Sex Education, broadly defined, any instruction in the processes and consequences of sexual activity, ordinarily given to children and adolescents. Today the term usually refers to classroom lessons about sex taught in primary and secondary schools, usually as part of the biology class.
Historically, the task of educating adolescents about sex has been seen as the responsibility of the parents. However, parent-child communication in sexual matters may be hindered by parental inhibitions or by various inter-generational tensions, and studies have shown that children rarely receive their first information on sexual matters from their parents.
In the late 19th century, attempts by educators and social workers to supplement parental sex instruction concentrated on what was then known as “social hygiene”—basically, biological and medical information about human reproduction and venereal disease. In the post-World War II era, however, the relaxation of traditional social norms governing sexual activity, as well as the torrent of sex-related information available to children via the mass media, made a more sophisticated and comprehensive programme of sex education seem desirable to many.
The variety of subjects explored and discussed as part of sex education include the physical processes of human reproduction; the workings of male and female sex organs; the origin, dissemination, and effects of sexually transmitted diseases; family roles and structures; the ethics of relationships; and the emotional and psychological causes and consequences of sex (including under-age sex), marriage, and parenting.
Safe sexual practice is being increasingly focused on with the advent of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Frequently, however, the larger societal and ethical questions stemming from sexual behaviour, being highly subjective in nature, are not regarded as appropriate to a strictly factual approach. At all levels of instruction, teaching methods may include visual aids, lectures, and moderated discussions.
Although many parents approve of some type of sex education in schools, in practice there has always been some opposition to such classes. In many schools in Britain, the policy is to send a letter of consent to the parents of each child before the study is embarked upon to enable them to remove their children from classes should they so wish. Some parents object to sex education on religious or moral grounds.