Comfort Levels and Communication Styles of Sexual Health Educators: An Interdisciplinary Study

Open access


This study explored sexual health education (SHE) through the lens of public school educators in the United States of America. It examined their comfort levels and the barriers educators faced by asking, “How comfortable are educators when communicating sexual health topics to adolescents for them to build a foundation to become sexually healthy adults?” The qualitative, phenomenological study included 11 public school teachers among three school districts in the State of Indiana. Conducting intimate, face-to-face interviews with participants advanced and expanded interdisciplinary research. Educators shared their beliefs and values regarding SHE instruction and levels of sexuality comfort. Three findings emerged from the data that can contribute to research in the fields of education, public policy, public health, and communication: (1) An inclusive sexual health education program can provide educators with more sexuality comfort, (2) Teacher training and instructional materials relate to an educator’s sexuality comfort level and willingness to communicate SHE, and (3) An educator’s level of sexuality comfort may likely increase if engaged in SHE decision-making policies. At the time of the study, State policies prohibited comprehensive education, although participants preferred a more inclusive approach to teaching, SHE. Additionally, the concept of sexuality comfort (1984) was reconstructed and revised. This study offered an in-depth exploration into a topic - sexual health - that affects all individuals and established a foundation for future qualitative and quantitative studies.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • American Adolescents’ Sources of Sexual Health Information. (2017). Adolescents’ reports of formal Sexual Health Education. Retrieved from Guttmacher Institute website

  • Auteri S. (2017 February 19). The way we teach sex-ed is old and ineffective. Here’s how to fix it. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from The Week website

  • Burleson B.R. & Samter W. (1990). Effects of cognitive complexity on the perceived importance of communication skills in friends. Communication Research 17(2) 65-182.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (March 27 2019). Sexual risk behavior: HIV STD and teen pregnancy prevention. Retrieved from

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017 October 16). National center for HIV/AIDS viral hepatitis STD and TB prevention. Retrieved from

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). New findings from CDC survey suggest too few schools teach prevention of HIV STDs pregnancy. Retrieved from

  • Check J. (1985). Communication skills in the classroom. Physical Educator42(2) 76.

  • Frymier A.B. & Houser M.L. (2000). The teacher-student relationship as an interpersonal relationship. Communication Education49(3) 207-219.

  • Graham C.A. & Smith M.M. (1984). Operationalizing the concept of sexuality comfort: Applications for sexuality educators. Journal of School Health54(11) 439-442.

  • Greenan K.A. (2018). Revised definition of sexuality comfort.

  • Hoff T. & Greene L. (2000). Sex education in America. A series of national surveys of students parents teachers and principals. A view from inside the nation’s classrooms. Retrieved from Kaiser Family Foundation website

  • Indiana Department of Education (2019). Search school and corporation reports. Retrieved from IDOE website

  • Indiana General Assembly 2018 Session. (2018). Senate Bill 65. Retrieved from Indiana General Assembly website

  • Indiana General Assembly 2014 Session. (2017). Title 20. Education. Retrieved from Indiana General Assembly website

  • Kelly N. (2018 January 31). Senate okays requiring sex education consent. The Journal Gazette. Retrieved from

  • Lawrence J.F. Crosson A.C. Paré-Blagoev J.E. & Snow C.E. (2015). Word generation randomize trial: Discussion mediates the impact of program treatment on academic word learning. American Educational Research Journal52(4) 750-786.

  • McCroskey J.C. & Richmond V.P. (2013). Willingness to communicate (WTC). Measurement Instrument Database for the Social Science. Retrieved from

  • McCroskey J.C. (1992). Reliability and validity of the willingness to communicate scale. Communication Quarterly40(1) 16-25.

  • McCroskey J.C. & Richmond V.P. (1987). Willingness to communicate. In J.C. McCroskey & J.A. Daly (Eds.) Personality and Interpersonal Communication (pp 119-131). Newbury Park CA: Sage.

  • Office of Adolescent Health. (2015). Indiana adolescent reproductive health facts. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website

  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (2011 October 3; updated 2016). New poll: Parents are talking with their kids about sex but often not tackling harder issues. Retrieved from

  • Saldana J. (2009). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers. London UK: Sage Publications Ltd.

  • Santelli J. Ott M. Lyon M. Rogers J. Summers D. & Schleifer R. (2006). Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs. Journal of Adolescent Health38(1) 72-81.

  • Seidman I. (2013). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences (4th ed.). New York NY: Teachers College Press.

  • Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). (2015). State profiles: Fiscal year 2015. Indiana. Retrieved from SIECUS website

  • Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). (2008). Sexuality education Q & A. Retrieved from SIECUS website

  • Shoemaker D. (1987). Sex education: The dissemination of family planning services and contraceptives in public school. Journal of Legal Medicine 8(4) 587-611.

  • Stake R.E. (2010). Qualitative research: Studying how things work. New York NY: Guilford Press.

  • State Laws and Policies. (2016). Sex and HIV education. Retrieved from Guttmacher Institute website

  • Stone P. (2007). Opting out?: Why women really quit careers and head home. Berkeley and Los Angeles CA: University of California Press.

Journal information
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 91 91 23
PDF Downloads 63 63 19