Emerging technologies are often adopted in educational settings to make instruction more effective and engaging. This has been true historically, for instance, of the introduction of film, television, and video technologies into the classroom. More recently, computers have contributed to an emerging revolution in technology-assisted education. Computers provide an optimal means for storing, searching, and retrieving educational materials, and for composing and editing written work. Critically, computers also permit self-directed and individualized instruction and feedback in almost any area of interest. The emergence of the Internet affords very widespread access to computer-assisted "e-learning" or "cyberlearning" opportunities (Barron & Ivers, 1996; Maccormack & Jones, 1997; Starr, 1997).
Benefits of Internet-based educational technology for complementing standard educational practices may be numerous. For example, in crafting Internet-based educational materials, significant resources may be efficiently invested in creating instructional programs that provide expert instruction to a very large audience in an extremely cost-effective fashion. Such educational materials may also be regularly updated and upgraded to deliver state-of-the-art instruction on a continuous basis. Internet-mediated e-learning also enables those who reside in remote locations or who are physically confined to receive varied educational programming of high quality. Moreover, because Internet-based educational websites connect with numerous additional sources of information, e-learning technology can access content to fit a very wide range of learner needs and interests. Internet-based educational technology, as part of the World Wide Web, can also access multiple types of media, allow rapid communication between learners and instructors, and enable "classroom discussions" among physically isolated learners.
The advantages of Internet-driven educational technology are applicable to any area of instruction, but there are specific subjects that may benefit more than others from Internet-assisted teaching. One such subject is sex education, an area of instruction that may profit dramatically by exploiting the Internet's unique characteristics to reach its particular goals.
Sex education--aimed at equipping individuals with sex-related information, motivation, and behavioral skills that will enable them to avoid sex-related problems and achieve sexual well-being--has been advocated for decades. Although the scope and methods of sex education are broad and varied and often differ as a function of cultural, political, and religious considerations, sex education of some kind is believed to be necessary in most societies (McKay, 1998). Typically, sex education includes topics relating to the biological aspects of sexuality and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted disease, sexual exploitation, and sexual assault, and may (as policy permits) also focus on interpersonal relationships, sexual orientation, and sexual function.
Although sex education programs are numerous and their methods diverse, and much effort and many resources have been invested in sex education, its effectiveness--in terms of engendering actual change in learners' behaviors--has been questioned (e.g., Dailey, 1997; J. Fisher & Fisher, 1992; Franklin & Corcoran, 2000; Grunseit, Kippax, Aggleton, Baldo, & Slutkin, 1997; Kirby & Coyle, 1997). Reviews of sex education efforts have pointed out that most involve information-only interventions which entirely ignore the issue of individuals' motivation to apply what has been learned and the behavioral skills required for applying sex education lessons effectively in real-world situations (J. Fisher & Fisher, 1992; 2000; W. Fisher & Fisher, 1993, 1999). The current discussion focuses on exploiting the multiple capabilities of the Internet to deliver …