It’s Senior Year, Did You Have Sex Ed?

By Lori Rose

Editors’ note: This piece was originally for Mr. Lewis’ B Band senior-only Journalism elective. It has since been kindly given to us, the editors, from the author for publication. Thanks, Lori!

“It was useless.” 

That’s exactly how a high school senior describes her entire experience with sex education at her school. A sentiment that could surely be echoed by teens all across the country. That class was just a rightly important educational experience that only occurred just this October, meaning it was during her senior year, her last year, for what basically boiled down to 50 minutes of staring uncomfortably at her history teacher as he explained stuff she already knew. Clearly, incredibly effective. 

But this was also a lesson that, mind you, only occurred during her once-a-week advisory band, and then never mentioned again. A lesson that appeared as suddenly as it disappeared. But what takes the cake is the fact that other students could certainly (and loudly) protest that they didn’t even have much! They didn’t have anything at all

So surely, if it’s only one single lesson for her very last year in high school, this lesson must’ve been so impactful, so condensed full of important information, it could obviously encompass all the complicated and interweaving points that should encompass sex ed, shouldn’t it? Including the details of sexual health, puberty, unhealthy relationships, romantic relationships, sexual relationships, sexual violence, contreception, different sexualities, different genders, STD’s, consent, and medically accurate information of people’s bodies while acknowledging different cultural backgrounds. 

Simple, right? 

So, did it manage to accomplish all of that? Did it encompass everything a teen would need to know about themselves about their own sexual health? How to navigate the different types of relationships one may have, including the unhealthy ones? How to understand their changing bodies, possibly their sexuality, and being safe during sexual intercourse? 

According to this senior, of course it didn’t! 

“It was just made of ‘don’t do this’ or ways to avoid diseases,” the senior explained to me in an interview. “Yeah, it was all preventative. Preventing getting STDs and HIVs and stuff but it should be more like the benefits of it, which is like something I don’t learn in school.” 

And when speaking about being taught by her advisor specifically, she mentions, “He’d make me so uncomfortable talking about sex. And that’s the thing too, like it’s not just about… teaching you sex, right? We have to have an open conversation about it. We can’t do that with someone you don’t trust. So yeah, I can’t really explain it. And besides that, I don’t trust my teacher to… be open and inclusive when talking about sex.” 

And she’s completely right.   

But then again, all of this shouldn’t exactly be a surprise to anyone. 

That senior goes to Beacon High School, and here’s the thing here, folks, that high school lies within this neat little city called New York City. Very nice place, very loud, very busy, known for big apples and being very good at being overly expensive. But in her wonderfully sleep-deprived city, there’s this little thing called the Department of Education, or DOE for short, which abides by very barren rules enforcing sex education. 

These rules basically boil down to the fact that at least once in a student’s entire school life, specifically between becoming a plucky lil’ 6th grader all the way to being that exhausted high school senior battling senioritis and the horrible stress of the college application process, they must have a health class that warns them about the dangers of STDs. 

That’s it. 

That’s all there is, and according to guidelines, that’s all there needs to be. There’s not even a regulated curriculum setting any clear standards for that. And as for New York, the state, there’s nothing. 

Nothing whatsoever. 

Sex education, which is legally determined on a state by state and school district by school district basis, is hardly taught across the country. 

And this country needs it. 


According to various studies, teens across the country are in shambles

When it comes to pregnancy, a whopping 750,000 teenagers get pregnant annually, with a solid 82% being completely unintended. And in the wake of Roe V. Wade overturning, those are thousands of teens forced to carry the emotional, physical, and financial burden of an unwanted pregnancy. That completely risks their education, increases dropouts, consequently changing the entire course of their lives, putting a burden not only on the young teens themselves but their families’ face the strain of it too.  

Then, on the subject of STDs, teens actually make up almost one half over the astonishing 19 million new STD infections every year. How many of them know what’s happening to their bodies? How many have the means to get properly treated? How many unknowingly transmit to their partners? 

Plus, when it comes to sexual violence in relationships, one in 10 have already experienced partner violence, 8% being forced into intercourse, while one in 10 admit they’ve committed sexual violence on someone else. And for LGTBQ+ teens specifically, 82% of them face harassment based entirely on their sexual orientation with 38% experiencing physical harassment. 

In fact, only 18 states have a legal requirement for sex education to be medically accurate. The same 18 are the only ones required to even mention birth control, an incredibly important milestone for teens to even be able to make safe decisions that essentially risk the course of their entire lives, including their education. 

But on top of that, there’s an even smaller pool of states that’s just at a staggering 10 states out of 50 that actually require discussing LGTBQ+ identities. A population, mind you, that exists in the millions within the United States. There are millions of teens who need information about themselves, millions of other teens who need to understand their peers, that simply aren’t getting it. 

Because outside of that tiny pool of states, schools are banning the very mention of LGTBQ+ identities altogether, or demonizing them entirely. There’s no requirement to be medically accurate when discussing teens’ sexual health. There’s no requirement to do anything more than just saying abstinence is the best option or the only option. There’s literally nothing but the very bare minimum of requirements that either a) just plainly don’t work at all and have been proven not to work, or b) are actively harmful to the lives of teens across the country. Which they very much are, if even a brief glance at those statistics from before can tell you a little something. 

Clearly, there’s a giant chasm where the country’s sex ed should be. Obviously, there needs to be a change and very, very soon. Though, luckily, there are plenty of passionate people and plenty of organizations trying to do their part to rectify this issue exactly. 

And one of these passionate people include a certain someone like Alison McKee, the new Executive Director of Sex Et cetera, an organization whose purpose seeks to rectify through teaching teenagers about their sexual health and therefore how to keep themselves safe, happy and healthy. A severely needed breath of fresh air against the rancid onslaught of incorrect info being circled around by students’ schools, parents, peers. Or, the very lack of it. The latter of which is very present. 

So, how exactly does Sex Ed work, and what does it even do? Those were my questions in my interview with McKee, and her answers were illuminating.


Basically, Sex Etc’s methods can be described as a two-fold approach: firstly, a selected group of teens work as writers to create articles relevant to today’s youth. All about sex ed, obviously. Examples of such articles can range wildly from ‘Celebrating Condoms’ by Samantha Gunton, to ‘Why Consent Can Help Prevent Sexual Assault’ by Alex Crosby, and ‘Transgender Men Can Get Pregnant Too’ by Sarah Solomon.

The second aspect of the program are the very real articles just like the ones above. All the stories, snippets, and information once just previously posted in the organization’s printed, physical magazines, now posted online to their website, all carrying medically accurate and socially relevant info for any teen to read and free of charge. All they need is the internet and knowledge it actually exists in the first place. Sex Etc’s social media, partially managed by the teen cohort, helps to advertise. 

“So what I love about it and the impact of it for me is we have people who want to be journalists, but we also have people who are just passionate about this and they want to participate, but they get a lot out of it because they get more success than most people do. But then they also get to learning how to put it into a story and engage other people.”

Its involvement of teens leading the wave of articles and working together with adults manages to make Sex Etc one of the top websites for teens to get relevant information, and one of the most popular by their posted stats of website traffic. 

And Sex Etc’s focus on being student driven rather than schools’ direction of rapid-fire info aimed at teens and not with them, is one of Sex Etc’s purposeful focal points. McKee explains the choice of involving teens like this: 

“We as the staff might have a lot of experience teaching sex ed but it doesn’t mean we know what’s most relevant for someone who’s 18 or 19 or 20 years old right now. So if we work together, we, you know, we can correct someone. So if they have the incorrect information about chlamydia, I can say ‘Well, that’s actually not totally correct. Let me tell you about this.’ But they’re the ones who know how other teens want to hear about this. It’s a really cool combo because like we also learn from the teens, which is fun for us too.”

McKee’s organization: Sex, Et Cetera.

McKee’s passion to become executive director in an organization working towards informing teens evolved not only from her own past experiences of teachers dancing around the subject of sex ed, but from a multitude of experiences: a career working for domestic violence agency, then Planned Parenthood, and health educator at Temple, as well as her own concerns as parent. 

“A lot of people are parenting right now,” she explained to me. “That are like, ‘I want this for my kids because I didn’t have it’ and ‘I want to make sure that they’re safe and that they don’t harm anybody else’ but because they don’t have good information, when those kids are in a relationship that’s not fun or healthy it’s because no one taught them differently. But it’s hard.” People, parents, some at least want better for their kids than they had. 

How can parents pass on all the right information to kids living in a different time, a different age? How can people teach what they’ve never had for themselves? 

McKee understands how little information people can be given, having experienced that blatant lack of information herself.

“You made me go way back to high school and think about this. I did have sex ed, but it was really limited. It was really focused on-not even how a pregnancy happens but like the stages of pregnancy. I remember spending a really long time talking about that, fetal development and then childbirth. I remember talking a very little bit about HIV. But I also remember very clearly there was no real discussion of, like, sexual behavior and sexually transmitted transmitted infections. It was just like HIV is this thing and it’s passed through these fluids, but there wasn’t any kind of connecting the dots for us. When I moved on to college, I took the human sexuality class being like, ‘Oh, they were uncomfortable, right?’. They didn’t want to have to say ‘this is how these bodily fluids would transmit HIV’. So they were just like ‘it’s bodily fluids’. And that made me scratch my head a little. So imagine how many students were just like, what are they even talking about?” 

Clearly, from McKee’s and plenty of generations’ experiences with sex ed, all the way to the current age of sex ed for teens everywhere, barely anything has really changed despite the need for it. And while, yes, Sex Etc manages to reach a lot of teens accessing their website, or through their various social media like tiktok, all trying to help teens help themselves around their sexual health and relationships, to help them help their own peers to make safer and much more sound decisions when it comes to such a usually such an iffy topic, the country as a whole still struggles horribly with sex ed. 

Organizations like Answer’s Sex Etc help plenty, but the education system around the country needs to be doing more. But what would that even look like? How would it work? How long would classes be? 

Sex Etc seems to have the right idea. For the senior from Beacon, much like the Sex Etc’s cohorts system of working with teens rather than lecturing at them, she explained her ideal of sexed involved a comfy environment. There’d be a professional of the field coming in to have an open conversation with the class rather than a lecture. For how long, if it’d be for weeks, months, years, and exactly what years, she’s not sure, but certainly she affirms, the conversations around sex ed need to be open. 

And as for McKee, this isn’t a high school issue but one involving the entire system of education. Her ideal sex ed involves lessons as early as kindergarten that grow and develop with the students, topics appropriate for their age and experiences. For example, when they’re young, they’ll learn about their body parts, respecting others’ bodies and their own, and how to have healthy friendships. Then overtime, it’ll eventually expand into more complicated subjects, like navigating how to ensure one’s partner wears contraceptives, continuing the topic of consent, and recognizing unhealthy relationships. 

Both of their dreams of a better sex ed experience all revolve around comfort, and betterment, for kids and teens everywhere, and while the current state of sex ed is severely lacking, perhaps, one day, those dreams can finally be realized for the betterment of teens everywhere. The problem is clearly apparent for everyone to see, after all. 

Luckily, most of the problems stem from the exact same place: money. 


Funding depends on who’s in charge evaluative wise, and schools are already known to be notoriously underfunded, so add those two problems together and you get, drum roll please, plenty of schools who simply opt out of it, or desperately accept any free or low cost educational materials they can get. 

The problem with that is the fact that most, if not all of those educational materials are made in the hundreds by groups venomously against actually comprehensive sex ed that could help teens rather than leave them dangerously ignorant, leave them in danger of irreversibly changing their lives for the worse, or treated them horribly from any range from racist, sexist, homophobic or a combination. 

The solution, clearly, is federal funding and mandated comprehensive sex ed. And unlike the very obvious problem, and the very popular solution for most problems in this country, how exactly we get decent federal funding isn’t as simple, a little bit tricker maybe. But it’s not impossible, just trickier. But the demand for better sex ed is getting louder and louder, and much like most systematic, federal issues, it calls for the right people in office, and the people shouting for the right acts to be put in place. So maybe that senior and executive director’s dreams aren’t so far away after all. Sex ed can get better, as long as we fight for it. And if not for your generation, then the next, for the future of this country and the benefit of everyone everywhere.