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Citizens Union


Students Need More than 'Abstinence, Abstinence, Abstinence'


On Tuesday, I’ll be testifying at a New York City Council preliminary budget hearing to ask for funding for comprehensive, K-12 sex education in city public schools. For teens like me, curiosity and questions surrounding sex are common, and have been throughout the ages. But a reason so many of us still have questions is due to the lack of good, clear, thorough sexual education, specifically in city public schools.

For me sex ed began outside of the classroom. Friends would tell me bits and pieces of information that they picked up from the most random sources, whether it be other friends, the internet, or, most commonly, television. I thought of sex as some type of mystical explosion with fireworks abounding. I went throughout all of middle school without receiving even a tidbit of sex ed from my teachers.

Once I reached high school, I had a health class my freshman year in which sex ed was a small, one-week unit. In addition to the short timespan I also found that I was overloaded with facts, like rates and percentages of STDs that didn’t explain data in a way that I or my classmates could apply to our lives. My teacher did a great job of stressing the importance of abstinence – but it stopped there. We never had a condom demonstration or even mentioned LGBTQ issues. I knew there was more to sex and sex education, and I was determined to seek it out.

I had my first glance at the other piece to the puzzle when I joined the New York Civil Liberties Union’s (NYCLU) Teen Activist Project. TAP was the first time the lack of comprehensive sexuality education was directly addressed, and hearing someone say what I was thinking and affirming that it was an issue was powerful. I was moved to action and from TAP I was given the opportunity to take more specific actions towards sex ed through the Youth Advisory Council of the Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City (SEANYC).

On the Youth Council, I have a platform to make a direct impact on my community, my public school and public schools across the city. I jumped at the chance to join this group, where real conversation can happen, and the opportunity to help others is so central to the mission. How often do youth get to work on issues that directly impact people and their families? Not often enough. I joined the Council so I could have a seat at the table to work on something that affects me and the generations coming after me.

Part of the reason that sex ed is so essential is teen pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education and teen pregnancy correlate; when teens receive quality sex ed they make smarter decisions when it comes to sex and reduce their risk of pregnancy.

In my own life, I have had family friends, ages 16 to 18, become pregnant before their time. I’ve had friends fear that they’ve contracted an STD after a night of unprotected sex. These are all woes that could’ve been avoided if they’d been taught how to be safe.

My friends come to me for questions that should’ve been answered years ago in a classroom. Whether they’ve received sex ed or not, many young people will become sexually active, and they deserve to have the information they need to make healthy decisions. We can directly feed the knowledge into our public schools.

I’ve never talked to my parents about sex; it’s too awkward a conversation for us to ever have, and I know that many of my peers feel this way. Not having the chance to talk about sex in school and become educated about so many related topics only compounds the problem. Without anyone to talk about sex with, where will teens learn?

By providing comprehensive sex education, schools do so much more than they realize – they’re elevating a student’s health and well-being in the long term. Every school should offer this needed education, so that every student receives it.

Sherell Farmer is a high school student and member of the Sexuality Education Alliance of NYC’s Youth Advisory Council (SEANYC), which advocates for age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education in grades K through 12 in New York City schools.

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