Sex Education

Sex education refers to the teaching of information regarding sexual health, sexual behaviors and their effects and may be delivered in a school or community-based setting (Salkind, 2006). Effective sex education programs have clear objectives, target multiple risk and protective factors, and provide instruction in a way that is appropriate to the culture, values, age, and sexual experience of participants (Kirby, Rolleri, & Wilson, 2007).

Comprehensive, curriculum-based sex education approaches that encourage abstinence, but also promote positive youth development and build knowledge and skills related to safe sexual behaviors, have been found to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in youth, by delaying sex in some cases and reducing sexual risk-taking behaviors in others (Kirby, 2007; Kirby, Laris, & Rolleri, 2006; Ikramullah & Manlove, 2008). Current research suggests that abstinence-only approaches – those that focus only on abstinence and do not teach about contraception – are by and large not very effective (Kohler, Manhar, & Lafferty, 2008; Trenholm et al., 2007).

A number of effective practices or characteristics, such as using competent facilitators and providing medically-accurate information, have been identified (Kirby, Laris, & Rolleri, 2006). Many of these are important service delivery elements to track as part of performance management.

Several resources exist to support the implementation of sex education programs. For a list of some of these resources, see the Additional Resources section below.

Questions your program should answer:

  1. To What Extent Are You Reaching Your Target Population?
  2. To What Extent Are You Targeting Factors Known to Affect Sexual Behavior?
  3. To What Extent Do Program Facilitators Deliver Content Effectively?
  4. To What Extent Are Services Being Delivered as Intended?
  5. To What Extent Are Youth Participating in Services?

Shorter term outcome indicators:

Longer term outcome indicators:

By ChildTrends

Sources Cited

Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging answers: Research findings on programs to reduce teen pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Available at http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/

Kirby, D., Laris, B.A., & Rolleri (2006). Sex and HIV Education programs for youth: Their impact and important characteristics. Scotts Valley, CA: ETR Associates.

Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging answers: Research findings on programs to reduce teen pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Available at http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/

Kohler, P.K, Manhart, L.E., & Lafferty, W.E. (2008). Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42, 344-351.

Ikramullah, E., & Manlove, J. (2008). Condom use and consistency among teen males. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/Files/Child_Trends-2008_10_30_FS_CondomUse.pdf.

Salkind, N. J. (2006). Encyclopedia of Human Development. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Trenholm, C. et al. (2007). Impacts of four Title V, section 510 abstinence education programs: Final report. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Additional Resources

Center for Relationship Education
This organization has developed a tool for sex educators seeking to promote abstinence or the delay of sexual initiation called the SmartTool. This tool includes information about how to develop a logic model, identifies activities to encourage sexual risk avoidance, and outlines outcomes to expect for students of different grade levels.

Child Trends
Child Trends has conducted research about teen pregnancy and nonmarital childbearing for over three decades. For a list of current publications, go to the web site and go to the “Teen Sex and Pregnancy” page.

Healthy Teen Network
The Healthy Teen Network is a national membership network which serves as a resource to professionals working in the area of adolescent reproductive health - specifically teen pregnancy prevention, teen pregnancy, teen parenting and related issues.

Planned Parenthood Tools for Educators
The Tools for Educators portion of the Planned Parenthood web site features resources for implementing sex education, program evaluation tools, resources for locating a health educator and other resources.

Sex Education Library
SexEducation Library an online resource offered by SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States), an organization to help educators, counselors, administrators, and health professionals access to latest in human sexuality research, lesson plans, and professional development opportunities.

Sex Education Resource Center
Advocates for Youth has a sex education resource center that includes resources for sex educators, such as lesson plans, curricula, resource guides, national standards, state legislation, and links to information about programs that work.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
This organization’s web site provides statistics and research-based information on adolescent reproductive health and other resources related to the topic.       

The Office of Adolescent Health
The Office of Adolescent Health recently identified teen pregnancy prevention programs with sufficient evidence for replication. A database of these programs is located on their web site, along with descriptions of the programs and findings.