General Articles

Positive Youth Development and Human Sexuality Education: Making the Connection


Katherine E. Romeo and Michele A. Kelley, “Incorporating Human Sexuality Content into a Positive Youth Development Framework: Implications for Community Prevention,” Children and Youth Services Review (September 2009).
Positive Youth Development (PYD) is an approach to youth programs and services that emphasizes “building relationships among youth and adults, empowering youth to advocate for themselves, focusing on strengths and assets rather than deficits, and including the youths’ social context in the intervention.”1 While many youth-serving programs use a PYD approach to address young people’s social skills, career development, or general education, very few directly address their sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. In contrast, sexuality education in the United States is often reduced only to the prevention of disease and unintended pregnancy, owing to a preference for deficit-based approaches in which risk and harm override all other possibilities for educating about healthy sexuality. Using the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, Kindergarten through 12th Grade, 3rd edition (SIECUS, 2004), the authors demonstrate how the life behaviors of sexually healthy adults align with principles of PYD. The authors invite program planners to use the Guidelines in tandem with PYD principles to plan or assess sexual health interventions for young people.
Key Findings:
  • PYD programs include services and education to help youth achieve the desired outcomes of “confidence, character, connection, competence, and contributions” (known as the “5 C’s”).
  • Traditional sexual health education fails to address young people’s needs across personal, relational, and collective contextual sites; this is especially true of curricula that demand abstinence until marriage.
SIECUS Analysis:
Using a conceptual model of “multiple contextual sites” for wellness (developed by Scotney Evans and Isaac Prilleltensky of Miami University), the authors challenge youth-serving professionals to integrate sexuality education into a PYD framework. They likewise challenge PYD-based programs that omit sexuality information to find ways of broadening and enriching their sexuality content to help youth attain skills necessary for a sexually healthy adulthood.
Highly regarded youth development programs, such as Project AIM(Adult Identity Mentoring),2 are sometimes hailed as “HIV-prevention programs” because participants reduce or avoid sexual risk behaviors in comparison to control groups. However, many such PYD-based programs provide no sexual health information and should not be miscast as sexuality education programs. Because the asset-based approach of PYD has shown an impact on sexual behavior, this article may assist both youth development and sexuality education programs to reassess how they might better meet the needs of the young people they serve.
1 Romeo KE, Kelly MA (2009). Incorporating human sexuality content into a positive youth development framework: Implications for community prevention. Children and Youth Services Review 31(9): 1002. <>
2 Clark L, Miller K, Nagy S, Avery J, Roth D, Liddon N, et al. (2005). Adult identity mentoring: Reducing sexual risk for African-American seventh grade students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 37, 337.e1–337.e10.