Sexual Health Communication, Peer Networks, & Sexual Health Education

Open Access
Porter, Andrew William
Graduate Program:
Biobehavioral Health
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 17, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Jennifer Elise Graham Engeland, Dissertation Advisor
  • Lori Anne Francis, Committee Member
  • Steven A Branstetter, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Special Member
  • sexual education
  • peer networks
  • dissemination
  • health education
  • health
  • sex
  • communication
The majority of American teenagers become sexually active while they are still developing physically, emotionally, and intellectually. This leaves them ill-equipped to handle the potential negative consequences of unprotected sex. Adolescents report that they use their peers as their primary source for sexual health information. However, peer sexual health communication has not been researched extensively. This study examines three aspects of peer sexual health communication using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. The data come from a weekly survey about peer sexual health communication that was administered in 2009 to students taking a sexual health course. Using these data, this study examines the characteristics of students who are more likely to share sexual health information with their peers, how students describe the contextual factors surrounding peer sexual health communication, and the effects of a sexual health course on peer sexual health communication. In the study, female students shared sexual health information more frequently than men. Peer sexual health discussions were largely triggered by the life events of students or those close to them. Students drew upon materials from the sexual health course as they provided advice and emotional support to their peers. At times, this support turned into assistance in seeking medical testing and treatment. There were some gender-based differences in perceptions of safer sex and menstruation that are likely due to personal relevance. Over the course of the semester, the frequency with which students had sexual health discussions with their peers decreased, contrary to expectations. However, there were some short-term increased after novel topics were introduced. In addition to these findings, implications for teaching practice and areas for additional research are discussed.