"Smart boys" and "sweet girls"-sex education needs in Thai teenagers: a mixed-method study
Background: In Thailand, rapid increases in economic prosperity have been accompanied by erosion of traditional cultural and religious values and by negative effects on sexual health of young people. We investigated knowledge, attitudes, norms, and values of teenagers, parents, teachers, and policymakers in relation to sex and sex education in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with a view to informing sex education policy. Methods: We selected six secondary schools for maximum variation in socioeconomic background, religious background, and location. Methods were: narrative interviews with key stakeholders, and analysis of key policy documents; questionnaire survey of 2301 teenagers; 20 focus groups of teenagers; questionnaire survey of 351 parents; and two focus groups of parents. Qualitative and quantitative data were assessed separately with thematic and statistical analysis, respectively, then combined. Findings: We noted five important influences on Thai teenagers' sexual attitudes and behaviour: ambiguous social roles leading to confused identity; heightened sexual awareness and curiosity; key gaps in knowledge and life skills; limited parental input; and impulsivity and risk-taking. Male teenagers aspire to be "smart boys", whose status depends on stories of sexual performance and conquests. Female teenagers, traditionally constrained and protected as "sweet girls", are managing a new concept of dating without their parents' support, and with few life skills to enable them to manage their desires or negotiate in potentially coercive situations. School-based sex education is biologically focused and inconsistently delivered. Interpretation: Results of this large exploratory study suggest five approaches that could be developed to improve sex education: targeted training and support for teachers; peer-led sex education by teenagers; story-based scenarios to promote applied learning; local development of educational materials; and use of trained sexual health professionals to address learning needs of pupils, teachers, and parents. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.