Most people agree that children and teens should receive sex education, but where and how they get it varies. Youth often seek information from online communities and social media, which can be inclusive or exclude sexual minorities but may not be medically accurate.
Comprehensive sex education includes lessons about healthy relationships, sexual consent and the importance of gender equality.
Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Pregnancies
Comprehensive sex education (CSE) is an effective way to teach youth the skills and information they need to avoid getting STIs, pregnancy and other risks. CSE also helps youth develop healthy and respectful social and sexual relationships and teaches them how their choices affect their health, well-being and the lives of others.
CSE has been shown to reduce sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection and unintended pregnancy. It provides accurate and developmental appropriate information on sex, puberty, STIs and birth control. Its learner-centered approach is adapted to each age group and includes discussions about bodies, relationships and sex with adults who are trusted and respected.
STIs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, can remain in the body for years without causing any symptoms and can cause serious harm to the unborn baby. Vaccinations against HPV (which can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts), hepatitis A and B and hepatitis C are available to help prevent these infections.
Research shows that when youth lack access to comprehensive sex education, they are at greater risk of STIs, HIV and unintended pregnancy, as well as for problems with their mental and physical health, social-emotional development, and academic achievement. CSE enables youth to make healthy sexual decisions by guiding the development of their self-identities, challenging harmful gender norms and building the skills needed for respectful and equitable relationships.
Developing Social and Emotional Skills
Youth can develop the skills they need to participate in respectful relationships and exercise self-determination through comprehensive sex education. This includes a focus on personal practices and values, communication and decision making, refusal skills/accepting rejection, sexual dysfunction and abuse, and societal influences on sexuality.
This is especially important for marginalized youth. Research shows that youth from communities of color and those who are LGBTQ2S+ are less likely than their white peers to report receiving sex education that feels personally relevant. Comprehensive sex education can help bridge these gaps by addressing topics from a trauma-informed, culturally responsive perspective that builds the skills required for respectful, equitable relationships.
In addition, youth with disabilities and those living in poverty are less likely to receive sex education from parents, teachers or healthcare providers. This is why it’s essential that school-based sex education is supplemented with community-based programmes to ensure all youth are informed and supported in healthy ways.
Sex Education is a delightful British teen sex comedy drama on Netflix that tackles real-life issues in a humorous and smart way. The show has become a favorite since its first season premiered in 2019. The cast is composed of socially awkward Otis, gregarious Eric, intelligent Maeve and the frank Jean. Although it was recently announced that the series would end after season four, fans are clamoring for a fifth series.
Educators should use age-appropriate materials that are culturally competent and include a range of topics related to human sexuality, including gender identity and development; sexual and reproductive health; and relationships. A quality curriculum should also include information about the consequences of sexual behavior and ways to avoid STIs, HIV infection, and unintended pregnancy.
Many youth lack reliable and accurate sexual health information. As a result, they may seek information on their own using the internet. This can lead to misinformation that may have long-term impacts on their lives. It can also lead to a false sense of security, which can contribute to the risk of unsafe behaviors and decisions.
A key component of comprehensive sex education is that it focuses on building self-awareness. This includes recognizing one’s own values and beliefs, and knowing how to make healthy choices based on those values and beliefs. It also includes recognizing one’s strengths, abilities, and preferences, and being aware of one’s own and others’ mental health.
Youth need to receive proactive and developmentally appropriate sex education in all schools, regardless of where they live or their economic status. This includes those with disabilities, who may be less likely to learn about sex and relationships from their families, peers, or school programs. They need curriculum that is inclusive and representative of their identities, addresses harmful stereotypes, and builds interpersonal skills for respectful relationships.
Developing Healthy Relationships
In addition to reducing the risk of STIs and unintended pregnancy, comprehensive sexuality education can help youth build healthy relationships. Research shows that CSE can teach students how to communicate respectfully, set boundaries and respect others’ rights. It can also help young people understand that their choices and actions have a direct impact on the health, safety and well-being of themselves, others and the community at large.
CSE is a curriculum-based process that teaches children and young people about the cognitive, emotional and physical aspects of sexuality. It also teaches values like respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, equality and responsibility. UNESCO has developed International Technical Guidance on Comprehensive Sexuality Education to support governments, schools and civil society to implement quality CSE.
Sadly, too many children and adolescents lack access to comprehensive sex education. Several trends highlight the need for sex education: cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are on the rise among high school students; and fewer than 9% of sexually active youth report using both a condom for STI prevention and birth control to prevent pregnancy.
Comprehensive sex education is a vital part of every student’s journey into adulthood. It helps young people navigate a world where gender-based violence, early and unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections still threaten their health. By teaching medically-accurate information and developing skills like communication, assertiveness, and decision making, comprehensive sex education can make a difference in the lives of youth everywhere.