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UNESCO Updates Global Guidelines for Sex Ed

Updated: May 3, 2021

By Eleni Pacheco

When communities around the world asked: “How should we implement sexual health education?” The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization answered.

Nearly 10 years ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) created a technical guide on sexuality education in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic – recently, they’ve expanded on that effort. Updates to the guidance are encouraging policymakers and educators around the world to invest in accurate and age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).

Studies from reputable institutions like Oxford University have shown that, in this day and age, CSE is the most effective form of sexual health education available. The new volume, revised to provide solutions to global disparities, responds to modern movements such as the #MeToo movement, a social uproar around sexual assault and marginalization, by providing education within the structure of human rights and gender equality.

The updates are also a part of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, a call to action to leave no one behind in the quest for a sustainable global community. The CSE guidance touches on at least 9 of the 17 specific goals listed in the 2030 Agenda, including eliminating poverty and ensuring health and well-being for all. Given the prescribed age for implementing CSE is 5–24 years, the hope is young people will learn to understand and manage friendships, family relations, and –eventually– romantic and sexual relationships with confidence and empowerment, leading to healthy decision-making.

The goal of UNESCO’s guidance is to define and exemplify comprehensive sexuality education, and to garner support for the movement. Due to CSE’s holistic approach, it can be categorized and implemented in many ways, such as prevention education, relationship and sexuality education, family-life education, HIV education, life-skills education, healthy lifestyles, and basic life safety.

CSE has been found to have positive outcomes such as:

  • Delaying young people’s first experimentation with partnered sex

  • Decreasing young people’s frequency of having sex

  • Decreasing the number of sex partners in young people

  • Increasing condom-use in teens who engage in sex

  • Increasing use of contraception in teens who are having sex

  • Reducing unintended pregnancies

  • Reducing STI transmission rates

  • Reducing gender-based violence

While several factors influenced the decision to promote comprehensive education surrounding sex and sexuality, perhaps the most pressing is the influence of technology. Television, smartphones, social media, and the internet often offer the first exposure to sexual information and images to many young people. Other global issues, such as sexual violence, often against women, signaled the UN to write this guide with a firm grounding in human rights and an understanding that sexuality is a natural part of human development.


Who worked on the guidance?

  • The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)

  • United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

  • The World Health Organization (WHO)

  • United Nations Entity for Gender Equality & the Empowerment of Women (UN Women)

  • The University of Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention

  • The United States-based organization Advocates for Youth

What do you think about the United Nations prescribing CSE? Tell us your thoughts in this poll.


Eleni Pacheco, San Antonio Project Coordinator, discovered their passion for culture and sexuality while studying anthropology at UTSA. They chose to work in sex ed with the mission of creating world peace through shared power and community efficacy. Outside of education, Eleni shows love by feeding their friends (often experimenting on them with new recipes) and bonding over backyard karaoke.

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