Sexual health


Adolescence is often the time that young people experience their first romantic relationship and become sexually active.  In fact, research indicates that in developed countries young people are having sexual intercourse for the first time at increasingly younger ages (1); at the same time, young people who have sex before they are emotionally and cognitively ready can be at an increased risk for having unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STI) (1). Early and risky sexual behaviour may also be a symptom of a larger problem, such as poor mental health.


Addressing sexual health bahaviour in schools can have the potential to indirectly improve academic performance and reduce the chance of school drop out related to teenage pregnancy.  Comprehensive sexual education (CSE) can build school connectedness for students, which is strongly associated with reduced sexual activity in adolescence (2); such initiatives can also delay the time of first sexual intercourse leading young people to report that they have better communication with their intimate partner. Schools can provide reliable information on sexual health to adolescents as they are confronted with physical and emotional changes in this period.

Important strategies for sexual and reproductive health include (3):

  • skills-based health education with age-appropriate content and participatory learning methods;
  • a healthy physical and psychosocial school environment;
  • school-based services that provide adolescent-friendly reproductive health services and mental health promotion, counseling and social support

What makes initiatives on sexual health effective?

School-based initiatives on sexual health are effective if:

  • programmes are conducted by trained and empathic educators (factsheet 2);
  • they focus on clear health goals and types of behaviour (4)


Spotlight - sexual health in school publications

Special Issue in Health Education on sexual health education in schools

Six papers on sexual health education in schools, with the support of the SHE research group, have been published in the Journal of Health Education. The papers were developed with recognition of the need to endorse positive and wide socio-ecological views of health, including sexual health and a critical educational approach to sexuality education. Read more about the Special Issue in sexual health



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