One question we often get is how much does sex-ed matter, is it that big a deal?
The answer is yes, it matters a lot and it is a big deal. Here’s why: when sex-ed is done right, it can be life changing for people and have significant positive impacts on public health.
There is a strong body of research proving the positive impacts high quality sex-ed has on people’s lives when it is effectively developed and delivered. They include:
- Delayed initiation of sexual intercourse
- Reduced sexual risk-taking
- Increased condom use
- Increased contraception use
- Increased knowledge about sexuality, safer-sex behaviours, and risks of pregnancy, HIV and other STIs
- Improved attitudes related to sexual and reproductive health (e.g. positive attitudes towards things like using condoms, seeking and getting sexual health care, nurturing healthy relationships, seeking consent, etc.)
If you’ve heard that sex-ed could negatively influence young people or encourage them to be more sexually active, here is what the scientific research has to say: it’s not true. Sex-ed (in or out of schools) does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour, or STI/HIV rates. In fact, comprehensive sex-ed leads to better knowledge and attitudes around sexuality, including:
- Increased knowledge of our rights within a sexual relationship
- Increased communication with parents about sex and relationships
- Greater effectiveness when managing risky situations
Sex-ed also has longer-term positive impacts on our social environment and what influences us. There is an emerging field of research that looks at non-health outcomes and tells us how sex-ed can lead to positive societal changes. The research tells us that sex-ed can:
- Prevent and reduce gender-based and intimate partner violence and discrimination
- Increase confidence, gender equality, and our ability to achieve our goals
- Build stronger and healthier relationships
While these are referred to as “non-health related outcomes,” they actually do impact our health and well-being. For example, the prevention of gender-based violence (including sexual assault, harassment, homophobic, transphobic and sexist bullying) leads to better mental health and prevents suicide. Knowing how to build stronger and healthier relationships prevents social isolation and improves mental health.
Sex-ed has the most impact when school-based programs are supplemented with community-based programs, including condom distribution, youth-friendly training for health care providers, and making sure parents and teachers are kept involved and engaged (Chandra- Mouli et al., 2015; Fonner et al., 2014; UNESCO, 2015a).
Success stories in the Netherlands reveal how comprehensive sex-ed has positively impacted young people’s health and well-being over time. Here are a number of them to read: