Sexuality education programs vary in their approaches to teaching about sexuality. At SafeTeens.org, we categorize programs into distinct orientations:
1. Sexual Health Education
Sexual Health Education programs are typically delivered in a group setting and teach that sexuality is a natural, normal, healthy part of life. These programs provide age and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality, including abstinence, contraception and disease prevention. Sexual health education programs teach that proper use of latex condoms, along with water-based lubricants, can greatly reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of unintended pregnancy and infection of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
In addition, sexual health education may include topics such as sexual development, sexual orientation and gender identity, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, emotions, intimacy, body image and gender roles.
The overall goal of sexual health education is to provide young people with knowledge and skills to promote their health and well-being as they mature into sexually healthy adults. According to SIECUS Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (2004), sexual health education has four main goals:
- to provide accurate information about human sexuality;
- to provide an opportunity for young people to develop and understand their values, attitudes, and insights about sexuality;
- to help young people develop relationships and interpersonal skills; and
- to help young people exercise responsibility regarding sexual relationships, including addressing abstinence, pressures to become prematurely involved in sexual intercourse, and a use of contraception and other sexual health measures.
2. Abstinence Education
Abstinence Education programs are typically delivered in a group setting and focus on the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by delaying initiation of sexual activity and engaging in healthy relationships.
Section 510(b) of the Social Security Act, states that federally-funded abstinence education must:
- Have as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
- Teach abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;
- Teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;
- Teach that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;
- Teach that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
- Teach that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;
- Teach young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and
- Teach the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.
3. Youth Development
Youth Development programs are typically delivered in a group setting and use an intentional, pro-social approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes and enhances youths’ strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.
4. Individual-level Intervention
Individual-level interventions are client-centered, one-on-one interventions that typically involve individualized risk-reduction counseling or motivational interviewing aimed at reducing unplanned pregnancy and the spread of disease. Individual-level Interventions are typically delivered by a trained counselor, educator, peer or other professional and sometimes take place in a clinic setting.
A special note:
SafeTeens.org’s The State of Sex Ed is a collaborative project of Maternal and Family Health Services and the PA Partnership for Healthy Youth. The State of Sex Ed is for informational purposes only; neither entity endorses any of the programs listed on The State of Sex Ed.