Out of the box : exploring adolescent questions and concerns in sex education

Studies of adolescent sexuality rarely extend beyond the scope of sexual health knowledge and behavior. This exploratory study examines the anonymous questions of a sample of U.S. young people during a comprehensive sex education course in the San Francisco Bay Area. Questions are analyzed to identify what students are most interested to learn, and how various external influences may shape their questions. Approximately 7,000 anonymous questions from students in grades five through nine were catalogued, coded, and analyzed. Topics of anatomy, sex, and reproduction were most frequently addressed in questions from all age groups, though the types of questions varied based on their age group. While many of the questions focus on scientific and medicalized understandings of sexual health, the language employed suggests that media, peers, and social norms considerably affect these young people and their developing understanding of sexuality. I conclude with recommendations for educators to better address themes that emerge from these adolescents’ curiosities and concerns.