Indiana University Study Finds Lack of Diversity in Images in Sex Education Textbooks

In recent years, there has been considerable research and considerable improvement in the racial and ethnic diversity of actors in movies, television, characters in video games, children’s books, advertising, etc. But a new study by researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health finds that one area that has been slow to follow this trend is images in sex education textbooks.

Researchers in the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the Indiana University School of Public Health analyzed skin tone and skin color diversity in 182 anatomical diagrams and images from eight contemporary, college-level human sexuality textbooks. They found that only 1.1 percent of all images showed dark skin tones.

The researcher state that skin color bias in these textbooks can have a negative impact on the health outcomes of people with dark skin tones, who may avoid or delay sexuality education opportunities or clinical care if they do not see themselves represented in recommended resources.

“Racism and colorism perpetuate body ideals that have implications for self-esteem, disordered eating, and mental health and well-being, as well as sexual and reproductive health,” said Debra Herbenick, the director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and a co-author of the study. “Our findings demonstrate the perpetuation of colorism within sexuality education, and how colorism becomes part of institutional structures and systems of formal education.”

The full study, “Skin Color and Skin Tone Diversity in Human Sexuality Textbook Anatomical Diagrams,” was published on the website of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. It may be accessed here.

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