Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Bergan-Roller, Heather E.

Degree Name

M.S. (Master of Science)

Legacy Department

Department of Biological Sciences


The World Health Organization defines sexual pleasure as an important part of positive sexual experiences and sexual health. Despite its importance, sexual pleasure is often omitted from sexual health programming and curricula. Undergraduate human anatomy and physiology (A&P) courses serve as avenues where students who intend to go into health care learn foundational knowledge about human body systems and health; however, to our knowledge, there has been no documentation of if and how A&P students learn about sexual pleasure. A&P textbooks serve as an important resource for curriculum design and learning. I sought to answer the following research question: How is sexual pleasure represented in undergraduate, human A&P textbooks? Textual fragments and visuals related to sexual pleasure were identified and coded for content then analyzed using emergent thematic analysis. The content on sexual pleasure in textbooks was limited. When sexual pleasure was included, it was often outdated and framed in reproductive-focused, heteronormative, and androcentric ways. I discuss how A&P textbooks should be updated to represent current, accurate, and inclusive content on sexual pleasure and sexual health so that students can improve their possible professional futures as health care providers, personal sexual experiences, and feelings of inclusion and belonging. To explore further how sexual pleasure is represented in A&P courses, I sought to discover how instructors teach about sexual pleasure and their perceptions of teaching sexual pleasure in A&P courses. Instructors play a vital role in helping students learn in a classroom, including biology classrooms such as anatomy and physiology. Using the Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform (TCSR) model, I interviewed six instructors to answer the following research question: What are instructors’ practices and perceptions of teaching sexual pleasure in undergraduate A&P courses? Interviews were coded using constant comparison analysis to explore emergent codes in the interview data from the categories established in the TCSR model. Only two out of six instructors teach explicitly about sexual pleasure, while the rest teach about sexual function. The instructors teach about sexual function and pleasure briefly from functional and developmental perspectives. Instructors reported a myriad of obstacles in teaching sexual function and pleasure, despite recognizing the benefits that students will gain from learning about sexual pleasure in A&P. This work shows that sexual pleasure is not well represented in A&P courses. Including sexual pleasure as a learning outcome in the A&P curriculum can not only provide training to students for their future healthcare professions, but more importantly empower students to pursue positive sexual experiences and take ownership of their sexual health.


112 pages




Northern Illinois University

Rights Statement

In Copyright

Rights Statement 2

NIU theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from Huskie Commons for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without the written permission of the authors.

Media Type