DIVA TV Review

Journal of HIV/AIDS Prevention & Education for Adolescents & Children__

November 1997 p.168-170 Haworth Press Inc, Binghamton,NY.

Review : Peer Education Not Fear Education

reviewed by Martha J. Tweed, College of Social Work, San Jose State University

Peer Education, Not Fear Education
compares a reality-based approach in teaching young people about AIDS and sexuality with that of the fear based approach heavily promoted by the religious right over the past five years. Preference is placed on utilizing peers as educators to provide young people with both the knowledge and skills they will need to protect themselves. It is generally accepted that most teens obtain their information about sexuality from peers. Although approximately 85 percent of parents support sex education in the schools and even more support AIDS education, most school settings are not addressing the need to provide both accurate information and social skills. According to a 1992 report prepared by The American Association of University Women (AAUW), schools provide inadequate education on sexuality and healthy development, despite national concern about teen pregnancy, the AIDS crisis, and the increase of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents. Adolescent females are especially at risk. Although in the adult population AIDS is nine times more prevalent in men than in women, the same is not true for young people. According to a District of Columbia study, the rate of HIV infection for girls was almost three times that of boys.

This 27 minute video narrated by Kathleen Payne begins by examining the traditional fear-based curriculum supported primarily by the Christian Coalition. Film clips demonstrate presentations by educators from the religious right attempting to deter adolescents from engaging in sexual activity by scaring them into abstinence. Messages include equating condom usage with "Russian roulette," condoms are said to be an ineffective method of protection because they "tear and break." In actuality, if used properly, condoms are 10,000 times safer than unprotected sex. The fear-based approach is rooted in religious morality, i.e., having sex outside of marriage is immoral. It is also based on the fallacy that presenting information on sexuality to adolescents will result in sexual activity. The Teen-Aid program in Jacksonville, Florida is presented as one example of a fear-based curriculum. This program, adopted by the school board, has an "abstinence only" focus with an emphasis on restoring "moral sanity" to the schools. Attempting to scare adolescents into abstinence fails to address the primary developmental tasks of adolescence, sexual exploration, and the tremendous need for peer group membership. Fright is not likely to be an effective strategy.

Peer Education, Not Fear Education also features comments by various peer educators who discuss the concept of abstinence. They point out that the term "abstinence" is not in the vocabulary of most teens. Peer educators stress that messages reflecting both abstinence and safer sex are needed for a well rounded approach so that young people can choose what is right for them and their lifestyle. Adolescents also need social skills to enable them to follow through with decisions. Emphasis is placed on teaching teens how to talk about sexuality with partners. The importance of an "interactive process" during presentations is emphasized. Role plays are often utilized so that students can practice social situations. Peer educators argue that students are in the best position to provide information on sexuality and HIV to other students. Attention is given to making the presentation of material interesting, fun and interactive.

Although some schools have begun to incorporate AIDS education, serious gaps still exist. A 1991 study found that over half of entering high school freshmen felt they were at less risk of contracting AIDS than other people. A different study of college freshmen indicated that between 12 and 20 percent of those surveyed had significantly inaccurate perceptions about high risk behaviors (Zastrow, 1994). These studies indicate that distorted perceptions of adolescents and young adults regarding HIV still exist.

The video also discusses the issue of communication between parents and children about sexuality and AIDS. Adolescents most often do not discuss sex with their parents and most parents find this subject uncomfortable and embarrassing. Open and honest communication is likely best facilitated when parents initiate discussion with their kids, but this is only an ideal for many families.

Peer Education, Not Fear Education fails to address the issue of homophobia and what this means for adolescents. Gay and Lesbian youth are at high risk for emotional problems due in part to the discrimination and lack of support they experience. Several studies have found that men are generally more homophobic than women and display greater fear of AIDS (O'Hare et al., 1996). This finding has definite implications in order for education to be effective. It is also critical to emphasize that AIDS is not just a disease affecting gay people; HIV disease has spread among the heterosexual population, particularly affecting women and young people of color.

Overall, Peer Education, Not Fear Education has an important message to relate. We need to carefully evaluate our views about sexuality and HIV education and acknowledge the value of utilizing peers in the process. This video is highly recommended for use by school administrators, teachers and parents who are examining sex education curricula. Showing it to peer educators would be highly beneficial in preparation for assuming educational roles.

Martha J. Tweed
College of Social Work
San Jose State University



American Association of University Women (1992), The AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls, Washington, DC.

O'Hare, T. et al. (1996) Fear of AIDS and Homophobia: Implications for Direct Practice and Advocacy. Journal of Social Work, Vol.41, p.56.

Zastrow, C. and Kirst-Ashman, E. (1994), Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment (3rd edition), Chicago: Nolson-Hall Publishers.



see also: AIDS Video Censored

see Synopsis and How to Order: Peer Education, Not Fear Education