New research: Quality sex education has broad, long-term benefits for young people’s’ physical and mental health

An extensive review finds that in addition to helping to prevent teen pregnancy and STIs, sex education can help prevent child sexual abuse, create safer school spaces for LGBTQ young people, and reduce relationship violence

Washington, DC – New research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health has identified a wide variety of benefits of comprehensive, quality sex education. 

For Three Decades of Research: The Case for Comprehensive Sex Education, Eva S. Goldfarb, Ph.D. and Lisa D. Lieberman, Ph.D. examined studies from over three decades of research on sex education and found “evidence for the effectiveness of approaches that address a broad definition of sexual health and take positive, affirming, inclusive approaches to human sexuality.”


From the authors: 


“We undertook this research because of the glaring lack of work that examines the impact  of sex education on all aspects of sexual health, rather than limiting the scope to pregnancy and STI prevention. Our research found that sex education has the potential do so much more. The impact of quality sex education that addresses the broad range of sexual health topics extends beyond pregnancy and STIs and can improve school success, mental health, and safety. As with all other areas of the curriculum, building an early foundation and scaffolding learning with developmentally appropriate content and teaching are key to long-term development of knowledge, attitudes, and skills that support healthy sexuality.

Further, if students are able to avoid early pregnancy, STIs, sexual abuse and interpersonal violence and harassment, while feeling safe and supported within their school environment, they are more likely to experience academic success, a foundation for future stability.”

The paper found that sex education efforts can also succeed in classrooms outside of  the health education curriculum. Given that most schools have limited time allotted to health or sex education, a coordinated and concerted effort to teach and reinforce important sexual health concepts throughout other areas of the curriculum is a promising strategy.

Members of the Future of Sex Education Initiative, a coalition of organizations working to ensure all students in grades K–12 receive comprehensive, quality sex education which developed the National Sex Education Standards, welcomed the research: 


Debra Hauser, President, Advocates for Youth:

“This paper confirms what educators and young people see every day in classrooms and school communities: sex education helps young people have healthier, safer lives and more affirming environments. We owe it to every young person to make sure they not only have the information and skills they need to protect their health, but that they are safe in their schools and their homes.”


Chris Harley, President & CEO, SIECUS:

“At SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, we have been asserting that individual and social benefits of sex education extend far beyond simply decreasing rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among young people. This new wealth of research is just the start of illuminating that the power and importance of comprehensive, inclusive sex education is in it’s ability to do so much more. The findings are clear: sex education helps all of our young people lead happier, healthier, safer lives—no matter who they are or how they identify.


Dan Rice, Executive Director, Answer:

“When it comes to most topics taught in school, the motto is often “Knowledge is Power;” but there’s often a double standard when it comes to sex education. This paper provides the evidence that access to comprehensive sex education is not only empowering to all students, but can also help to improve their emotional and social development.”

Eva S. Goldfarb, Ph.D. , and Lisa D. Lieberman, Ph.D. are available for comment; please reach out to emily@advocatesforyouth.org.