Is humor a useful teaching tool in human sexuality education? Perspectives of sixth-grade students

Marcia Rupp Vogel, University of Pennsylvania


Bruess and Greenberg (1988), Cook, Kirby, Wilson, and Alter (1984), and Regin and McNab (1992) suggest that humor (e.g., verbal incongruities, puns, anecdotes, and comic body language) is an appropriate and useful teaching tool for human sexuality education. The purpose of this study was to examine the accuracy of their conjecture. Specifically, the inquiry explored students' perceptions concerning the use of humor in a human sexuality class for sixth graders. This study was needed because the conjecture that humor is beneficial in human sexuality education is premature and presumptive since there are only four published studies (Adams, 1974; Krozy, 1987; Ransohoff, 1977; Sondheiner, 1982) supporting such a finding. In this study, four sixth grade classes experienced a three part sexuality education workshop consisting of an interactive lecture, two videos, and a question box activity. Psychological, physiological, and social information was incorporated in the three one hour lessons. The design method allowed two groups to experience the influence of humorous education and two groups to experience nonhumorous education. Students' perceptions regarding humor were collected qualitatively within the framework of grounded theory and symbolic interactionism through guided journals, an open ended survey, individual interviews, and focus groups. Data were analyzed by constant comparative methods. Universally, students expressed discomfort and embarrassment about sexuality. These feelings decreased over time. The acclimation was fostered by nontendentious humor which relieved tension, enhanced memory, increased class interest, masked embarrassment, heightened self-efficacy, and fostered group cohesion. Students also identified the salient features of humor, including axiological considerations, and development of humor through modeling. Students' written questions, frequently containing misspelled sexual words, centered around their changing bodies and normalcy. The implications of this study are relevant to educators, administrators, parents, and students and focused on curriculum planning, teaching strategies, sexuality education, and planning qualitative research. Future research suggestions included pedagogic issues, characteristics of teachers and parents, development of embarrassment, and effective focus groups. The result was a grounded theory linking nontendentious humor with effective sexuality education.

Subject Area

Health education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Vogel, Marcia Rupp, "Is humor a useful teaching tool in human sexuality education? Perspectives of sixth-grade students" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9543153.