pragmatic format
It’s no surprise that comprehensive sex education can lead to a number of positive outcomes including reduced STI incidence and unwanted pregnancy.1,2 What is surprising, however, is that not everyone may be benefitting from this type of education equally.
Beginning in adolescence, young men and women are treated differently when it comes to sex education.3 Compared to teenage boys, teenage girls tend to receive more comprehensive sex education both from their parents and their schools, and they tend to receive this information earlier.3 It would be one thing if we found that men were just slow to learn or engage with these topics, but these differences in quality and timing of education may be persisting and extending into the higher education spheres.
What did they do and find?
In a recent study, researchers at Clemson University4, found that women outnumbered men across 58 human sexuality courses taught at 51 four-year universities and colleges. The average female to male ratio in human sexuality courses ranged from 3/1 to 6/1. Furthermore, subsequent analyses of a subsample of these courses at Clemson University specifically revealed these differences were not adequately explained by the predominantly female majors (e.g., psychology and social sciences) in which these courses are typically housed.
Some potential reasons for these male to female discrepancies in human sexuality classes could be gender roles (e.g., masculinity norms) and stereotypes about human sexuality course content.4 Men may tend to believe that they don’t “need” human sexuality education, or that it’s a course that covers topics more oriented towards women. Regardless of what men believe about their own sex education, there may be practical benefits to increasing male enrollment in human sexuality courses. Specifically, instructors anecdotally report that class discussions are better when more men are enrolled.4 Furthermore, comprehensive sex education can improve academic success and prevent dating violence in youth; increasing male enrollment in human sexuality courses could lead to improvements in these areas on college campuses as well.
So what does this mean for practice? There are several solutions that institutions may wish to consider if they want to increase male enrollment in human sexuality courses:
- Increased Marketing: Universities may benefit from promoting human sexuality courses to their students in a way that makes it clear that this course can benefit everyone. Departments that house human sexuality courses may want to consider targeted and purposeful recruiting efforts to enroll more men into these courses.
- More Online Human Sexuality Courses: An interesting finding from the study was that offering more online human sexuality courses may increase male enrollment.4 This may be a good option to increase male enrollment, as it overcomes some masculinity concerns and provides some privacy and anonymity.
- Making Human Sexuality a “Bacc Core”: A more extreme (but probably worthwhile) option to consider would be to make these courses required for all undergraduate students. Much like students are required to enroll in a history course, a math course, and a writing course to complete their general education or baccalaureate requirements, institutions may wish to consider adding Human Sexuality to the list.
Regardless of whether the solution is an extreme or more practical one, higher education institutions should be taking a closer look at their Human Sexuality courses and doing something to encourage male enrollment.
- Guttmacher Institute. (2017). American Adolescents’ Sources of Sexual Health Information.
- Szydlowski, M. B. (2015). Sexual health education and academic success: Effective programs foster student achievement. Advocates for Youth.
- Martinez, G., Abama, J., & Copen, C. (2010). Educating teenagers about sex in the United States. Hyattsville, MD: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44.
- King, B. M., Burke, S. R., & Gates, T. M. (2019). Is there a gender difference in US college students’ desire for school-based sexuality education? Sex Education. 1-10.