Sex education involves the teaching of useful knowledge and related skills of critical issues related to sexuality, including intimacy, human relationships, sexual identity and gender roles, reproductive anatomy and body image, puberty and the reproductive process, emotional aspects of maturation, the value of continued abstinence among teens who are not sexually active, alternative methods of contraception and HIV/STD (sexually transmitted disease) prevention, and the health consequences of avoiding contraceptives and prevention methods among sexually active youth.

Studies show that adolescent sexuality is most influenced by parents, followed by peers, and finally, by what is learned in schools.

Sex education developed in response to various studies showing high rates of teen involvement in sexual activity (75 percent by the college years) and low rates of contraceptive use and knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Risky Sexual Practices

Further, these studies showed that several situational factors contribute to risky practices among teens — especially failure to plan in advance for sexual activity (on the assumption that planning for sex damages spontaneity and romance) and use of alcohol and/or drugs prior to or during sex.

Also, less than complete ability to assess the potential consequences of one's actions has been found to be common among teenagers. All of these factors are associated with low levels of condom use among teens, and usually all are addressed in sex education programs.

The primary goal of school-based sex education is the promotion of sexual health. To achieve this goal, most programs seek to provide accurate information about human sexuality, an opportunity for value clarification, skills to improve interpersonal relationships, and assistance in exercising responsibility in one's sexual life, including acquiring healthy behaviors and attitudes regarding sexual behavior.