In order to make good decisions about their reproductive health, young people need reliable information, an opportunity to develop values and attitudes consistent with health goals, and the skills to behave consistently with their knowledge and values. Sexuality and family life education, including HIV education, helps prepare young people to make good choices as they transition to adulthood. Organized education about sex and HIV can take place in schools, in out-of-school and faith-based programs, in programs for parents, and through peer education activities. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) embraces a holistic vision of sexuality and sexual behavior that goes beyond the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, aiming to equip youth with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that encourage healthy behavior in the context of a positive view of their sexuality. CSE programming is rights based, encouraging a respect for human rights and diversity, critical thinking skills and general capacities for full citizenship, the development of norms and attitudes that promote gender equality and inclusion and that adopt a positive life-cycle approach to sexuality.

Research on programs emphasizing a more holistic approach to sexuality and skill building has confirmed the positive impact of curriculum-based sexuality education for young people.
Even so, such programs are often controversial because many believe that sexuality is a private matter for families and that talking about it in schools or other settings can lead to young people being more sexually active. Furthermore, the rights-based approach that lies at the core of true CSE often represents a challenge to existing power structures and value systems. Other challenges to implementing high-quality programs include inadequate teacher training and varying availability of funds.

In summary, CSE programs should include the following elements:

  • A basis in core values of human rights
  • An integrated focus on gender that promotes gender equality
  • Thorough and scientifically accurate information
  • A safe and healthy learning environment
  • Linkages to reproductive health services and other programs aiming to empower youth
  • A participatory approach that emphasizes strengthening communication skills, decision-making, and critical thinking
  • Strengthening the civic engagement and advocacy of youth
  • Strong local ownership of program content
  • Programmers should aim to reach youth wherever they are, including on the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach youth

UNFPA Operational Guidance for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: A Focus on Human Rights and Gender

In this guidance, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provides guidance to governments and programmers on how to best design, implement, and evaluate comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programs. These guidelines are based on scientific evidence, international human rights conventions, and agreed-upon technical standards and provide a clear common definition of CSE, a description of the essential components this includes, and four key intervention areas on which to focus (2014).

Comprehensive Sexuality Education Programmes: A Focus on the Gender and Empowerment Outcomes 

This report provides an extensive review and analysis of a wide range of evaluation studies in the field of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). By examining CSE programs at different stages of development and in diverse settings, the report provides important guidance to future evaluations of CSE programs on methodologies, data collection instruments, and age-specific approaches, particularly as these relate to gender and empowerment outcomes (2015).

The Case for Addressing Gender and Power in Sexuality and HIV Education: A Comprehensive Review of Evaluation Studies

This peer-reviewed article assesses whether curriculum-based sexuality and education programs that directly address gender and power result in better outcomes than those that do not. A review of 22 evaluated programs (10 of which addressed gender or power) found that those that did include these as a core component were five times as likely to be effective in terms of core reproductive health outcomes, including lower rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies (2015).

It's All One Curriculum: Guidelines and Activities for a Unified Approach to Sexuality, Gender, HIV, and Human Rights Education

It's All One Curriculum is a resource kit for developing sexuality and HIV education curricula with an emphasis on gender equality and human rights. The first volume, Guidelines, includes content units, fact sheets, "points for reflection," and a module on advocacy. The second volume, Activities, includes sample activities, a chapter on effective teaching methods, and an additional resources section.

It’s About More than Just Sex: Curricula and Other Educational Materials on Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health

Compiled by FHI 360 on behalf of the Interagency Youth Working Group, this list contains high-quality curricula and supplemental materials designed to improve youth reproductive health. Examples of adult- and peer-led (or youth-led) curricula are included to provide youth-serving organizations with user-friendly educational resources which can be used in a variety of program settings. Published by internationally recognized global health or academic organizations as well as country-based programs, all materials are available online or by mail free of charge or at minimal cost. Materials are culturally adaptable and appropriate for low-resource settings, and are specific, structured, targeted, and medically accurate (2013).