Let’s Talk. College Men and Women Discuss Sexual Issues

Shinne, Emilia, Linda Slowik, and Carol Weisfeld

Many studies have documented the efficacy of role-playing (or active simulation) as a classroom technique for teaching a variety of learning outcomes, including decision-making skills for nurses (Gropelli, 2010), clinical skills for psychotherapists (Fernandez-Liria, et al., 2010), and communication skills related to sexual issues for adolescents (Crepaz, et al., 2009; Gurdin, et al., 2008). At the same time, research (Gottman & Levenson, 1999) shows that females are more comfortable discussing sensitive issues than men are. This study investigated two questions related to college students at a small, religiously-affiliated university:

1)   1) Are female students more comfortable than male students, when it comes to discussing sexual topics? Are males more comfortable discussing sports?

2)   2) If students are assigned role-playing tasks related to sexual issues, in small-group discussions over a semester, will their self-perceived comfort levels improve?

One hundred fifty-one undergraduate students enrolled in four sections of a basic psychology course on human sexuality were assessed on the first day of class (pre-test) and last day of class (post-test). Eight questions were asked about their comfort level when talking face-to-face about sports, relationship problems, sexual problems, sexual orentation, sexually transmitted infections (STI's), sex education, jealousy and music. During the semester, students participated in four small-group discussions in class, in which they took turns role-playing in
response to a relevant scenario (e.g., "You have herpes. You have a new relationship. How do you tell your partner?") Small-group discussions were followed by whole-class reviews of what the optimal responses were, and why. Results were the following: 1) Contrary to our expectations, no sex differences were found in any topic areas. 2) There were significant improvements in comfort level with discussing sexual problems, STI's, sex education, and jealousy over the course of the semester (p < .01). No differences over time were found with relationship problems or with sexual orientation. (No differences over time had been expected with sports and music.) Conclusions: Perhaps because this is a self-selected sample in terms of who enrolled in the class, no sex differences were found. Using role-playing in classroom groups may be an effective teaching approach for enhancing communication skills for discussing sexual issues.