Common Questions about Sexual Health Education

Article excerpt

(Revised to March 2001(*))

Abstract: This document uses peer-reviewed literature to provide research-based answers to questions often posed by educators, parents, administrators, governments, and journalists about the philosophy, methods, and impact of sexual health education in the schools. Answers to the following questions are provided: Do we need sexual health education programs taught in the schools?; What values are taught in school-based sexual health education?; Should sexual health education teach young people about sexual orientation?; Should sexual health education teach young people about abstinence?; Should sexual health education teach only about abstinence?; What types of sexual health education are the most effective at helping adolescents protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy and STD?; Does teaching adolescents about contraception/condoms lead to earlier or more frequent sexual activity?; What is the impact of making condoms available to teenagers?; What should we be telling young people about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV/AIDS and other STDs? This document is regularly updated and is available on the SIECCAN web site at

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: SIECCAN gratefully acknowledges the support of The Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion Unit, Division of Sexual Health Promotion and STD Prevention and Control, Health Canada, in both the original development and current revision of this resource document.


Access to effective sexual health education is an important contributing factor to the health and well-being of Canadians. School-based programs are an essential avenue for providing sexual health education to young people. Although all the provinces and territories of Canada have such programs, their extent and quality can vary considerably both regionally and locally (Barrett, 1994). Sexual health education is a sensitive and sometimes controversial topic. Educators, public health professionals, and others who are committed to providing high quality sexual health education in schools and other community settings are often asked to explain the rationale, philosophy, and content of proposed or existing sexual health education programs. This document, prepared by SIECCAN, The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, is designed to support the provision of high quality sexual health education in Canadian schools. It provides answers to some of the most common questions that parents, educators, program planners, school and health administrators, and concerned citizens may have about sexual health education.

Canada is a pluralistic society in which people with differing philosophical, cultural, and religious values live together in a society structured upon democratic principles. Canadians have diverse values and opinions related to human sexuality. Philosophically, this document reflects the democratic approach to sexual health education embodied in Health Canada's Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education (Health Canada, 1994). In assessing the effectiveness of educational methods, it reflects an evidence-based approach in which the findings of up-to-date and credible scientific research are utilized to provide responses to common questions about sexual health education. An evidence-based approach combined with a respect for democratic values offers a strong foundation for the development and implementation of high quality sexual health education programs in our schools (McKay, 1998).

Do We Need Sexual Health Education Programs in the Schools?

Sexual health is an important component of overall health and well being. According to Health Canada's (1994) Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education, "sexual health education should be available to all Canadians as an important component of health promotion programs and services" (p. 5). The Guidelines state that sexual health education programs are aimed at sexual health enhancement (i. …