I have been very fortunate. I grew up in an affluent town outside of Boston with a strong public
school system. I have watched high school movies like “Mean Girls,” which features a scene in
health class where the teacher simply says, “just don’t have sex.” At my school, on the other
hand, the administration understood that teenagers will have sex, and my teacher taught a
comprehensive, sex-positive course. At age 15, I could name seven different forms of birth
control and explain how they worked. My friends and I–friends of all genders–quizzed each
other on contraceptives and body parts until it felt natural to say these words out loud and in
conversation. Our classroom became a safe space where everyone felt comfortable asking the
questions you can’t ask anywhere else (except for maybe Google). In an activity called the
“condom relay,” we had to run back and forth across the classroom and practice applying a
condom to a banana over and over again. Not only did we have a powerful sex-ed curriculum,
but we also had units about nutrition, first-aid, CPR, substance abuse, mental illness, and
identity. I learned that people who appear very happy can be suffering internally. I learned that
someone can identify as a gender different from the sex they were assigned at birth. We were
introduced to the gender/sexuality unicorn, a graphic of a unicorn displaying how one’s brain,
heart, and genitalia contribute to one's gender/sexual identity and how one is perceived by
society. I am so grateful for my freshman health teacher for providing me with a wealth of
information and tools to guide me through high school and beyond. However, not all public or
private schools have the same resources. My good friend went to a private school in San
Francisco with rigorous academics and strong pre-college support systems, but one day of
health education all year. That one day included a presentation about sexual abuse, where a
teacher revealed an upsetting, personal story, and the students had no time to debrief it.
Looking back on high school, my friend can only laugh about how unprepared she was for
college. It is alarming that even some progressive, well-funded schools choose to put health
education on the back-burner. I can’t say I remember everything from my high school health
class, but I can say for certain that it set me up for future discussions with my friends and
romantic partners. An early introduction to all the topics in the scope of high school health class
is critical for empowering students to talk about their personal health later in life.