My Sex Ed Experience in School

by Isabel M.

Isabel is a teen writer who is part of the Females Against Violence Education Group based in San Francisco. We asked this group to write about their thoughts on topics related to pregnancy, contraception, teen health, and teen rights. The thoughts below do not necessarily represent those of the National Center for Youth Law.

My sexual health education has been very interesting but limited. I had sex ed classes in 6th grade and 8th grade at my school. I also got to learn more about sex at Females Against Violence with activities like relationship wheels and charts. My school doesn’t have a sex-ed program, but they offer one class for five days once every other year.

I learned about sex and relationships in my recent sex ed classes at school. I also learned more about relationships in a class I took on social emotional learning. I learned about healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to deal with them if I ever encounter them.

A knowledgeable and sensitive teacher is really important for good sex ed. Current information, education on birth control methods and access, and enough time for questions at the end were really valuable for me. I would like if one of the topics in sex-ed was Health consequences of HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy.

I would also like to learn about body image because many people aren’t comfortable with their body image so that keeps them from having a healthy sexual relationship. The health consequences of STDs and pregnancy would help me be better educated about choices I make in the future.

Have questions about STDs, HIV, and pregnancy? Make sure to take a look at our Youth Legal Guide to answer your questions.

Teens Have a Right to Privacy Too

By Julia A.

Julia is a teen writer who is part of the Females Against Violence Education Group based in San Francisco. We asked this group to write about their thoughts on topics related to pregnancy, contraception, teen health, and teen rights. The thoughts below do not necessarily represent those of the National Center for Youth Law.

Young people have the right to choose what sexual behaviors they engage in, and they also have the right to keep that decision private. But sometimes, young people butt heads with their parents on this issue, who think they know their child well enough to say a teen isn’t ready for a sexual or physical relationship. And by ignoring the fact that young people do engage in sexual behavior sometimes, parents put their teens at risk by not letting them talk about effective ways to protect themselves against STIs and pregnancy.

The truth is, sex may not be as special or as serious to you as it may be to others, and only you can make the choice about the role sex plays in your life.  Sex is normal and healthy, and at whatever age you’re ready to start having it, sex can make a relationship more intimate and fun.  

The fact that I can go to my doctor without worrying about her telling my mom about my sex life is great.  I’m grateful, but should I be?  The right to privacy and confidentiality from your doctor is something all teens are entitled to, but few know about.

Without knowing a doctor cannot tell parents about our sex lives, young women like myself would find themselves with many questions about how to protect themselves, and no one to feel comfortable asking.  Many teens who don’t have a supportive figure like a health care provider or a parent to help them navigate this area, or who don’t get adequate sex ed from school, are left to figure it out (or not) on their own.

What do you think about the right to confidentiality for teens? Would you talk to your doctor more about sex ed? You can learn more about your privacy and confidentiality in the Privacy Section of the Youth Legal Guide.  

Q&A: Teens Want More LGBTQ+ Inclusive Sex Ed

Natalia Young is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. NCYL interviewed Natalia about her work on the piece “Teens Say More LGBTQ+ Sex Ed Would be Really Helpful“. 

1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you into the topic of sex ed and the LGBTQ+ community?

What really got me thinking about this piece was a meeting that I had with my editor. We were talking about potential pieces for me to write, and ended up agreeing on a story about the amount of sexual freedom that LGBTQ+ teens have in contrast with their straight peers. But after conducting interviews with some girls, both my editor and I noticed a pattern in their answers; while they did appreciate the freedom they had, the girls wished for guidance and direction in their sexual encounters, which was something they didn’t feel they were getting in their schools (from Texas to Pennsylvania). After noticing this, we decided to to shift the focus to what seemed to be the real problem taking shape for teens in this community who felt like they didn’t have a safe place to get the information that straight kids often take for granted.


2) What personal questions did you have that you were trying to answer while working on this piece? Did you find those answers? What did you learn from this experience?

Going into this piece, my questions were mainly about the experiences that my sources had with sexual freedom. However, this topic took a different route when I learned  how little guidance they had as “sexual minorities”. I think my biggest question was really pretty broad- I just wanted to know what kind of sex ed they felt would benefit and guide them the most. After all, you can’t take action towards fixing a problem if you don’t know what the end goal is, right?


3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about teen sexual health, sexual education, and the LGBTQ+ community?

It definitely was never apparent to me that LGBTQ+ teens had such pressing desires for sex ed as opposed to straight teens, or how seriously those desires should be taken. It just never crossed my mind- it seems like kids never take high school health classes seriously (even the way these classes are portrayed in the media– think about that scene in Mean Girls where the gym teacher puts a condom on that banana…). But after working on this piece, I started to think about how problematic it is that such an important class (health/sex ed) has a stereotype for being the class that teens make fun of. This piece definitely gave me clarity regarding sexual education, and made me realize that it’s time public schools change their health curricula by implementing programs that will inform teens in areas where they actually want information.


4) In your work with your peers, what experiences of theirs struck you the most? What surprised you the most?

What struck me the most is how much they were affected by something that I and my straight peers really take for granted. I can remember all the “milestone” moments in our sex ed careers (many of which involved visual presentations, from Wonder of Wonders to a live birthing video).

We dreaded these things, we made desperate jokes about eating lollipops to try and make ourselves feel less awkward, we shrunk in our seats when asked if we had any questions (or, in the case of some boys in the sixth grade, shot our hands up high, just waiting to make an immature joke).

Meanwhile, there are plenty of students who never have and never will receive this kind of full disclosure about how they can safely be sexual. They don’t have the opportunity to ask questions. They don’t even have the opportunity to dread awkward yet informative sex presentations. Realizing this really took me aback, and made me think about how long we’ve all been hearing the same things. We could practically recite the information they’ve been feeding us for the past 5 years on straight sex, but anything that deviates from this specific education is pretty much uncharted territory.


5) What do you think still needs to be done to reduce the stigma around LGBTQ+ sex education? What strategies can improve sex education for teens both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community? Have you seen strategies that work? That don’t work? Please describe.

I think the key issue with “LGBTQ+ sex ed” is the fact that we feel the need to separate this concept from conventional sex ed. In every interview I conducted, with both teens and experts, “inclusive” was the word for the type of sex ed they’re striving for. Basically, LGBTQ+  matters should be incorporated into the “normal” curriculums that schools currently follow. This way, (1) it isn’t awkward for teens who identify as LGBTQ+ to be singled out (like, “okay, anyone who isn’t straight, today’s lesson is just for you!”) and (2) all students can be exposed to information that will ensure their health and safety, no matter what the circumstance.

Many high schoolers do not have a concrete sexuality- while they may feel that they’re straight, queer, etc, they can only have so much experience by the time they’re a late teenager (for example, I feel that I’m definitely straight, yet I’ve never been on a date or had a significant other). A teen may discover, through an experience later on down the road, that they identify with a sexuality they didn’t even understand in high school. By having inclusive sex ed, it’s possible to provide students with the knowledge to make healthy choices early on in their experimental years, ensuring that exploration of sexual identity don’t have to be risky.  


6) Having worked on this piece, what are your thoughts or advice for other teens on how to access sexual health education if they can’t get it in school? Did you find any useful resources you want to share? What would you tell a friend or a loved one to do if they were struggling with questions around LGBTQ+ sex ed?

I think different things work for different people. One source said she liked watching Laci Green’s YouTube videos; another said IMPACT, a simple Google search (ah! see how this can be problematic?), and talking to her brother, who was bi, helped her through some challenges and questions she faced.

If someone I knew was having any troubles around their sexuality, I would definitely offer myself up to talk. I think that’s one of the most important things a person can do in any situation. Even if you might not have the specific answers that the person is looking for, just giving support and advice has some value. Through the research that I did conduct, I was exposed to more websites based around sexual health (both LGBTQ+ specific and otherwise) than I could count. I also found out that many communities have youth health centers or youth initiatives (visit our Resources Map to find centers and programs in California).


7) What did you hope to accomplish with this piece? What do you want to see change in the future of LGBTQ+ sex ed?

I hope that this piece opened up readers’ eyes and minds to the fact that the lack of LGBTQ+ sex ed is a very real, very serious issue. I think because of prejudice that still exists around any sexuality that isn’t straight, it can be daunting to try and sort out a curriculum to cater to the needs of all teens. This is especially true when you consider the amount of gender and sexual orientation identities such as trans, pan, asexual, androgynous etc., which can seem overwhelming to older generations.

But that’s no excuse not to strive for progress! I think that this article makes it pretty clear that LGBTQ+ teens have a good idea of what they want in terms of their sexual education. If adults who can make a change catch onto this, and combine the actual needs of students with the understanding of experts, I think an inclusive curriculum is totally attainable. We need to completely push the concept of “LGBTQ+” sex ed out of our minds, and instead focus on sex ed that will do what its name suggests: teach about sex, for everyone.

You can learn more about maintaining a health and happy relationship by visiting our Sex and Relationships section in the Youth Legal Guide. 

Sex Health Education Cannot Be An Afterthought

By Sierra Freeman

I grew up not feeling super comfortable talking about very normal healthy parts of life such as periods, sex, dating, my body, etc. The first exposure that I had to health education was in 5th grade, watching a puberty video. We were split into two groups, boys in one room and girls in the other.

Everything about it felt so sporadic. We had never discussed this topic and it had never been incorporated into our curriculum. Iit was just one day where all at once we learned about body changes and puberty. After that we moved on and didn’t discuss it again. It was just one day, when in reality I know that most of us had so many questions that we were all too embarrassed to ask.

How are we supposed to feel comfortable, when that space was never created?

I remember getting a brown bag after that which included things like deodorant and pads. I was so ashamed and embarrassed and didn’t know how to talk about it, so I hid it in my closet. No one should feel that way about getting their period. I felt ashamed to even have a pad.

Moving forward, I didn’t have any set health courses until high school. I didn’t even take health education until my senior year of high school, because it wasn’t required my freshman year. I don’t remember benefiting much from that course. I thought in those moments that I must know everything about health, if I wasn’t gaining much from that class. Although the information was valid, I just remember it feeling very impersonal. I got more information online from Google searches and my own personal situations or questions. As time went on I realized that the information covered was a very broad overview and didn’t dive into topics or cover societal issues and how we are affected by them such as sexism, racism, or discrimination.

Now that I’m in college and feel that I am still expanding my health knowledge, I can see my experience with health education was lacking so much growing up. As a young adult, you know your personal experiences and what would benefit you, but you aren’t seeing that reflected in your educational experiences; you don’t understand why you experience them. If I am just one person, who identifies as a white, female heterosexual, I know there must be so many other people who feel they weren’t having their personal experiences reflected as well.  I only represent one tiny piece of the whole picture and there are so many others that aren’t included or their voices aren’t heard and represented. If health education isn’t relevant and reflecting our experiences, issues, and questions then what purpose is it actually serving?

We Spend All Day In School. We Should Get Our Health Education There Too

By Sierra Freeman

My experience with health education, like most people, is very relative to where I grew up and my personal background. With the Internet, many teens today have access to any information they need at their fingertips. I think this is an important tool to take advantage of. Although the Internet is really crucial in being able to reach teens, there is still a lack of education as a whole of inclusive, culturally competent, and comprehensive health education.

There are schools that have incorporated this comprehensive care into their curriculum, but why aren’t all schools doing so?

Why aren’t we providing legitimate care and health resources to students before college? Most young adults are dependent on their parents for this information, but this doesn’t happen in every home and can be biased. In my opinion, this is why it’s crucial for schools to step in to provide accurate, unbiased information regarding overall health that allows students to connect to health resources and take control of their own health and boundaries.

I’m not saying that parents can’t provide this accurate information; there can just be barriers that stand in the way if this isn’t done in the right way. There can be fear, shame, or lack of knowledge wrapped into information being presented or maybe even not discussed at all. If we have an institution in place where young adults are required to spend the majority of their life (school), then we need to make sure we are utilizing this space and time in a way that actually benefits the health of young adults.

If we don’t have this set in place, this information can be very distorted. For example, what if a young woman’s entire idea on sexuality comes from the media, where women are constantly over-sexualized? We need to put more of a priority on health education, regardless of where we live and what our community’s and/or family’s personal beliefs are.


In January 2016, California’s California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) went into effect.  This new set of laws will help ensure that California students receive instruction in school that includes comprehensive and accurate prevention information for sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy, as well as information about healthy relationships and local health resources.    The California Department of Education has a website about California’s comprehensive health education laws.

Learn more about your health rights in school by visiting our guide here.

Why Confidentiality Matters for Teens

By Sierra Freeman

Confidentiality. This word is so important to me now as a 22-year-old woman. But I hadn’t always paid much attention to it. Why is confidentiality so important to me now? Let me backtrack to the first time it ever became relevant to my own life.

I was a sophomore in high school and I had just become sexually active with my first boyfriend. Everything was so new to me and I didn’t know much about sexual health. For the most part, things had been going smoothly until one night when a condom broke during sex and I freaked out. I had never anticipated this happening.

Immediately so many questions started going through my head. Who am I going to tell? Does this mean I am automatically pregnant? Seriously, what do I do right now? My sexual education was very primitive at the time; I seriously didn’t know the answer to these questions. I remember my boyfriend spoke to his sister, who then told me about Plan B, the emergency contraceptive that you take after having unprotected sex. All of a sudden I had this moment of relief knowing that there would be people I could talk to. However, instant panic came over me again when I thought about having to ask my parents for money or for help making an appointment. This is where confidentiality came in to save me.

Reflecting now, I realized that when you are young, you don’t feel that you can be treated as an individual with your own experiences, thoughts, and concerns. Health was not something I felt in control of in my life. I was still looking to my parents to schedule appointments for me and to provide advice or to handle my health problems. However, the moment I was faced with a problem that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with them, I freaked out because I didn’t realize that I had confidential support.

After the incident, I reached out to my boyfriend’s sister and a couple of my closest friends, who helped me feel supported and safe. They directed me to Planned Parenthood and went with me without my parent’s knowledge. I was able to get the services I needed and all of my questions and concerns were answered. I felt safe in doing so and for the first time, I was able to speak with adults about reproductive health and the options that I had as well as how to pay for it.

I never realized, until that moment, that it my sexual health was something I had always wanted to talk about, just not with my mom in the doctor’s office. In my case, Planned Parenthood was my first taste of receiving confidential services that were so crucial to me at the time. As young adults, we have the right to confidentiality. At first, I felt slightly shameful, like I was being dishonest to my parents. However, I am proud of myself for taking control of my health and my body. If there is any advice I could give to my teen self, it would be that confidentiality is my right and not something I should EVER feel bad about.

Visit our Privacy Section of the Youth Legal Guide to learn more about your rights to confidential health care.  

Q&A: What You Need to Know About Teen STD Testing

Landon Hudson is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. Landon is a senior at Grand Haven High School and the editor in chief of the school newspaper, The Bucs’ Blade. She is on the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association All-State journalist team. She will pursue her passion for journalism at the University of Michigan while studying communications with an emphasis on journalism. NCYL interviewed Landon about her piece “Cost and Fear Keep These Teens from STD Testing


1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you into the topic of teen STDs and access to testing?

I think sexual health is a very important topic that is often not addressed enough among teenagers. We take a generic health class at some point in our academic career that hits on a few of the topics associated with your sexual well-being, but most of the lectures revolve around abstinence and the ‘scary’ side effects of having sex. (Editor’s Note: Landon is referring to her experience in Michigan. In California, it’s illegal for schools to teach abstinence-based sex education). I think that’s the wrong way to teach students, personally. You know they will eventually do it, so why not show them how they can be healthy and protect themselves, not just scare them.

Besides pregnancy, there are a lot of diseases and consequences that teenagers need to be aware of and often we don’t know much about them. I thought working on this piece would be a great way to inform teenage girls. I focused on the obstacles teenagers have that prevent them from getting tested or from using protection, but tried to show there are ways around these barriers.


2) What personal questions did you have that you were trying to answer while working on this piece? Did you find those answers? What did you learn from this experience?

I was curious to see how many teenagers actually did receive testing or took preventive measures. I found that many teens will use condoms or birth control, but they won’t get tested for STDs because they think they are already immune to them. There’s more to take into consideration when having sex besides whether to use a condom.

There should be follow-ups too. I did not think getting tested for STDs was important until I began working on this piece. This piece definitely opened up my eyes to sexually transmitted diseases. There was a lot I didn’t know about them, how they are transmitted, how common they can be, treatment options and why getting an STD test is essential.


3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about teen sexual health, sexual education, and STD testing for young people?

I admit I had the assumption before I worked on this piece that STD tests were uncommon and embarrassing to ask for. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I knew many teenagers had sex, but when I found out what percent of them did and what percent of those teens were tested for STDs, I was astonished. There needs to be an increase in the number of sexually active teenagers who are getting tested. Sex is common. STD tests should be too. I also thought that almost every teenager knew the effects of sexual infections, when really there are so many that are don’t have enough information on this topic, despite health class.


4) What experiences of your peers struck you the most? What surprised you the most?

What surprised me the most from doing this piece was how few girls were getting tested when they were sexually active. I think many of them have the assumption that STDs won’t happen to them, or that they are invincible to these kind of diseases. Girls aren’t getting tested because they don’t see the need to. Testing needs to be encouraged. Many of them didn’t know much about sexual infections or how common they are amongst teens. Granted, this may be awkward to bring up, especially with parents, but I found that a lot of girls weren’t talking about it with people they’re close to. One of the biggest barriers to getting tested was that feeling of embarrassment; they are scared of that.


5) What do you think still needs to be done to reduce the stigma and fear around STD testing? What strategies can make testing more comfortable or more accessible to teens? Have you seen strategies that work? That don’t work?

Sexually transmitted diseases can be an uncomfortable topic to bring up with family or doctors, but I think it needs to happen more often. Sexual health is important, just like mental or physical health. It needs to be talked about and it needs to be covered more in an in-depth way in schools. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to request an STD test; it’s part of life. Like having your teeth cleaned or getting a flu shot, testing should be on that necessary checklist. High schools should encourage sexual check-ups. STD tests should be offered at annual well-child visits, similar to vaccinations. A huge way to reduce the stigma around STD testing is by talking about it. Eventually, it won’t be uncomfortable if the topic is treated appropriately.

I have found that the girls who talk to their parents openly about their sexual health or ask to get tested are far less scared of STDs. They take preventive steps and they surround themselves with trusted adults who will help them and support them regardless. Addressing STD tests shouldn’t have to be scary. They should be treated as a normal part of life.


6) Having worked on this piece, what are your thoughts or advice for other teens on how to empower themselves to access safe, comfortable, and affordable STD testing?

Of course use protection when having sex, but know that condoms don’t protect against all sexually transmitted infections. Even if you are protected, you should still get tested for STDs.

Instead of acting like an STD test is a sign of failure, treat it like it’s any other ‘normal’ appointment.

Be supportive of friends if they come to you wondering whether or not they should get tested. STDs can be a big deal, getting a simple test shouldn’t be. It’s better to be safe than sorry. You should not feel embarrassed about requesting a test; they are more common than they may seem. Getting tested for STDs is a part of growing up and it can help you stay healthy.

Don’t Google any symptoms that you may have! WebMD can be great, but we all know how the results can make whatever you are experiencing seem 10 times worse. It could just freak you out more than it should. Don’t talk to a website. Talk to your doctor, teachers, family or friends. Establish open communication. Even if your parents are against it or get upset, there are clinics available for teens. There are people out there who will help you and make STD testing a lot less scary.

(Looking for a clinic to get information or get tested? Check out our Resources Map to find a clinic close to you.)