These High Schoolers Say, “Talking is Power”
We recently hosted tenth grade students visiting Washington, DC from New York City. The students reached out to us to learn about our work and the world of reproductive health care. They met with members of our staff to discuss their questions.
May is Sex Ed For All Month, which focuses on the sexual health information, access, and rights young people need and deserve to make healthy decisions for themselves and live life on their terms. To highlight Sex Ed For All, we asked the students questions about the sex ed curriculum they’ve experienced. They noted the need for more comprehensive curriculum and the importance of having a parent or champion in their life to answer questions about sex and contraception without judgment.
We heard from students themselves that talking is indeed power.
What was sex education like in your school?
Katrina and Maddie: We went to the same middle school and had sex ed in eighth grade. The school brought in an outside group who gave us a lot of facts about birth control. The group came in every other week for a month or two and taught our classes. They talked to us about what sex is and our birth control options and a little bit about consent. But they only covered heterosexual sex and they didn’t talk very much about the realities of life like money or how to involve our parents or what it’d be like to go into a clinic.
Nick: I went to a Catholic school and we only learned about abstinence there. They told us that if we had sex outside of marriage we’d get STIs and get pregnant. So we didn’t have any sex ed, they only went into details about the negative effects of sex.
Sara: My sex ed really focused on anatomy, not protection or information. They didn’t talk about birth control. We basically learned about biology instead of actual human interaction.
Did you feel that anything was missing from your sex education?
Katrina: My classes told us about how we should go to a clinic to get care, but they didn’t address what to do if we didn’t have access to a clinic or how much we (or the clinic) have to tell our parents. Also, we weren’t that mature in eighth grade, so I wish they had eased into sex ed more, maybe starting with teaching us about our bodies and then moving into more details and talking about stuff like consent and healthy relationships. That way we could be mature enough to handle the information we go instead of the class laughing a lot every time our teacher used words like penis or vagina.
Maddie: My friends were learning about things that I wasn’t because what we learned varied by what our class and our teacher. Standardized lessons or having us all in one class to learn together would have prevented this from happening. They also didn’t hand out any condoms, which means if we want them we need to ask someone or go buy them ourselves.
Nick: I wish we started getting sex ed at a younger age. I agree with Katrina, we should start smaller (like how our bodies work) before we move to larger issues (like consent and relationships). At our school consent is kind of a joke because of how it was presented to us and they didn’t cover how guys can get taken advantage of as well.
Sara: I wish they’d told us more about real life situations. We would have benefited so much from learning about coercion and how to have communication in a relationship. Schools could take away so much shame by being more informative, being more open, and being more supportive.
Who do you go to when you have questions about sex, love, and relationships?
Katrina: I go to my brother. He’s eight years older than me, but we’re still close and I trust him.
Maddie: I’m really lucky. I can go to my mom, but I also have a lot of adults in my life that I trust and can go to.
Nick: I don’t really have anyone.
Sara: My friends, but that’s not always the best because we don’t have all the answers. I go to the internet too sometimes.
In your ideal world who would you ask your questions?
Katrina: My Mom.
Maddie: I wish there was a counselor or teacher at school I could trust.
Nick: A therapist or a genie. I want someone who I can ask my questions, get answers I trust, and then they go away again. I want trusted information without judgement.
Sara: My parents.
We’ve changed their names to protect their anonymity.