Sex Ed Saves, a curriculum

Sex Ed Saves, a curriculum

ICAH's youth leaders published a new comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for grades 6-12 that aligns with the National Sexuality Education Standards. It's the first curriculum of its kind.

Sex Ed Saves: Amplifying Youth Voice through Sex-Positive Education addresses youth's needs for sexual health, rights, and identities knowledge through a range of interactive and expressive activities that engage all learning styles. Lessons range from anatomy, pregnancy, and reproduction, to media justice, healthy relationships, and advocacy.

This curriculum stands in stark contrast to the bill passed through the US House as part of No Child Left Behind to prohibit funding for programs or materials “directed at youth, that are designed to promote or encourage sexual activity, or normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior, implicitly or explicitly, whether homosexual or heterosexual.” The young people who wrote Sex Ed Saves instead emphasize that sexuality should be medically accurate and shame-free rather than stigmatized. Studies have shown that none of the comprehensive programs hastened the initiation of sex or increased the frequency of sex and instead led to increased condom use and “delayed or reduced sexual activity” (SIECUS).

Countless longitudinal studies have proven that quality sexuality education leads to improved health outcomes and perception of self in young people. To that end, this book aims to improve the landscape of sex ed for the benefit of young people in Illinois. Although Chicago Public Schools are implementing medically accurate, inclusive curriculum across the board, the same is not true in the state of Illinois. Illinois does not mandate sexual education at all. When it is taught, according to the Illinois School Code, “honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage” must be taught. This strategy does not work for young people who identify as queer or trans, who are parenting, or who are not monogamous. These challenges inspired the youth leaders who wrote this curriculum to take an inclusive approach, opposing shaming sex ed practices that create a discriminatory school environment.

As one of ICAH’s youth educators and creators of the comprehensive curriculum put it: “Peer Education has the power to create or discover a leader in each youth.” If all Illinois schools taught this innovative curriculum, we’d be another step closer to ensuring all youth are safe, affirmed, and healthy.

What is Participatory Action Research?

What is Participatory Action Research?

Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a process of engaging a community in defining questions important and meaningful to their lives, gathering information and ideas about those questions, and coming to an understanding that generates insights that can be used to create social change. ICAH believes that youth are the experts of their own experiences and that PAR enables individuals to act as authors of their own narratives.

In 2013, ICAH hosted a PAR project to support families in understanding a core value: that young people need to be safe, affirmed, and healthy. The Given & Chosen Families Research Report provides both qualitative and quantitative insight into empowering ideas about conversations with given and chosen families about sex and sexuality. Youth implemented this research process in order to act as the primary investigators of their own lives and communities by asking:

What starts or stops youth from talking with their given and chosen families about sex and sexuality?

The report calls for a clear need to support healthier conversations between youth and their given and chosen families around sex and sexuality.

What’s a "given family"? The family you live at home with and/or the family you were born into such as your parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.

What’s a "chosen family"? the supportive community you put together outside of the family you were given. This can sometimes include friends, but also adult allies, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.

Main Goal for Research:

Assessing the perceived barriers and benefits among youth in starting family-supported conversations about sex and sexuality.

Key Objectives for Research:

  1. To compare the comfort levels among youth in talking with their given families about sexuality versus talking with their chosen families.
  2. To compare support provision between youth and their given families versus youth and their chosen families related to sexual health, rights, and identities.
  3. To assess the various sexuality-related topics discussed between youth and their given and chosen families
  4. To legitimize the concept of chosen families alongside given families for ICAH youth and all research participants

Methods for Research:

  • 80 Individual Interviews: 20 youth leaders each conducted four one-on-one interviews with their Chicago peers
  • 387 Online Surveys: 20 youth leaders disseminated an online comfort-assessment survey to youth ages 16-22 from across the country, supported by ICAH staff
  • 1 Focus Group: 20 youth leaders participated in one in-person focus group, facilitated by the Youth Education Coordinator, focusing on connecting the online comfort-assessment survey to positive sexual decision-making among youth


For longer discussions and statistics, please download the full report.

  • Youth are more comfortable talking with their chosen families about sexuality than their given families, but both groups lack the skills necessary to host accurate conversations.
    • 50% of youth perceived that the information presented to them by both their given and chosen families was only somewhat accurate.
  • Conversations between youth and their given families must be normalized and expected at a cultural level, increasing youth comfort in talking with their given families.
    • 63.2%of youth indicated that they feel more comfortable talking with their chosen families about sex and sexuality, compared to 9.7% who said they felt more comfortable talking with their given families14.5% who said they felt comfortable talking with both families, and 4.2% who said they felt comfortable with neither.
  • Youth utilize their given and chosen families for different types of support, so both families must collaborate on sexuality-related conversations.
    • When asked to list the top three types of support provided by each family, the majority of youth listed Emotional, Advice, and Intellectual support for their chosen families. For their given families, the majority of youth listed Educational, Financial, and Emotional as the main types of support provided.
  • Because chosen families are uniquely situated to host conversations on sexuality, youth should be encouraged to educate their chosen families about their bodies and health in informal settings, especially those who already have accurate sexuality information.
    • When asked, “What CAN’T you talk to your chosen family about?” 75.7% of youth responded, “Nothing, I can talk to my chosen family about anything.”
    • Noting the drastic amount of youth that reported having adult allies in their Chosen Families (33.5% of youth) opens a large opportunity for adults to support safe, accessible conversations with youth about sex and sexuality.
  • The concept of chosen families is relevant and necessary in building resilience strategies for youth, with 80.7% of youth responding that they had formed a chosen family. Programs and policies in family support systems need to affirm youth in building chosen families to plant seeds for healthy support structures in their lives.


This research will help ICAH’s youth leaders create action to change the way youth talk about sex with their given and chosen families and help ICAH build the capacity of adult decision-makers to better talk to, support, and advocate for youth about their sexual health, identities and rights. From the findings on family-supported conversations about sexuality, ICAH will better understand how to craft sexual health, rights, and identities trainings and campaigns for youth and the adults in their lives. Youth leaders will take each recommendation in the discussion portion of this report to build concrete action next year. They will focus on the research objectives to shape cultural advocacy and education strategies to transform the way youth and their families talk about sex and sexuality.

What are the National Sexual Education Standards?

What are the National Sexual Education Standards?

On January 9, 2012, four leading health organizations released the first-ever national standards for sexuality education in schools. Published in the Journal of School Health, the ground-breaking National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12 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 Kindergarten through grade 12.

The standards focus on seven topics:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Puberty and Adolescent Development
  • Identity, Pregnancy, and Reproduction
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Personal Safety

The National Sexuality Education Standards are not a mandate and they are not a sexuality education curriculum. Topics are presented using performance indicators—what students should know and should be able to do by the end of grades 2, 5, 8, and 12—and are based on the National Health Education Standards.

Download the National Sexuality Education Standards now!


The standards are the result of a cooperative effort by the American Association of Health Education, the American School Health Association, the National Education Association Health Information Network, and the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education, in coordination with the Future of Sex Education Initiative. Nearly 40 stakeholders including content experts, medical and public health professionals, teachers, sexuality educators, and young people developed the standards in a two-year process.

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. General health education is given very little time in the school curriculum. Even less time is dedicated to sexuality education. 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, 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. Studies have repeatedly found that health programs in school can help young people succeed academically and programs that included health education have a positive effect on overall academic outcomes, including reading and math scores.


ICAH’s training and education reflect our approach to sexuality education that is medically accurate, developmentally- & age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, trauma-informed, and inclusive of youth with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning identities.

We use the National Sexuality Education Standards to develop the curriculum used in our Peer Education and Adult & Professional Development initiatives. ICAH also uses the National Sexuality Education Standards to inform the support and technical assistance we give to school districts on their sexual health education policies. In February 2013, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) updated its sexual health education policy, based on the National Sexuality Education Standards and developed with the guidance of ICAH and other community partners.


Visit the Future of Sex Ed Initiative website.

Read the American School Health Association post.

Valentines Re-envisioned

Valentines Re-envisioned

Download and share our youth-envisioned digital valentines by right-clicking and saving. Show your loves that you care about their consent and communication! :) <3