Donna Chaiet, shown above. Media provided by Gazette Media Staff
A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that among the ages of 15-17, almost 80% of teenagers who have had sex did not receive any formal sex education before they lost their virginity.
For decades, sex education has been a staple of a mainstream school curriculum. Now, American teens are receiving sexual safety instruction that meets the minimum standard. Sex education is something every teenager needs as information about safe sex helps prevent teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and protection in situations relating to consent. Recently, more students have voiced concerns about the lack of sex education at Grace. Although many students have taken sex education at the school, many claim they have not. As a result, many of these students feel that not only should the subject have been taught to them but that sex education should also begin earlier and take place more than once.
A student’s freshman year is a new chapter of their lives. Starting high school is especially daunting and filled with emotions and experiences that can be overwhelming. During the course of the year, 9th-grade students take a class called “Prepare Healthy Relationships” which teaches students about consent, substances, and confrontation. Donna Chaiet, the leader of the outside-of-school organization called Prepare Inc., described the program in an email to the Gazette as one that “helps students reduce intimate partner violence and promote healthy relationships.” She added that “sex, gender and sexuality education is — in fact — violence prevention…Comprehensive sex, gender, and sexuality programs reduce peer aggression and promote empathy, reduce perpetration of sexual violation, and reduce vulnerability to sexual violation.”
Despite having this class integrated into the curriculum, numerous Grace students believe that sex education should extend beyond this 9th-grade course. Mikail O.’25 claimed, “We should have more sex education as freshmen. I think it’s a fundamental class to take. Even though we’re young, we need to know these things in order to actually be prepared.”
Hudson B. ‘25, agreed, stating that freshmen should continue to take “Prepare Healthy Relationships” and learn about sex education in some format.
Although it is possible that administrators are hesitant to increase the amount of sex education within the curriculum because high school students are somewhat young, the reality is that we will rely on other resources if we are not educated at school (like researching online). Different people have different experiences at different times, so it may be beneficial to teach sex education as early as possible, ensuring that all students are prepared to confidently say no. “Eighth grade or freshman year would have been a good start,” says Sarah W. ‘23. Another anonymous student candidly shared, “I was a sophomore when I first had sex, and at that point in my life I had never taken a sex education class. When we finally [learned about sex ed] at Grace, it was too late and it didn’t prepare me enough.”
It is no secret that teenagers are exposed to sexual content in the media depicted in TV shows and pornography. Alexandra Sifferlin wrote in Time Magazine’s “Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed” that the average American teen spends over seven hours a day on media devices using platforms such as Instagram, Tiktok, and Snapchat. Research shows that over 75 percent of primetime TV programs contain sexual content and the idea of sex appears up to eight or ten times in a single hour. Kids who are exposed to any form of sexual disinformation without realizing its fallacies could be misinformed for life if not properly educated. This is often the only sex education teens receive. Watching TV does not provide education about how to protect yourself, nor does it provide an accurate portrayal of sex and what to expect. Penny A. ‘24 stated, “media has really impacted not only my life but this generation’s life, and I never really acknowledged it because we are all so unknowingly addicted.” Whether we like to admit it or not, the media often isn’t a dependable source for a topic that has such life-altering consequences if not taught correctly.
Gender Equity Club, led by seniors Leo M. ’22 and Ava A. ’22, works to promote sex education as well as shed light on many other significant issues surrounding gender-based controversies. Leo took sex education in 10th grade and he remarked that he enjoyed the class and felt comfortable in it. He also noted that, while it did speak a lot about consent and our own bodies, he was confused about why they didn’t learn about contraception. “Although I have no complaints about what we learned, we must acknowledge that it is a topic that everyone will have a different experience with and everyone learns at a different pace. It’s difficult to know if we learned everything we needed to know.”
The other co-leader of Gender Equity had a very different experience with the class. When asked if she had had sex education at Grace, Ava claimed, “I might have but I can’t remember, and the fact that I can’t remember says a lot to me.” Ava also remarked that “it’s important for all high schoolers to have sex education. It can very literally change the course of our lives drastically if we’re not educated in the right way or just don’t know how to protect ourselves.”
Evidently, students at Grace have had very different experiences with sex education. Ms. Ilana Laurence, supervising teacher of Gender Equity and Dean of Student Life. She explains, “We teach sex ed. in a ‘spiral method,’ which means that, depending on their age and grade level, students concentrate on the information that is developmentally appropriate about each of the topics in the curriculum.” Now the debate to be had here is: when is the right time to be having these conversations, what constitutes an “age-appropriate” topic? Who should be deciding these things? Although many students believe that Grace has a solid curriculum for sex education, many believe it should become a more prominent feature in the learning environment of our school. Research has shown that neglecting to teach students about sex may promote feelings that their bodies and sex are shameful. Grace is known for its strong student-teacher relationships, and perhaps we should look for ways to capitalize on this to better prepare students for a lifetime of mutually respectful and safe relationships.