Your web browser is outdated and may be insecure

The RCN recommends using an updated browser such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome

Sexual health education and training

Sexual health education, training and professional associations

To ensure that patients receive high quality safe care it is essential that nurses, midwives and healthcare practitioners who work in sexual and reproductive health, contraception and HIV settings have the appropriate qualifications, knowledge, competence and skills.

Sexual health covers a wide range of services as demonstrated by this umbrella diagram

A nurse who provides contraception should have undertaken a course that includes theoretical knowledge and clinical placements so clinical competence can be assessed and demonstrated in that area of practice. A nurse working in HIV would need theoretical knowledge and placement experience relevant to that area of care. See: RCN subject guide for sexual health.

The RCN publication Sexual and reproductive health: education, training and career progression in nursing and midwifery, provides details of the courses and various education pathways into sexual and reproductive health, and signposts nurses and midwives to valuable information.

If you are looking for funding for courses the RCN Foundation provides a number of bursaries and scholarships each year. For more information, see: RCN Foundation.

The RCN Sexual Health Education Directory identifies the education, training and qualification requirements for registered nurses, midwives, health advisers and nursing associates as well as unregistered health care support staff working in sexual health.

The directory is designed for all those in sexual health from entry level through to advanced practice and from registered nurses to nursing associates and health care assistants.

The directory is split into sections:

Introduction - with information of introductory programmes for sexual health.

Part 1 - Education programmes for providing Sexual Health Services (SH) and Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) and HIV for entry level, intermediate and advanced level roles.

Part 2 - Education requirements for providing Sexual and Reproductive Health services in Primary care. Essential and desirable criteria.

Part 3 - Education programmes for Midwives and Nurses in working in abortion care. Essential and desirable criteria.

Part 4 - Education programmes for Sexual Health Advisors (SHA) who are also registered nurses. Essential and desirable criteria.

Part 5 - Education requirements for Nursing Associates (England only). Essential and desirable criteria.

Part 6 - Education requirements for Health Care support Workers Health Care Assistants Unregistered staff working in Sexual and Reproductive Health Care. Essential and desirable criteria.

Part 7 - Cervical Cytology – Education training and skills requirement for all areas of practice across England, Scotland Northern Ireland and Wales.

"The directory is not intended to provide a definitive list of all the courses available. There are locally run and commissioned courses available which provide overall awareness and an introduction to sexual health. These programmes may also provide opportunities for CPD and sharing good practice. They do not replace HEI / FSRH or BASHH approved programmes. Local providers and commissioners should be able to advise on local courses, how to access these and how they fit with individuals being able to gain wider knowledge and competence in sexual health."

Professional associations

As a nurse or health practitioner working in the specialty of sexual and reproductive health, HIV, contraception and termination of pregnancy there are a number of professional associations that you can join. Each organisation provides a range of information, produces national standards and guidelines alongside educational opportunities and professional journals. 

Middlesex University

Contraceptive and sexual health module at level 6 or 7. The modules can be undertaken as theory only or alongside clinical placements. (see below for details of the course structure)

  • Theory only: provides the knowledge for nurses to advise and support men and women on sexual health and sexuality. Nurses undertaking the theory only element will not have the competence to work clinically in contraception and sexual health services.
  • Theory and practice: Will provide the knowledge base and enable nurses to become competent in the skills required to work clinically in sexual health services. The clinical competence component needs to be successfully completed and assessed within 3 years.
The module aims to develop health care practitioners who are able to work sensitively with clients and are able to understand the issues and management of contraception and sexually transmitted infections.  Completion of this module will give nurses a strong foundation of clinical and theoretical skills in contraception and sexual and reproductive health. It will enable health care practitioners to contribute more effectively to the sexual and reproductive health services and to evaluate the impact of sexual health policy and sexual health promotion strategies on service provision. 

Course structure:

  • Contraceptive and sexual health module Level 7
  • With clinical placements 30 credits
  • Without clinical placements 15 credits
  • Contraceptive and sexual health module Level 6
  • With clinical placements 30 credits
  • Without clinical placements 15 credits

For more information, see: 

University of Greenwich

The University of Greenwich provides a range of sexual health education, through accrediting prior experiential or certified learning. The university delivers a range of courses/programmes at levels 6 and 7.  These programmes include:

The courses can be taken on their own or put together for a full degree. The breadth of the programmes include:

  • Sexual Health Skills and Promoting Sexual Health
  • Sexual Infections
  • Contraception and Reproductive Health
  • HIV infections and disease
  • the accredited BASHH STIF-Intermediate course.

Most are delivered through blended learning approaches including classroom, on-line and practice experience.  

For more information, contact Dr David Evans, Professor in sexual health ( / @David_T_Evans) or follow us on Twitter at @SexHealthUniGre

University of Lancashire

The University of Lancashire provides a variety of sexual health courses as standalone modules or as part of the MSc Sexual Health Studies (at the Preston campus). For further information, see: Sexual Health Studies MSc.

Modules available include:

Contraception: Theory and Practice’ which provides the appropriate theoretical knowledge and clinical skills for safe practice in issue of hormonal methods of contraception including: Combined Hormonal Contraception, Progestogen Only Pill, Injectable contraceptives and Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) to clients in practice.

Other modules are available including ‘HIV and Hepatitis’, ‘Sexuality and Gender’, ‘Cytology’ and ‘Sexual Health Promotion’. For more information contact 

University of the West of Scotland

The University of the West of Scotland provides a graduate certificate sexual and reproductive healthcare that is available for registered nurses and midwives. The course combines theory with practice placements to enable application of knowledge to skills in clinical practice.  

Sexual health is a national priority in Scotland. Many traditional family planning and genito-uriary services have integrated in order to provide a holistic, one-stop-shop approach to care.Clinical practice is integrated with the theoretical component of the programme and may be started after the first six days of theory. Health boards allocate clinical placements to students and clinic times vary depending on the health boards. The focus is on working in partnership with clients to promote excellence in sexual and reproductive healthcare. For more information, see: Sexual and reproductive health.

Edinburgh Napier University

Provide a graduate certificate on sexual and reproductive healthcare.  This programme is designed to develop an interest in and understanding of sexual and reproductive healthcare. This course also combines theory with practice learning and provides the knowledge and skills to equip nurses and midwives to work in sexual and reproductive healthcare services, and enables them to develop an enhanced level of clinical competence in sexual and reproductive healthcare service provision. For more information, see: Graduate Certificate. Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Shining a light on sexual and reproductive health nursing

Sexual and reproductive health nursing staff discuss the services they provide, and the skills, knowledge and education needed to deliver the care required and how their services have changed over time.

Sexual Health Education Directory 350x170

Sexual health education directory

This resource highlights the education, training and qualification requirements for registered nurses, midwives, health advisers and nursing associates as well as unregistered health care support staff working in sexual health.