ARCHIVED - Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education


Developing a Broad Framework for Sexual Health Education

The Guidelines have been conceptualized and integrated within a broad framework for sexual health education. The framework outlined consists of philosophy, elements and characteristics of effective sexual health education and guiding principles.


The expression of human sexuality and its integration in an individual's life involves a dynamic interplay between:

  • personal desires and abilities;
  • the needs and rights of others; and
  • the requirements and expectations of society.

Effective sexual health education should be provided in an age-appropriate, culturally sensitive manner that is respectful of individual sexual diversity, abilities and choices. Effective sexual health education also:

  • Does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, physical/cognitive abilities and religious background in terms of access to relevant, appropriate, accurate and comprehensive information.
  • Focuses on the self-worth, respect and dignity of the individual.
  • Helps individuals to become more sensitive and aware of the impact their behaviours and actions may have on others and society.
  • Stresses that sexual health is a diverse and interactive process that requires respect for self and others.
  • Integrates the positive, life-enhancing and rewarding aspects of human sexuality while also seeking to prevent and reduce negative sexual health outcomes.
  • Incorporates a lifespan approach that rovides information, motivational support and skill-building opportunities that are relevant to individuals at different ages, abilities and stages in their lives.
  • Is structured so that changes in behaviour and confidence is developed as a result of nonjudgmental and informed decision making.
  • Encourages critical thinking and refl ection about gender identities and gender-role stereotyping. It recognizes the dynamic nature of gender roles, power and privilege and the impact of gender-related issues in society. It also recognizes the increasing variety of choices available to individuals and the need for better understanding and communication to bring about positive individual health and social change.
  • Challenges the broader and often invisible dynamics of society that privilege certain groups (e.g., heterosexuals) and identifies those dynamics which marginalize or disadvantage others (e.g., sexual minorities, people with disabilities, street-involved youth).
  • Addresses reasons why anti-oppressive (sexual) health education is often difficult to practice.
  • Recognizes and responds to the specific sexual health education needs of particular groups, such as seniors, new immigrants, First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, youth, including ‘hard to reach' youth (e.g., street-involved, incarcerated), sexual minorities (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, intersex and and individuals with physical or developmental disabilities, or who have experienced sexual coercion or abuse.
  • Provides evidence-based sexual health education within the context of the individual's age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, physical/cognitive abilities, religious background and other such characteristics.

Philosophy of Sexual Health Education Reflected in theGuidelines…

The sexual health education activity, program or policy integrates the philosophy of sexual health education presented in the Guidelines.

The sexual health education program emphasizes the self-worth and dignity of the individual.  
The sexual health education activity or program instills awareness of the impact that one’s behaviour can have on others.  
The sexual health education program refl ects a balanced approach to sexual health enhancement and the prevention of negative outcomes.  
The sexual health education program deals with sexual health education as a lifelong process requiring consideration at all ages and stages of life.  
The sexual health education program assists behavioural change through informed individual choice.  
Ensures that access and content do not discriminate against individuals on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, physical/cognitive abilities, religious background and other such characteristics.  
The sexual health education program counters misunderstanding and reduces discrimination based on the characteristics previously mentioned.  

Elements of Sexual Health Education

Broadly based and effective sexual health education involves a combination of educational experiences that allow individuals to develop:

  • a deeper understanding that is relevant to their specific health needs and concerns;
  • the confidence, motivation and personal insight needed to act on that knowledge;
  • the skills necessary to enhance sexual health and to avoid negative sexual health outcomes; and
  • a safe, secure and inclusive environment that is conducive to promoting optimal sexual health.

Research consistently demonstrates that positive sexual health outcomes are most likely to occur when sexual health education integrates understanding, motivation and skill-building opportunities and occurs in environments conducive to sexual health (see the Theory and Research in Sexual Health Education section for more information).

Figure 1. Elements of Sexual Health Education

Figure 1: Elements of Sexual Health Education
Text Equivalent - Figure 1

Figure 1 summarizes five elements of comprehensive sexual health education. One element of comprehensive sexual health education is knowledge acquisition and understanding. This includes: information relevant to personal sexual health; understanding of individual and cultural differences in beliefs about sexual health; and information about ways to achieve/maintain sexual health. Another element of comprehensive sexual health education is motivation and personal insight which include acceptance of one’s own sexuality; development of positive attitudes toward sexual health-promoting behaviour; and critical awareness raising about sexual health issues.  The third element of comprehensive sexual health education includes skills that support sexual health, such as the ability to formulate age-appropriate sexual health goals; ability to carry out sexual health promoting behaviours to reach those goals; ability to raise, discuss and negotiate sexual health issues with partner(s); and ability to evaluate and modify one’s sexual health plan as necessary. The fourth element of comprehensive sexual health education includes environments conducive to sexual health. These environments are established by developing personal awareness of environmental influences on sexual health and acquiring skills needed to identify and influence the social practices/policies/structures that affect and influence sexual health. The fifth element of comprehensive sexual health education is sexual health enhancement. This includes: positive self-image and self-worth as an aspect of acceptance of one’s own sexuality; integration of sexuality into mutually satisfying relationships; and attainment and maintenance of sexual and reproductive health. These five elements together are shown in the figure to influence sexual health behaviours.  Sexual health behaviours, in turn, are shown to lead to the reduction of negative sexual health outcomes including prevention of unintended pregnancy; prevention of sexually transmitted infections including HIV; prevention of sexual harassment/exploitation/abuse; and prevention of sexual dysfunction.

Knowledge Acquisition and Understanding

This element helps individuals to:

  • acquire the knowledge and understanding that is appropriate to their level of development and ability, and directly relevant to their own sexual health needs, including information about developmental stages, prevention of negative sexual health outcomes and maintaining or achieving an optimal level of sexual health;
  • integrate relevant information with personal values to create a personal sexual health plan;
  • recognize the behaviours, resources and supports that can help them to attain positive sexual health outcomes, as well as potential personal, cultural and/or societal barriers to sexual health that they may experience and need to address;
  • learn how to apply their knowledge and understanding to behaviour that will lead to the development of positive sexual health outcomes and prevent negative ones; and
  • learn how to share their knowledge and promote sexual health information with family, friends, partners and their community.

Motivation and Personal Insight

This element helps individuals to:

  • develop positive personal attitudes towards attainment of sexual health and performance of sexual health promoting actions;
  • engage in opportunities for the clarification of personal values;
  • foster acceptance of one's own sexuality and self-worth as a foundation for attaining, maintaining and enhancing sexual health; and
  • raise their awareness of the personal benefits of taking action to enhance sexual health and to prevent and/or reduce negative sexual health outcomes. It also helps individuals realize that there is social support (e.g., peer group approval) for taking action to promote sexual health.

Skills that Support Sexual Health

This element helps individuals to:

  • acquire developmentally appropriate skills that are necessary to achieve personal sexual health goals. This involves a personal decision-making process in which individuals integrate and evaluate information and knowledge with their own values in an effort to make conscious decisions about their sexual health needs and concerns;
  • engage in opportunities to learn how to raise, discuss and negotiate sexual health issues with partners. For example, individuals would learn how to negotiate and set sexual limits, including choosing not to take part in particular sexual activities; how to articulate their concerns and to negotiate and consistently use safer sex practices; how to avoid, or safely leave a situation in which personal and sexual health is placed at risk; and how to work toward nurturing, affectionate and respectful relationships;
  • learn to identify possible health challenges, evaluate the potential outcomes of their sexual health practices and to modify their behaviours as necessary;
  • learn how to use materials and access resources that can promote sexual health, such as using condoms/barrier protection, getting tested regularly for STI/HIV and seeking counselling and professional support in the face of sexual assault or coercion;
  • feel confident about their potential to achieve positive sexual health outcomes. This will help individuals to be more effective in negotiating healthy sexual behaviours and relationships with a partner. The intent is to encourage the development of a consistent practice of behaviours that will enhance sexual health and help individuals to learn appropriate ways of communicating their sexual health goals. Individuals who feel reassured when they make positive choices about their sexual health may be inclined to do so more consistently. They may also have the confidence to self-evaluate their relationship or situation and seek professional help to access care, treatment and support to improve their situation.

Environments Conducive to Sexual Health

This element helps individuals to:

  • develop an awareness of the ways in which the environment can help or hinder individual efforts to achieve and maintain sexual health;
  • create a learning environment where they can feel safe to ask questions, discuss values and share views with others;
  • respect diverse views, norms and values and provide support for decisions that support sexual health and challenge those that do not;
  • empower themselves with the knowledge, understanding and skills used to identify and access sexual health resources in their community and to act both individually and collectively to create environments conducive to sexual health;
  • assess a group's sexual health needs and to note the availability or lack of resources/supports to meet those needs;
  • organize, support and promote sexual health education programs and related clinical services and counselling that are needed;
  • increase the impact of sexual health education through consistent and coordinated health-promoting messages and services from governments, social service agencies, employers, media, religious and/or faith-based organizations, community leaders/role models, and other relevant institutions, individuals and agencies.
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