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What Is Comprehensive Sexuality Education?

Sexuality education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values. It includes sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles. Sexuality education begins at home. Parents and caregivers are—and ought to be—the primary sexuality educators of their children.

School-based comprehensive sexuality education, however, can add to the education young people receive from their families. Such programs respect the diversity of values and beliefs represented in any community and help young people mature into sexually healthy adults.

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is curriculum that, in school settings, start by kindergarten and continue through 12th grade. These programs include age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behaviors including abstinence, sexual health, and society and culture. CSE programs provide students with opportunities for learning information, exploring their attitudes and values, and developing skills.

The Goals
CSE helps young people gain a positive view of sexuality, provides them with sexual health information and skills, and encourages them to make sound decisions now and in the future.

Comprehensive sexuality education has four main goals:

  1. To provide accurate information about human sexuality.
  2. To provide an opportunity for young people to develop and understand their values, attitudes, and beliefs about sexuality.
  3. To help young people develop relationship and interpersonal skills.
  4. To help young people exercise responsibility regarding sexual relationships, including addressing abstinence, pressures to become prematurely involved in sexual relationships, and the importance of practicing safer sex and other positive sexual health measures.

The Content
In 1991, SIECUS convened the National Guidelines Task Force, composed of professionals in the fields of medicine, sexuality, and youth services. Members came from such esteemed organizations as the American Medical Association, the March of Dimes, the National Education Association, the American Sexual Health Association, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Task Force identified six key concept areas that should be part of any comprehensive sexuality education program:

  • Human development
  • Relationships
  • Personal skills
  • Sexual behavior
  • Sexual health
  • Society and culture

The Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education; Kindergarten-12th Grade were designed as a framework to assist communities and schools in developing new curricula or assessing existing programs. The Guidelines include information and messages for teaching 39 sexuality-related topics in an age-appropriate manner.

SIECUS has continued to convene review panels, and revise and update the Guidelines to reflect new information, research, and developments related to sexual health and education. 

The most recent edition (2007) of the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten–12th Grade is available on publications page of the SIECUS website.

In 2012, the Future of Sex Education Initiative along with the American School Health Association, the American Association for Health Education, the National Education Association Health Information Network, and the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education published the National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K–12.

Different from the SIECUS Guidelines, the National Sexuality Education Standards were developed to address the inconsistent implementation of sexuality education nationwide and the limited time allocated to teaching the topic. The National Sexuality Education Standards provide clear, consistent, and straightforward guidance on the essential, minimum core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K-12.

The National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K–12 is available on the Future of Sex Education website, www.futureofsexeducation.org.