The Teen Campaigning for Comprehensive Sex Ed
Editor's Note: Christopher Pepper is a health teacher in San Francisco public schools, and speaks and writes frequently about health and education. Follow him on Twitter: @mrhealthteacher. Below, he writes about a teen advocating for sex education. To continue your lesson on a relevant aspect of sex eduation, please check out our March story, Let's Talk About Respect, which discusses consent and harassment, and what students need to know to avoid—and stop—this behavior.
As a high school teacher, I’ve heard lots of students complain about what schools are teaching, but I’ve never seen a student do as much to change it as KC Miller. Dissatisfied with the sex education in his home state of Pennsylvania, Miller, a senior at Westtown School in West Chester, wrote legislation that aims to change it, and founded a non-profit organization to push it forward.
Miller’s organization is called the Keystone Coalition for Advancing Sex Education, and its mission is to “foster a happier and healthier generation, prevent sexual violence, and reduce sexually transmitted diseases through education.”
The group’s legislation is called the Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act, which was inspired by the California Healthy Youth Act, a 2016 law that requires all middle and high schools in the state to teach comprehensive sexuality education.
“The biggest change I'd like to see in Pennsylvania classrooms is a move away from abstinence-only and abstinence-based education programs,” Miller says. “Instead of feeding children fear tactics and medical inaccuracies—which are the cornerstone of abstinence programs—we need to give our youth the tools to understand how to keep their bodies happy, safe, and healthy.”
As a health teacher in California, I’ve seen how much impact a law like the one Miller wrote can have. After the California law passed, school districts up and down the state updated their lessons and hired more health teachers. We’re now required to teach all of our students about topics like birth control, healthy relationships, sexual assault, and sex trafficking—and all lessons must be LGBTQ-inclusive.
Typical sex education often focuses on heterosexual relationships and pregnancy prevention. That limited scope is one of the things that Miller hopes to change.
“As a gay student, I know firsthand how my fellow LGBTQ+ teens are failed by current standards,” Miller says. “Everyone deserves comprehensive, relevant, and inclusive sex education—regardless of their race, religion, gender, or sexuality.” Miller’s Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act also includes provisions that promote inclusion of students with physical and intellectual disabilities.
When he’s not working on changing laws, Miller is often handing out condoms at school events as part of a peer-counseling program called Sexual Health Awareness Educators. In this program, Miller says: “We hold discussions on things like the intersection of race, gender, and sex, and what healthy teen relationships can look like.”
In the wake of recent sexual harassment scandals and the #MeToo campaign, many schools and communities are examining how they talk about consent and healthy relationships. Miller says that comprehensive sexuality education is crucial to advancing that conversation.
“We need to start discussing in the classroom the consequences of sexual misconduct,” Miller says. “If passed, the Pennsylvania Healthy Youth Act will promote age-appropriate discussions about these topics to foster respect and create a better understanding of consent.”
Studies show that families and medical professionals overwhelmingly support more comprehensive sex education. As a teacher, I’ve seen how the California Healthy Youth Act is transforming health classrooms in my state, and I’m inspired to learn about young people like Miller, who are speaking up for health classes and advancing the future of sex education.
For more resources on teaching consent and sexual harassment in an approachable way, please check out this month's story, Let's Talk About Respect, and its accompanying resources. Also, these teen-appropriate videos from AMAZE break down hard-to-discuss topics, like consent and healthy relationships.