Peer-based education strategies have been utilized on college campuses over the last 50 years (Helm, Knipmeyer, & Martin, 1972). Since then, peer helping has become a critical component of college health programming and pedagogic programs at many colleges and universities. Peer helping can best be viewed as an umbrella term covering a diverse range of different approaches used to empower others about relevant topics, scenarios, and life skills. The term "peer" has taken on several cultural constructions with regard to the collegiate population. Peers may exhibit a similarity in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, lifestyle, social economic status, or other social ecological factor. Peers have been utilized in a variety of scenarios and situations and can be used to educate, facilitate, and counsel (Shiner, 1999).
The use of small group discussion, including sessions facilitated by peers, has been utilized in collegiate sex education settings to enhance the learning process since the 1980s (Barbour, 1989; DeLamater, Hyde, & Allgeier, 1994; Strouse, Krajewski, & Gilin, 1990). Peers also have been used as an effective outreach risk-reduction tool regarding sexuality-related topics. An investigation conducted by Richie and Getty (1994) discovered first-year college students who attended a peer-based sexuality program were more likely to have had an HIV-antibody test during the school year and use condoms during their sexual encounters. In addition, they were more likely to ask their sexual partners about previous sexual behaviors, request their partners be tested for HIV, cease sexual activity without the availability of a condom, and negotiate sexual monogamy.
Sexuality-related pedagogic programs in which peers are included as a fundamental programmatic asset have been implemented in adolescent populations (Evans, Rees, Okagbue, & Tripp, 1998; Strange, Forrest, & Oakley, 2002; Ebreo, Feist-Price, Siewe, & Zimmerman, 2002). In a study of peer educators, single session educational lectures, and a control group, peer education was found to be an effective HIV/AIDS pedagogical tool and was found to elicit change in students' knowledge and attitudes (Ergene, Cok, Turner, & Unal, 2005).
Strange and colleagues (2002) conducted a randomized controlled trial of peer-based human sexuality pedagogic programs in secondary schools located within the United Kingdom. Twenty-seven schools were selected for participation in the study. Fourteen schools were randomly assigned to include a peer-based pedagogic method and 13 were assigned traditional teacher-based teaching techniques. Pre- and post data from 268 peers indicate statistically significant increases in knowledge related to female condoms, emergency contraception, cervical caps, and intrauterine devices. When assessing the change in the peers' attitudes towards sexological issues, results indicate 19% (n=51) of the participants adopted more positive attitudes towards men having sex with other men and 20% (n=53) more positive attitudes towards women having sex with other women. When asked if participation in the program facilitated an increase in teaching and presentation-related confidence, statistically significant changes were observed in implemented classroom sessions, dealing with difficult behavior, alleviation of embarrassment, having adequate sexuality-related knowledge, and dealing with personal questions.
Data from 331 of the peers were procured in which the perceived impact of the program upon the peers' sexual attitudes, confidence and behavior was assessed.
Fifty-eight percent of the participants (n=193) responded "very or quite likely" when asked if the program changed their opinion on sexual matters, 40% (n=133) when asked if the program made them more confident about getting what you want from a relationship, and 35% (n=115) when asked if the program influenced their sexual behavior.
Although ample investigations such as these and others have assessed the outcomes of peer-based programs, few studies have assessed the perspective of the peer. However, peer perspective studies are warranted as the peer's viewpoint and experiences may provide valuable information regarding decisions to volunteer as a peer helper and the overall impact of the program upon the peer.
In a focus group study conducted by Klein and Sondag (1994), peer health educators' motivations for participation in the program were assessed. Nineteen peers participated in five focus group sessions at a midsized university. Results indicate that participatory motivations were thematically based upon previous family experiences, personal experiences, previous observations of their peers in the program, perceived ability to help others or themselves, and the procurement of an experience that would enhance their public speaking and/or future career potential.
Participation in peer-based programs has been shown to be beneficial to the peer (Hamilton, 1992; HEA, 1993; Klepp, 1986). Collegiate sexuality-related peer programs have been hypothesized to facilitate a change in self-esteem and reduction in high-risk sexual behavior. Sawyer, Pinciaro, and Bedwell (1997) recruited 65 participants from sexual health peer programs located within 10 universities. Preliminary data were collected prior to participation in the peer program and posttest collections took place after one and two semesters. While non-significant changes occurred in the quantitative assessment of the variables, the assessment of open-ended questions indicate that 81.5% (n=53) of the peers believed they had changed as a result of the peer training and/or experience. Thirty percent (n=19) of the participants indicated that they had increased their level of sexuality knowledge, 20% (n=14) had increased their self-esteem, 15% (n=10) practiced safer sex more frequently, and 14% (n=9) indicated that they were more open to their peer's behaviors and opinions.
The overarching purpose of the present study was to qualitatively assess the perceived benefits associated with participation in a human sexuality peer facilitation program. Focus groups were used to provide a more in-depth assessment of the perceived benefits exhibited by the peers regarding their experience.
Peer Facilitation Program
The university sponsoring the peers of the current study hosts a survey undergraduate human sexuality course that routinely enrolls 1,000 or more students per academic year. In order to provide an experience that is intellectually sound, non-judgmental, and innovative in nature, the professors/instructors recruit undergraduate and graduate peers to serve as course adjuncts. The core responsibility of the peers includes the facilitation of weekly in-person human sexuality discussions, attendance management, grading of assignments, and assistance in solving student dilemmas. Topics of weekly discussions include contemporary sexological issues such as safer sex, gender construction, sex research, sexual communication, sexual scripts, and sexual reform. For their contributions to the program, peers earn three academic credits.
Although the program has been in existence in its original format for 20 years, instructors have recently implemented an online option wherein the peers facilitate weekly discussions through threaded online forums. In addition, faculty members also have piloted a combination experience in which the peers host several in-person discussions per semester in addition to weekly online forums.
Human sexuality peer facilitators from a state-funded Midwestern university were recruited to participate in focus group sessions. A qualitative design and analysis was chosen as the ideal data collection method due to the stimulation of discussion that is created through this strategy and the richness of data procured. In addition, previous investigations have successfully utilized focus...