Want Better Sex Ed? Talk To These Teenagers
You’ve probably heard about the amazing students from Stoneman Douglas High School, who’ve been raising their voices for gun control and saying #NeverAgain. Did you know there is a similar movement of teens and young adults pushing for better, more consent-based sex ed in schools?
In the wake of #MeToo, schools and teachers across the country are examining what they’re teaching about consent, sexual harassment, and healthy relationships. The Washington Post reports that this year, “at least two dozen states are considering legislation that would incorporate sexual violence prevention into middle and high school curriculums.”
As a health teacher in California, which adopted the most progressive sex education requirements in the country in 2016 and requires high schools to teach affirmative consent (a.k.a. “Yes Means Yes”), I’ve seen how much can change when states mandate comprehensive sex ed. Like a lot of other educators, I think that better sex education can go a long way towards reducing sexual harassment and assault, and creating schools that are welcoming to everyone, including LGBTQIA students.
Here’s a look at what some of these young activists are doing:
8th grader Maeve Sanford-Kelly and her mother, Maryland Delegate Ariana B. Kelly, partnered to put forward a new bill that would require school districts to “provide age-appropriate instruction on the meaning of “consent” as part of the Family Life and Human Sexuality curriculum beginning in the 2018–2019 school year.” Check out Maeve speaking out for affirmative consent here:
17-year-old high school senior Lauren Atkins is working with a group called “Yes All Daughters” to persuade lawmakers to pass “Lauren’s Law,” which would train public school teachers to to teach about sexual consent in the classroom. In this interview with Vice, she talks being raped by a classmate, and explains that she thinks the young man who assaulted had a better understanding of consent, “he might not have done what he did.”
In the video that accompanies the story, it’s clear that her direct, personal approach is very effective at getting lawmakers to consider making changes:
In this interview with the Boston Globe, she explains that “my little sister was a huge inspiration to me with her being much younger, and I still want to help make the world a better place for her and her friends as she’s growing up. So a big focus of mine on the advocacy front will be getting mandatory consent education in all schools, starting at an appropriate age and appropriate topic.”
18-year-old KC Miller was so frustrated with sex ed in his state that he wrote his own bill, The Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act, to change things. When I interviewed him for Scholastic’s Choices Ideabook, Miller said “Instead of feeding children fear tactics and medical inaccuracies — which are the cornerstone of abstinence programs — we need to give our youth the tools to understand how to keep their bodies happy, safe, and healthy.”
Miller is serious about this effort — he’s even founded a non-profit organization to advance the cause. He’s been some great media coverage, with stories in Bustle, Broadly and Care2, and he just gave this TEDx talk where he explained why he thinks comprehensive sex education is so important:
Consent Education Minnesota is starting a “youth and young adult-led grassroots legislative initiative to pass a state statute requiring K-12 affirmative consent education.” They have enlisted prominent sexual assault prevention activist Abby Honold to help build support for the effort.
The group outlines its goals this way: “We believe the solution to gender violence is addressing it at the root — dismantling toxic masculinity, rejecting rape culture, addressing deficits in social services, and improving healthy relationship curriculum in our schools. Our mission is to educate, train, and support students, parents, and educators to improve their community’s sexual education curriculum, with a focus on consent.”
To support their organizing, they are raising money with a GoFundMe campaign.
If you’re reading about these teens and thinking that you want to do some sex ed advocacy of your own, check out this great tools that Working to Institutionalize Sex Ed (WISE) has pulled together in this WISE Toolkit. WISE is dedicated to “helping schools institutionalize sex education so that sex education is an ongoing part of a school’s curricula.” Its toolkit is perfect for anyone who wants to change things up in their community or school.
Another great resource for information about sex ed is The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). The organization advocates for “the right of all people to accurate information, comprehensive education about sexuality, and the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health services.” They are always up-to-date on the latest developments in sex ed legislation around the country, and helped created the #teachthem campaign with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke.
Connecting with Youth Advocates
If you are a youth activist and want to find other young people doing similar work, here are some great resources to check out:
Advocates for Youth supports a wide variety of fantastic sex education initiatives, but the organization’s Youth Activist Network is especially impressive. They invite young people to “help us to shape our world into one that recognizes adolescent sexual development as normal and healthy and recognizes young people as leaders in the fight for social and reproductive justice.”
URGE: Unite For Reproductive & Gender Equality works to “educate their communities and advocate for local, state, and national policies in solidarity with other justice focused groups.” The group spotlights youth leadership, saying “Young people today are constantly depicted as disengaged and irresponsible. In fact, we are anything but. We are more progressive than our parents, more educated, and far more connected. We are powerful, engaged, and ready to lead.” The spell out the the case for better sex ed by featuring essays by young writers, like this piece by Dene Dryden.
The organization Stop Sexual Assault in Schools created the #MeTooK12 hashtag, and works with young activists like Chellie Labonete to promote its campaign to rid schools of sexual harassment and assault. The group has pulled together a whole collection of resources for people who are ready to take on this issue in schools.
Sex, Etc. is a website and magazine written “by teens, for teens” that covers topics like sex, relationships, pregnancy, STDs, birth control, and sexual orientation. The site’s Sex in the States page provides a “state-by-state guide to teens’ rights to sex education, birth control and more.” It’s a great place for young people who are interested in promoting sexual health to find one another.
Scarleteen is a fantastic website that provides information on sexuality and relationships for teens. Founded by sex educator and writer Heather Corinna, the site employs a whole group of young people as staff members and volunteers to provide sex ed online.