Health topic: Health Promotion Sexual Health

Offer quality sexual health education

What's it about?

Sexual health in today's classrooms is much more than teaching about reproduction. Quality sexual health education is comprehensive and inclusive. It covers a range of topics, from healthy relationships and consent, to media literacy, sexual decision-making, and self-acceptance. It offers students information, motivation, and skills to enhance their sexual well-being and avoid negative sexual health outcomes.

 

What's involved?

Build your knowledge, comfort, and skill

Prepare yourself to teach sexual health with confidence. With time and practice, you may even look forward to teaching sexual health classes! Try these strategies:

  • Get comfortable with sexual health as a requirement of the Alberta curriculum. Human sexuality is part of Physical Education and Wellness (grades 4-6), Health and Life Skills (grades 7-9) and Career And Life Management [CALM] (grades 10-12). Use this curriculum overview to explore learning outcomes by grade.
  • Connect with colleagues to share and learn from each other about sexual health plans and resources, teaching methods, and experiences.
  • Set aside time for professional learning specific to teaching sexual health. Go to Teaching Sexual Health to find webinars and workshops for Alberta teachers, provided by Alberta Health Services’ team of sexual and reproductive health promotion specialists. 
  • Reach out to your school administrator or school authority wellness lead to ask about supports for teaching sexual health unique to your school or school authority, like mentorship opportunities or professional learning collaboratives.
  • Make a plan for teaching sexual health throughout the school year, not just in May or June. Give human sexuality the same attention and effort you give to teaching other subjects.

Competent and confident teachers are the right people to facilitate school-based learning on sexual health topics. As a teacher, you have a special connection with your students and a unique understanding of the dynamics in your classroom.

 Research confirms that students look to their teachers not only for curriculum-based sexual health instruction, but to answer questions and facilitate accurate, respectful, inclusive, and safe conversations.

Create safe, supportive, and inclusive spaces for learning about sexual health

Nurture a classroom climate that supports open and non-judgmental conversations and empowers students to actively engage in learning about sexual health. Here's what you can do:

  • Work with students to co-create ground rules—they're shown to build trust and safety in the classroom. Here are some examples:
    • Respect each other and our personal boundaries
    • No personal questions or put downs
    • It’s okay to pass
    • Don’t be afraid to have fun!
  • Clearly explain and demonstrate expectations around respectful, inclusive language at school. For example:
    • Use students' chosen names and pronouns
    • Use gender-neutral terms when you talk about relationships—for example, say partner instead of boyfriend or girlfriend
    • Use gender-neutral terms when you talk about reproduction—for example, say people who menstruate instead of girls who menstruate
  • Get students thinking and talking about gender identity. Encourage them to reflect on how gender roles and gender norms affect everyone, including non-binary people. Here are some ideas to try:
    • Explore why certain activities, colours, and behaviours are associated with specific genders. How does this affect students who are non-binary?
    • Talk with students about the role of gender norms in relationships—for example, who pays for a first date.
    • Challenge binary thinking by using gender-neutral names (like Alex, Sam, or Quinn) in classroom examples.
  • Offer anonymous ways for students to ask questions about what they’re learning, like a question box. Set aside time to answer questions in an informed and factual way. Use these pointers in responding to student questions to guide conversations.

 

Use evidence-based teaching practices and resources

Ensure that your approach to teaching sexual health aligns with best practices. Here are some key considerations: 

  • Use only high-quality lesson plans and instructional tools, available from reputable sources. Look for those that are:
    • Aligned with the Alberta curriculum
    • Age- and developmentally-appropriate
    • Fact-based and scientifically accurate—for example, using scientific terms for body parts
    • Inclusive of a range of sexual and gender identities, cultures, and lived experiences

  • Make sexual health learning opportunities relevant and meaningful. Help students see themselves and their realities reflected in lessons and activities. Adapt your approach to suit students' age, culture, ethnicity, ability and disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious background. 
  • Instead of focusing on sexual health risks or negative outcomes—like sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, or sexual violence—give equal weight to positive messages about human sexuality. Offer learning opportunities related to healthy relationships, consent, communication, respect, and decision-making.

 

Support learning about sexual health beyond school walls

Bolster ways for students to learn about sexual health outside of school, like at home or in the community. Here's what you can do:

  • Share ideas on how families can support sexual health education. For example:
    • Communicate about what’s happening in sexual health classes. Explain how lessons and activities meet curriculum outcomes, and give tips on how families can reinforce learning at home. 
    • Offer optional (non-graded) sexual health assignments or homework for students to do together with their parents/guardians. 
    • Encourage families to go to TeachingSexualHealth.ca/parents for advice, information, and tools to talk with kids and teens about sexual health.
  • Make sure students know where to go when they need support with sexual health—this is especially important for those who don’t always come to school. For example:
    • Point students to AHS' listing of Sexual & Reproductive Health Services in your local area, including sexual health education, clinical services, and programs. 
    • Promote youth-friendly, inclusive sexual health programs offered by trustworthy community organizations. Use 211 Alberta to search for options in your community.
    • Explain what sexual health services may be available from a school health nurse, and how students can access them.

 

How it connects

Teaching and learning about sexual health is central to safe and caring schools. Studies show that quality sexual health education improves students’ understanding of their rights in sexual relationships, prepares them to handle risky situations, and boosts their communication skills, empathy, and self-confidence. Quality sexual health education empowers young people to build healthy relationships across the lifespan.

Students who take part in quality sexual health learning opportunities tend to delay sexual activity and have fewer sexual partners. They’re less likely to have unprotected sex or experience sexual and gender-based violence. They have lower rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.

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