This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Contextualizing Relationship Education Effects on Adolescent Attitude toward Sexual Behavior Delay: Considering Class Social Climate




Morrison, Sandra

Type of Degree



Human Development and Family Studies


Using data from a statewide relationship education (RE) program targeting youth, this study used a more complex theory-driven and empirically-based model to explore the influence of the program on adolescent attitudes about delaying sexual behavior. Prior research on RE efficacy in the domain of sexual attitudes was inconclusive and relied on methods for assessing program effects that did not consider the shared variance within classes and the potential influence of individual demographics and social climate. This study examined RE efficacy with a diverse sample that included a significant number of African American students and explored whether gender and ethnicity moderated changes in attitudes about sexual delay. Further, multilevel modeling procedures allowed the examination of both individual and class level predictors. Class level predictors included RE participant/nonparticipant group, the proportion of African American students in the class, and the proportion of sexually active students in the class. Interactions among potential moderators of the RE program effects were also explored. Results indicated that gender influences attitude change regarding sexual delay, such that females demonstrated more overall attitude change. However, when examining moderators of the RE program effect, gender and gender by ethnicity were found to influence indicators of program efficacy regarding attitudes about sexual behavior. Females in RE classes were less likely to change their attitude towards endorsing waiting to have sex and African American females in RE classes were less likely to change their attitude towards endorsing resisting sexual pressure. Aspects of class context were also found to influence attitude change. While the students in classes with a lower proportion of African American classmates had more attitude change in favor of delaying sex than students in classes with higher proportions of African American classmates, the contextual variable more predictive of program effects was the proportion of sexually active classmates. That is, students in classes with lower proportions of sexually active classmates were more likely to change their attitude in favor of delaying sex than students in classes with more sexually active classmates, indicating that behavioral norms are likely more influential than cultural norms. Overall, gender and class context moderated program efficacy confirming the importance of considering both individual social address and social context when assessing program effects. Implications for future research and practice are offered.