School-based sex education plays a vital role in young people’s sexual health and wellbeing.
Little is known, however, about the effectiveness of efforts beyond pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention. The authors conducted a systematic literature review of three decades of research on school-based programs to find evidence for the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education.
Researchers searched ERIC, PsycINFO, and MEDLINE. The research team
identified papers are meeting the systematic literature review criteria. Of 8,058 relevant articles, 218 met specific review criteria. More than 80% focused solely on pregnancy and disease prevention and were excluded, leaving 39. In the next phase, researchers expanded the requirements to studies outside the U.S. to identify evidence reflecting the full range of topic areas. Eighty articles constituted the final review.
Outcomes include an appreciation of sexual diversity, dating, and intimate partner violence prevention, development of healthy relationships, prevention of child sex abuse, improved social/emotional learning, and increased media literacy.
Substantial evidence supports sex education beginning in elementary school, which is scaffolded and of longer duration, and LGBTQ–inclusive teaching across the school curriculum and a social justice approach to healthy sexuality.
A review of the literature of the past three decades provides strong support for comprehensive sex education across various topics and grade levels. Results provide evidence for the effectiveness of approaches that address a broad definition of sexual health and take positive, affirming, inclusive approaches to human sexuality. Findings strengthen justification for the widespread adoption of the National Sex Education Standards.
Sex education has long been characterized by competing definitions, goals, and philosophies, which have muddied efforts to understand and gauge its effectiveness. Regarding measuring impact and outcomes, research has been dominated by interest in prevention programs aimed at reducing STIs.
These prevention programs emphasize sexual behaviors and behavior
change as the main focus of analysis. However, what…