Factors influencing empowerment around female sexual health: A phenomenological study of grade 9 students
Liora Naroditsky (a) and Dr. Wendy Stewart (a,b)
(a) Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick
(b) Horizon Health Network
There is an abundance of qualitative research demonstrating that better sexual health education correlates with improved mental, physical and social health in adolescent females. There is a paucity of qualitative research that explores the ways of administering sexual health education to better meet the needs of youth. Using the method of phenomenology, this study sought to explore the experiences of grade nine female youth with the quality of sex education they received thus far, and their views on their own sexual health, including sexuality, relationships and empowerment. Two 1-hour focus groups of 5-6 female students aged 14-15 years were conducted in two high schools. The sessions were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed. During analysis, data was coded and then organized into themes and subthemes. Three main themes were identified: enablers and barriers to feeling empowered in life; sexual health education barriers and successes; and perceptions and understandings of gender, sexuality and sexual health. Participants indicated that empowerment significantly affected their abilities to make decisions, including those related to sexual health. Participants also shared that receiving sex education in school was most valuable when their teacher seemed comfortable with and open to teaching sex-related topics. Participants also recognized that they often encounter unfair gender stereotypes and societal pressures. Teaching around empowerment could assist female youth in decision-making around sexual health. The implication of this study is that the sexual health curriculum could be improved in New Brunswick. These data will be used to promote discussion around potential changes.