National Sex Education Standards (NSES) Overview & Breakdown

Updated: Apr 21

What is the national standard for sex education? Turns out - it's pretty awesome! (I definitely wasn't taught all of this in school, but I wish I had been.)


The NSES is an initiative by Future of Sex Education (FoSe). This chunky curriculum is the second edition, and it is part of a collaborative effort with over 40 individuals and organizations, including GLSEN research institute! 


There are some cool changes between the 1st and 2nd edition of the National Sex Education Standards. I’ll go over them briefly because I think it’s pretty cool to see how knowledge is constantly being updated.

It’s okay to change! Especially in response to information. 

In the 2nd edition, ‘Healthy Relationships’ changed to ‘Consent and Healthy Relationships,’ and it’s recommended to start focusing on consent and bodily autonomy in early elementary school. The section previously titled ‘Identity’ changed to two topics: ‘Gender Identity and Expression’ and ‘Sexual Orientation and Identity.’ This change better reflects that gender and sexuality are separate areas of identity, and teaches students not to conflate the two. Next change,‘Pregnancy and Reproduction’ and ‘Sexually Transmitted Diseases’ were condensed into sexual health. This new section takes a more holistic approach; it reflects the overlap of knowledge and skill needed to navigate and prevent STDs and STIs, and pregnancy. ‘Personal Safety’ changed to ‘Interpersonal Violence,’ which reflects new standards written with a trauma-informed lense. This change is in part to better care for both students and teachers who may have experienced trauma related to these subjects, and the new topics include trigger warnings at the beginning of material. Finally, the 2nd edition has a heavy emphasis on systematic aspects of race, gender, class, and other features of identity, and the intersectionality of these many parts.







Alright, lets get into it! Below you can find each of the sections included in the standards, and what students are expected to know by grade level. (I hope you like reading lists! This is a long one.)


* = Content Warning

  1. Consent and Healthy Relationships

By the end of elementary school (5th grade): Define bodily autonomy, boundaries, and consent, Describe the characteristics of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, Identify healthy ways to express feelings and trusted peers or adults to talk to, Communicate personal boundaries and demonstrate how to respect other people’s boundaries.


By the end of middle school (8th grade): Define sexual consent and sexual agency, Describe how differences in power and position can impact relationships, Compare and contrast platonic, romantic, and sexual relationships*, Analyze how social and cultural factors can influence expectations about sex and relationships, Describe strategies a student might use to end an unhealthy relationship*


By the end of high school (12th grade): Describe how the media might perpetuate characteristics of unhealthy relationships*, Analyze how media portrayals, cultural and social factors, and power and privilege can influence relationships, sexual behavior, and conceptions of pleasure and consent*, Apply a decision-making model to maintaining healthy relationships and ending unhealthy relationships.


2. Anatomy, Physiology, and Puberty


By the end of elementary school: List body parts, including genitals, by medically accurate names, Recall the human reproductive systems and know that there are natural variations in human bodies, Explain the physical, social, and emotional changes that occur during puberty, Identify credible sources of information about puberty. 


By the end of middle school: Explain human sexual development and the role of hormones in romantic and sexual feelings, masturbation, mood swings, etc, Define medical accuracy and analyze medically accurate sources of information.


By the end of high school: Describe the cognitive, social, and emotional changes that occur during puberty, Analyze how social and cultural factors affect self-concept, body image, and self-esteem.


3. Gender Identity & Expression


By the end of elementary school: Define gender, gender identity, and gender-role stereotypes, and explain the difference between cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, and gender expansive identities, Explain that gender and gender expression exist along a spectrum, and discuss the various ways people express their gender, Identify trusted adults to talk to about sexual orientation, Demonstrate ways to promote dignity and respect for people of all gender identities.   


By the end of middle school: Analyze how peers and family can influence expectations and beliefs about gender identity and expression.* Access medically accurate information about gender identity.


By the end of high school: Analyze how social and cultural factors can influence expectations and beliefs about gender identity and expression. Explain how support from peers, family, and community can support well being as it relates to gender identity. Advocate for community policies and programs that support people of all gender identities. 


4. Sexual Orientation & Identity


By the end of elementary school: Define sexual orientation and differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity. Identify trusted adults to talk to about sexual orientation. Demonstrate ways to promote dignity and respect for people of all sexual orientations.   


By the end of middle school: Define sexual identity and explain various sexual orientations such as heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc. Analyze how social and cultural factors may influence beliefs and expectations about sexual orientation. Access credible sources of information about sexual orientation.


By the end of high school: Define and differentiate between sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and sexual identity. Explain how support from peers, family, and community can support well being as it relates to sexual orientation. Advocate for community policies and programs that support people of all sexual orientations. 


5. Sexual Health


By the end of elementary school: Define reproduction and explain the relationship between sexual intercourse and reproduction. Define STDs, including HIV, and clarify common myths about transmission


By the end of middle school: Define vaginal, oral, and anal sex. List at least four methods of contraception that are available without a prescription. Describe pregnancy testing, signs, and options (including parenting, adoption, and abortion). Explain STDs, including signs and symptoms, or lack thereof, and how they are transmitted. Compare and contrast how different behaviors, including abstinence, affect the potential risk of transmitting STDs. Identify medically accurate sources of information about STD prevention, testing, and treatment. Identify factors that are important in making decisions about engaging in sexual behaviors and demonstrate ways to communicate decisions. Define racism and intersectionality and describe their impacts on sexual health. Explain the impact that media, including pornography, can have on one’s body image and self-esteem


By the end of high school: Compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of various disease prevention methods. Demonstrate the ability to effectively communicate with a partner about abstaining or engaging in sexual activity, using contraception, and preventing, getting tested, and seeking treatment for STDs. Develop a plan to eliminate or reduce the risk for unintended pregnancies or STDs. Describe the steps for how a person living with HIV can remain healthy. Define reproductive justice and explain its history. Analyze social factors that might inhibit discussion about sexual histories and STDs between partners identify ways to begin conversations. Analyze factors that can influence use of contraception, including perceptions of risk or pleasure. Analyze the impact of stigma, myths, and biases on STD prevention, testing, and treatment. Analyze the state and federal laws related to minors’ ability to give and receive sexual consent and sexually explicit media 


6. Interpersonal Violence


By the end of elementary school: Define child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and domestic violence and identify behaviors that would be considered harmful*. Identify situations that may be uncomfortable or dangerous, and identify adults to talk to about these situations*. Demonstrate ways to start conversations when seeking help, and identify strategies to use to call attention or leave a potentially dangerous situation*. Explain that some survivors/victims are not believed when they disclose abuse, and emphasize that it is never the survivors/victims fault*. Describe the steps someone can take if they are being sexually abused*


By the end of middle school: Define interpersonal violence and its effects on sexual health*. Define sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and gender-based violence and describe strategies that sex traffickers/exploiters might use*. Identify community resources and/or other sources of support.


By the end of high school: Describe different types of abuse and the cycle of violence as it relates to interpersonal and sexual violence*. Analyze how social and cultural factors might influence beliefs and attitudes about interpersonal and sexual violence*. Demonstrate how to access credible sources of information and resources for survivors/victims of interpersonal and sexual violence. Identify ways to reduce risk in physical and digital settings related to sex trafficking and exploitation.

I was so pleasantly surprised after reading through these. I can highlight numerous topics that I was never taught in elementary school, or even in college! There is so much I don’t even know now! But it tickles my brain in a nice way to know that hopefully the younger generations are getting a really solid education on things like consent, the gender spectrum, relationships styles, and everything else.


All of this information came from the NSES 2nd edition which you can read for yourself here!


https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/NSES-2020-2.pdf

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