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Sexuality Education - Background Information

Background Information on Sexuality Education

Effective sexuality education is based on sound behaviour theory that has been developed over several years. Fisher (1997) has discussed those theories and shown how they can help to frame and develop sexuality education programs.

Education about Sexuality: Different Approaches

There are several  approaches that educators and others have used to educate young people about sexuality (Birdwhistle and Vince-Whitman, 1997):

-“family life-which places emphasis on preparing children for family life and reproduction  
-sexuality education- which places more emphasis on the individual, sexual activity, biology and behaviour
-population education-which emphasizes sociological, environmental and economic consequences of population growth
- science education-which emphasizes biology aspects
-medical/disease education - which emphasizes disease, risk and medical information”

The selection of which approach to use in schools is usually a difficult one because there are inherent values and significant choices to be made in determining a basic approach to instructing young people about sexuality. Sometimes, authorities avoid making a clear decision from among these choices, thereby leaving the classroom teacher in somewhat of a vacuum, having to respond to the direct questions of their students without a clear mandate from policy-makers.

This Internet gateway has attempted to locate lessons that can fit within all of these approaches. However, the research identified in the development of the comprehensive list of possible learning outcomes would support the use of a sexuality education approach.

However, teachers should check their respective provincial/territorial curriculum and other guidelines from the local school board.

The Need for Sexuality Education

The arguments for sexuality education have been well presented by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada.

Parents and guardians are a primary and important source of sexual health education for young people. Adolescents often look to their families as one of several preferred sources of sexual health information (King et al., 1988; McKay & Holowaty, 1997).

In addition to families, schools are a particularly important source of sexual health education. As the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education suggest, as the single formal educational institution to have meaningful contact with nearly every young person, schools are a vital resource for providing children, adolescents, and young adults with the knowledge and skills they will need to make and act upon decisions that promote sexual health (Health Canada, 1994, p. 11).

As an important part of its contribution to adolescent development, sexual health education can play a key role in the primary prevention of significant sexual health problems. For example, at present, over 45,000 young women aged 15-19 years become pregnant in Canada each year (Wadhera & Millar, 1997), and rates of common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as Chlamydia, are highest among teenagers and young adults (Health Canada, 1998). The high Chlamydia rate among 15-19 year olds is a significant health concern and when it is not recognized and treated, this STD can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and infertility (Patrick, 1997). According to Canada's Labratory Centre for Disease Control, although the limited data available suggests that prevalence of HIV infection among youth is currently low, adolescents "are a group that could experience an increase in HIV infection" (Health Canada, Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, 1999, P. 1). As documented below, broadly-based sexual health education can play an important role in the prevention of STDs and unintended pregnancies among young people.

Further, as SIECCAN has also pointed out, parents consistently support sexuality education in schools and in other institutions.

Survey research consistently shows that Canadian parents and students want schools to provide sexual health education programs. For example, Lawlor and Purcell (1988) found that 95% of their sample of Montreal area parents of high school students approved of sexuality education in the schools. Verby and Herold's (1992) survey of parents in an urban area of Ontario indicated that 98% were in favour of AIDS education. A more recent series of surveys of Canadian parents found that over 85% of parents agreed with the statement, "Sexual health education should be provided in the schools", and a majority of parents approved of schools' providing students with information on reproduction, birth control, STD/AIDS prevention, healthy relationships, abstinence, sexual orientation, puberty, sexual abuse/rape, and individual, family, and community moral beliefs about sexuality (Langille, Beazley, & Doncaster, 1996; McKay, 1996; McKay, Pietrusiak & Holowaty, 1998).

Principles of Effective Sexuality Education

The Canadian Guidelines for Sexuality Education (Health Canada, 1994) include a thorough presentation of some guiding principles for sexuality education.

Principle 1: Access to Sexual Health Education for All

Principle 2: Comprehensiveness of Sexual Health Education: Integration, Coordination and Breadth

Principle 3: Effectiveness and Sensitivity of Educational Approaches and Methods

Principle 4: Training and Administrative Support

Principle 5: Program Planning, Evaluation, Updating and Social Development

Characteristics of Effective Programs

Kirby (1995) and other sources used in this review (Birdwhistle and Vince-Whitman, 1997: Walsh & Bibace, 1990: Basch, 1989; Allensworth and Symons, 1989: Kerr, 1989; King et al, 1990; ) have listed the following characteristics of effective sexuality education programs. Good programs:

are based on solid theory (Social Influence Theory, Social Learning Theory Cognitive-Behavioural Theory)


are provided before young person has first intercourse


are focused on specific aims of delayed intercourse and/or protected intercourse


are of at least 14 hours in duration


are organized in sessions of sufficient intensity to achieve stated goals


use regular, consistent and coordinated interventions rather than single, isolated interventions


 provide work in small groups, and a range of interactive activities such as role playing, discussion, brainstorming so that participants personalized the risks


include activities that allow participants to observe in others and to practice themselves, communications and negotiation skills that can lead to delayed initiation of sex or to protected sex


provide clear, factual information on the outcomes of unprotected sex and how those outcomes can be avoided


identify the social influences of peers and the media to have sex or unprotected sex and provide strategies to respond and deal with these pressures


reinforce values that support the goals of the program and develop group norms against unprotected sex that are relevant to the age group and experiences of the participants


provide training for those teaching or leading the interventions  


recognize and respond to developmental stages of childhood and their capacity to understand and act upon information about sexuality, health and disease 


recognize adolescent developmental needs and try to offer positive behavioural alternatives so that young people can (1) experiment safely with different lifestyles, (2) be recognized as part of positive, peer groups, (3) develop appropriate intimate and caring relationships with others and (4) taking healthy risks to test their growing mental and physical capacities


are linked and coordinated with other school and community-based interventions such as preventive sexual health services for adolescents, parent education and involvement, peer led activities and programs, awareness raising school activities, school-based health and guidance services and others


are adapted to local needs and address local concerns


include all children and youth, but are also adapted for young people who may be more at risk and offer harm reduction strategies for those who are already practicing unsafe sex

Fisher (2001) suggests that sexuality education should place a priority on behaviourally relevant, easy to translate into action sexual health information. Such education should acknowledge that most of the problem in sexual health risk taking involves emotional obstacles to practicing prevention and on the corresponding need to focus on attitudinal and normative change as well as the development of behavioural skills.

Elements of Effective Sexuality Education

The following structural elements need to be included in an effective sexual health education program

mandatory, comprehensive curriculum with appropriate learning knowledge, skills, beliefs/attitudes, social support, preventive health services and behavioural outcomes organized in an well-designed scope and sequence from the early primary years to senior school graduation


sexuality education program is part of a comprehensive health education program, which in turn, is part of a personal and social development program


high quality teaching/learning materials, including print, media and technology based alternatives


active learning and teaching methods


effective pre-service education for teachers


good inservice education for teachers


parent involvement in instruction through good communications with the home and through take home learning activities


active student involvement in adapting the program to local needs and peer leadership and education in the classroom and the school


the instructional program is situated within a comprehensive school-community approach to promoting sexual health that includes accessible and convenient adolescent preventive health services, social support from parents and others in the community, a safe healthy physical environment in the school, convenient access to condoms by youth, etc.

As well, the teaching/learning methods selected should reflect the outcome being sought in the classroom. For example:

General Outcome Teaching/Learning Method

Lectures, Group Work, Video/Media, Displays, Exhibitions, Brochures


Lectures, One to One teaching, Written Materials, Research Assignments, Group Work, Reading Assignments, Internet Assignments

Self-Awareness, Attitude Change, Decision-making

Group Work, Clarifying/Discussing Values, Journaling, Ranking, Categorizing, Role Playing

Behaviour Change

Group Work, Self monitoring, Identifying benefits/risks, Setting goals, targets, Devising Coping strategies, Accessing social support, Accessing support services, Overcoming physical, economic, practical barriers

Changing the Environment Advocacy, Community service

 Effective Teaching in Health and Sexuality Education

 Research has identified several characteristics of effective teaching in health and sexuality education. They are:

 For Health and Personal/Social Development Education

Using active learning and teaching techniques


Effective use of small group discussions


Effective use of media and technologies


Effective use of the arts, drama, literature


Effective use of student reflection through journal writing


Communicating with parents


Involving parents in take home learning activities

 For sexuality education and other sensitive topics

Setting ground rules


Depersonalizing and normalizing class discussions


Dealing with questions in class


Enabling students to ask questions anonymously


Knowing how to respond to disclosures of possible abuse or assault


Referrals to health services or guidance services


Providing appropriate take away materials

 Support for Effective Sexuality Education

 Support for sexuality education should come from within and outside the school system and should include:

links with preventive services


local media cooperation


supportive, comprehensive policy and leadership


supportive administrative leadership at the school district and school levels


data to monitor implementation and evaluation


dedicated staff, with adequate time, training and resources


regular parent information sessions, resources to use at home and effective communication about the program

 Effective Lesson Planning and Learning Activities

 Lesson plans and learning activities in sexuality and other subjects should follow a well-planned and implemented format (El-Tigi, 2000;) including:










Lesson Description


Lesson Procedure






Assessment/Evaluation Criteria

 The target age/grade(s) and any other relevant information should also be included in the lesson plan description.

LessonProcedures/Learning Process 

The actual lesson procedure/process (ERIC Clearinghouse; 1987) should include these steps

1.      Gain the learners attention.

2.      Review relevant past learning.

3.      Communicate the goal of the lesson.

4.      Model the skills to be learned.

5.      Prompt for correct responses.

6.      Check for skill mastery.

7.      Close the lesson.

See Sources/References for the references used in preparing this background information.


Sexuality Education Lesson Plans


Last updated: 02/15/2005