When I was in high school, I was a member of the Jewish youth group BBYO. At the end of my Junior year, I ended up running for a spot on the regional board as Shlicha – the person in charge of community service and social action. My senior year was spent planning all sorts of regional activities that focused on community service and social action. The topics ran the gamut, but there was one workshop that really stood out to me.
At the beginning of the school year, I had been given a big box full of activities and resources from previous Shlichim. I sifted through it until I stumbled across a VHS that included a clip from a 90210 episode (the original series… none of this newfangled CW nonsense).
The activity centered around safe sex education and I wondered why I had yet to see the activity in my previous few years involved in BBYO. I decided it was time to break it out. Juniors and Seniors were allowed to sign up for this particular one. We watched the 90210 clip (at this point I can’t even remember what it was about, but something in the back of my mind makes me think it was about Donna and David trying to decide whether or not to have sex), and then had a frank and open (and at times, giggly) discussion about safe sex and consent. I left that event feeling both proud of my activity and BBYO for allowing such an important workshop to take place. Even at 17, I had an idea that what we were discussing was at some level controversial, regardless of how crucial it was.
As I grew older and became a high school teacher, I quickly learned just how important sex education classes were. I’ve written before about the need for quality comprehensive sex education.
Every year I would sit and listen along with the students as a well informed representative from Planned Parenthood would visit, and through the use of visuals, humor and raw facts, do her best to impart this life saving information…in ninety minutes.
The weeks following the presentation never failed to have the same outcome. Students would approach me, understandably upset over statistics like the fact that although 15–24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half (9.1 million) of the 18.9 million new cases of STIs each year.
Female students made up the majority of those that came to me, and regardless of the student, our talks always seemed to boil down to one major question… “How did I not know this?”
Then, after I left teaching and had my son, I found myself further concerned with the state of sex education in our schools. We have an “ask anything” policy here in my house. My son – at 6 – is pretty well versed when it comes to most of the biological aspects of sex (i.e. how is a baby made?), and we’ve had countless discussions about consent, even though he doesn’t realize the connection just yet. And I wonder, what other information will he be exposed to in school?
What’s prompted me to think about all of this? The Healthy Youth Bill, which is currently being held in committee and needs our support. The Healthy Youth Bill is commonsense legislation. In fact, I wrote to the committee in support of it for their hearing back in May. The bill states, that any Massachusetts public schools that decide to provide their students with health education must select a comprehensive curriculum. Right now, there is no standard benchmark for sexuality education. Because of this, the quality of information students receive can vary dramatically between districts. Research and evidence has shown time and time again that quality comprehensive education truly makes an impact – at every age. This is something I have witnessed – as a teen, a high school teacher, and now, as a parent.
It would be incredibly frustrating if this bill stalls and doesn’t make its way out of committee. If you live in MA, please help push it along by contacting your legislator and asking him or her to throw their weight behind this bill. Otherwise, current teens might actually get all of their sex-ed knowledge from today’s 90210, and well…that’s not something I want to think about.