Who Is Measuring the Effects of Comprehensive Sexuality Education?


(photo by Freddy Fam, via Flickr)

Last week, the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) reported on the Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI)—a youth development organization—and on how they were struggling to measure the impact of the comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programs they were providing in Nigeria. Comfort Ikpeme, a coordinator for the GPI, wrote of how her organization has been using the Voice, Action, Comportment, Opportunity, and Knowledge (VACOK) checklist to determine some of the less tangible outcomes of the work they do.

This checklist was developed by the Ms. Foundation for Women. It measures:

  • Voice: girls’ ability to speak on their own behalf
  • Action: girls’ ability to use their voices to act on behalf of others
  • Comportment: girls’ ability to carry themselves with pride, respect and dignity
  • Opportunity: girls’ ability to ask for new chances and experiences
  • Knowledge: girls’ ability to give accurate information on sexuality, human rights, and gender issues

“The checklist helps us identify incremental changes in behavior that indicate changes in girls’ confidence,” writes Ikpeme. “We use this tool periodically over the course of the three years girls are enrolled in the program.”

It’s a fascinating approach. While many educators are proponents of CSE, there has not been nearly enough research on the effectiveness of the programs that do exist, and on how best to implement them.

So what research does exist?

In 2007, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released Emerging Answers 2007, a review of research findings on the effectiveness of HIV and sex education programs. Among the results were signs that CSE does, in fact, reduce risk behaviors.

And in 2015, the United Nations Population Fund published the Evaluation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education Programmes: A Focus on the Gender and Empowerment Outcomes. This evaluation grew out of a meeting that was convened in order to discuss the impact of CSE and, in addition to providing a review of existing research, it also took a close look at the tools and instruments that have been used to assess this form of education.

Both of these reviews provide a solid overview of the research that has been conducted over the past 10 to 20 years.

If you’re curious about more information on how CSE programs hold up under close scrutiny, statistics on its effectiveness can also be found on the websites for both the Guttmacher Institute and Planned Parenthood, and on other sex organizations’ sites. And—happily—more and more researchers seem to be turning their attention to the implementation strategies of existing CSE programs, as campaigns to implement these programs increase in intensity.

But if you’re already convinced of CSE’s effectiveness, and are far more interested in learning how best to implement a CSE program yourself, or in how to measure its effectiveness, Planned Parenthood provides resources on both implementation and program evaluation. And in 2007, the Healthy Teen Network and ETR Associates also collaborated on a meaty, 74-page document titled Tool to Assess the Characteristics of Effective Sex and STD/HIV Education Programs, with partial funding from the Division of Reproductive Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How do you determine your program’s effectiveness? What components do you wish you could measure?