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Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

Social Learning Theory and Sexuality Education

Social Learning Theory (SLT) has been applied to sexuality education as well as many other areas of health education, including tobacco use prevention, substance abuse prevention and violence prevention. Since SLT aims to change behavior in participants, it is a good fit for prevention-based sexuality programs — for example, those that aim to prevent pregnancy by preventing sexual involvement or increasing condom use — as opposed to more comprehensive family life programs. SLT is a particularly good fit for pregnancy, STI and HIV prevention programs because:

  • Sexual behavior is influenced by personal knowledge, skills, attitudes, interpersonal relationships, and environmental influences. All of these factors are addressed in SLT.

  • Teens receive few, if any, positive models for healthy sexual behavior. Modeling positive and healthy sexuality-related behavior to youth is extremely important. Because sexual behaviors often happen in private settings, much of what youth observe modeled about sex takes place on TV and in movies, popular music and magazines. The majority of this modeled behavior — early sexual activity, violence combined with sex, no mention of protection, no discussions about risks — is counter to what family life educators are trying to teach youth.

  • It provides youth with behavioral skills practice. Youth actually practice the skills — for example, saying "no" to pressure to have sex, or putting on a condom — that they will use in their real lives. In the area of sexuality, teens often do not get a chance to "practice" these prevention skills before they are in the actual situations where they need them.

    Teaching youth specific behavioral skills is crucial in an effective prevention program. Unfortunately, many sexuality programs over emphasize cognitive learning and fail to address the behavioral aspects of becoming and staying sexually healthy.


Next: Some Specific Social Learning Theories