Historically, the measure of a good sex education program has been in the numbers: marked decreases in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies, and pregnancy-related drop-outs. But, increasingly, researchers, educators, and advocates are emphasizing that sex ed should focus on more than physical health. Sex education, they say, should also be about relationships.
Giving students a foundation in relationship-building and centering the notion of care for others can enhance wellbeing and pave the way for healthy intimacy in the future, experts say. It can prevent or counter gender stereotyping and bias. And it could minimize instances of sexual harassment and assault in middle and high school — instances that may range from cyberbullying and stalking to unwanted touching and nonconsensual sex. A recent study from Columbia University's Sexual Health Initative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) project suggests that comprehensive sex education protects students from sexual assault even after high school.
If students become more well-practiced in thinking about caring for one another, they’ll be less likely to commit — and be less vulnerable to — sexual violence, according to this new approach to sex ed. And they’ll be better prepared to engage in and support one another in relationships, romantic and otherwise, going forward.