The goal of the National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K–12 is to provide clear, consistent and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum, core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K–12. The development of these standards is a result of an ongoing initiative, the Future of Sex Education (FoSE). Forty individuals from the fields of health education, sexuality education, public health, public policy, philanthropy and advocacy convened for a two-day meeting in December 2008 to create a strategic plan for sexuality education policy and implementation. A key strategic priority that emerged from this work was the creation of national sexuality education standards to advance the implementation of sexuality education in US public schools.
Specifically, the National Sexuality Education Standards were developed to address the inconsistent implementation of sexuality education nationwide and the limited time allocated to teaching the topic. Health education, which typically covers a broad range of topics including sexuality education, is given very little time in the school curriculum. According to the School Health Policies and Practices Study, a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent School Health to assess school health policies and practices, a median total of 17.2 hours is devoted to instruction in HIV, pregnancy and STD prevention: 3.1 hours in elementary, 6 hours in middle and 8.1 hours in high school.
Given these realities, the National Sexuality Education Standards were designed to:
• Outline what, based on research and extensive professional expertise, are the minimum, essential content and skills for sexuality education K–12 given student needs, limited teacher preparation and typically available time and resources.
• Assist schools in designing and delivering sexuality education K–12 that is planned, sequential and part of a comprehensive school health education approach.
• Provide a clear rationale for teaching sexuality education content and skills at different grade levels that is evidence-informed, age-appropriate and theory- driven.
• Support schools in improving academic performance by addressing a content area that is both highly relevant to students and directly related to high school graduation rates.
• Present sexual development as a normal, natural, healthy part of human development that should be a part of every health education curriculum.
• Offer clear, concise recommendations for school personnel on what is age-appropriate to teach students at different grade levels.
• Translate an emerging body of research related to school-based sexuality education so that it can be put into practice in the classroom.
The National Health Education Standards2 (NHES) heavily influenced the development of the National Sexuality Education Standards. First created in 1995 and updated in 2007, the NHES were developed by the Joint Committee on National Health Education Standards of the American Cancer Society and widely adopted by states and local school districts. The NHES focus on a student’s ability to understand key concepts and learn particular skills for using that content. These standards were developed to serve as the underpinning for health education knowledge and skills students should attain by grades 2, 5, 8 and 12. The NHES do not address any specific health content areas, including content for sexuality education.
The National Sexuality Education Standards were further informed by the work of the CDC’s Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT); existing state and international education standards that include sexual health content; the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten – 12th Grade ; and the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics , recently adopted by most states.