Data are from 3,269 middle school students (48% female; M age = 12.83 years; SD = 1.38) in a rural county in the southeastern U.S. Students reported how often they were bullied during the course of the pregnancy prevention program. They also reported witnessing bias-based bullying of LGBTQ youth or racial/ethnic minority youth (1 = None of the time to 5 = All of the time). Outcomes included perceived program effects on intention to have sexual intercourse in the next 6 months (1 = Much less likely to 5 = Much more likely) and knowledge about HIV/STIs and unplanned pregnancy prevention (1 = Much less knowledgeable to 5 = Much more knowledgeable). Gender was evaluated as a moderator.
Students reported the program reduced their intention to have sex in the next 6 months and increased their knowledge related to HIV/STDs and unplanned pregnancy prevention. Most students did not perceive bullying in the program; but, 24% did report experiencing bullying, 27% reported witnessing LGBT bullying, and 22% reported witnessing race/ethnicity bullying during program delivery. Importantly, experiencing or perceiving bullying during delivery of the program reduced perceived effectiveness. For boys who were not bullied, the program reduced intention to have sex; however, this positive effect of the program was not observed among boys who experienced the highest levels of bullying during the course of the program (t = 2.50, p = .012). In addition, girls who experienced bullying or witnessed bias-based bullying reported reduced program effectiveness related to intentions to have sex (t = 2.48, p = .013) and knowledge gained (t = 2.65, p = .008).
Results suggest middle school students’ perceptions of bullying in a sexual health education program affects their reports of effectiveness of the program. Future research should consider evaluating the role of bias-based bullying on prevention program effectiveness. Particular attention should be paid to LGBT related bullying such as homophobic name-calling in pregnancy prevention programs.