Learning about our bodies and how they work is important. Learning how to take care of our bodies is no less important. Whether it is staying active, watching what we eat, cleaning our teeth, finding a way to destress, or any other important health routine, we learn how to be our healthiest – physically, emotionally, and socially. The benefits of staying physically active and monitoring what we put into our bodies are well known. Being our healthiest in terms of our reproductive health and our interpersonal relationships is just as important. Some of the physical benefits of sex education, such as the prevention of STIs and unplanned pregnancies, are also well known. However, many of the other benefits, such as the development of important emotional and social skills, are lesser known. Just like the benefits of staying active or watching what we eat and drink, the knowledge and skills that students learn from sex education carry into adulthood and help us live our healthiest lives.
In 2020, a Systematic Literature Review was conducted on the overall effectiveness of comprehensive sex education . The goal was to see what other benefits exist beyond pregnancy and disease prevention, which have been extensively researched. Over 218 studies on K-12 educational approaches dating back to 1990 were reviewed (excluding any focusing only on pregnancy and disease prevention) and many common themes emerged. With over 30 years of data reviewed, the positive outcomes discovered were:
- Prevention of dating violence.
- Development of healthy relationships.
- Improved social/emotional learning.
- Increased media literacy.
- Appreciation of sexual diversity.
Let’s take a closer look at each benefit.
Prevention of Dating Violence
A lesser-known fact about sex education is its effectiveness in preventing dating violence. Increased communication skills can lead to students exhibiting an increased ability to handle feelings of anger. Curriculum can lead to increased awareness of laws, increased awareness of victim services, and even make students believe they have a better ability to reject sexual harassment. Some studies also showed a direct reduction in students perpetrating dating violence, emotional violence, and even verbal aggression. Students also reported they believed they had the skills necessary to intervene if they were ever a bystander to dating violence.
Development of Healthy Relationships
Through sex education, students understand healthy relationships and the skills necessary to have one. It can lead to increased knowledge about what it means to be in a healthy relationship with effective communication, as well as the dating skills necessary to create and foster those healthy relationships later in life. Evidence shows that these skills and knowledge can even translate to other meaningful relationships, such as improved relationship skills for parent-adolescent relationships. Sex education can also improve one’s ability to talk about topics that are important to bring up but may be difficult to discuss – with parents, partners, and even medical providers.
Improved Social-Emotional Learning
While improvements to communication skills have been mentioned, there are other improvements to social-emotional learning as well. Sex education has been shown to increase empathy and respect for others among students. Students also show a better ability to manage the variety of feelings humans experience and report an increased sense of self-control. Notably, students may show high levels of positive self-image – including body image, a common concern for adolescents going through their formative years.
Increased Media Literacy
Although not a stated goal of sex education, programs that include a media literacy approach can also have additional benefits. Some studies show that media literacy approaches can teach students the skills needed to deconstruct media. Additionally, they can understand how media can affect our sense of self and the way we perceive teen norms. As we all know, TV and social media are not always the best depiction of normal life and can set adolescents up for unrealistic expectations.
Appreciation of Sexual Diversity
Sex education has been shown to increase the appreciation of sexual diversity. For example, one study found that students exhibited lower levels of homophobia throughout the school year. Less homophobic slurs were used, more empathy was shown toward a person’s sexual orientation, and there was even a reduction in stereotyping. Another study found that students also showed lower levels of homophobic bullying. In schools that had inclusive sex education, students reported feeling safer at school and more aware of bullying that was taking place.
Clearly, there’s so much more to sex education than just learning about our bodies. Creating an environment where open honest conversations can be had on difficult to understand topics has real benefits. Whether it’s beginning to understand more about sexual diversity or the signs of a healthy relationship, these topics need to be addressed at an age appropriate time. It’s important for every young person to have these skills and information to ensure they become healthy adults.
Written by: Daniel Delgado-Health Educator, Candor Health Education
- S. Goldfarb and L. D. Lieberman, “Three Decades of Research: The Case for Comprehensive Sex Education,” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 68, no. 1, pp. 13–27, Oct. 2020, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.07.036.