Sex Education: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going?


Sex Ed in our district and beyond- here is what we found out.

What comes to mind when you think of sex education? Middle school? Teachers who didn’t want to be there? Giggles from the back of the room? In a constantly evolving society with an ever-expanding culture around sexuality, there needs to be some kind of guidance and navigation for students entering that world, and what we have in schools today just isn’t going to cut it.

In an anonymous survey taken by 105 Nashoba students, around 50% of them said that they weren’t satisfied with their school’s sex education program. Another 40% of them claimed to have been satisfied, while 8 students said that they didn’t think they even receive sex education from their school. The majority of students who took the survey identified as heterosexual, female seniors. Most said that they were taught sex ed in 5th or 8th grade, with some saying they were taught different aspects of sex ed in both grades (mainly puberty in 5th grade and safe sex/consent in 8th).

When presented with a list of sex-related topics and asked to select which ones were taught to them, nearly everyone recalled learning about puberty, with safe sex as a second. More biology-related topics, such as the anatomy of male and female bodies, the reproductive process, and pregnancy/childbirth were also common selections. Topics such as emotionally healthy sex, consent, and LGBTQ-related themes (such as gender and sexuality) had a shockingly low number of selections compared to the previously mentioned topics, and perhaps the most concerning result of all is that 20 students reported that they were taught abstinence and were possibly even scared into not participating in sex at all.

But what’s really important here are the words of the students themselves. Around 50% of participants in the survey chose to answer the two optional questions at the end of the survey, the first of which asked about what ways students thought their sex education program could be improved. A near universal sentiment among these responders was that too much time was spent on anatomy and puberty, and many wished for more focus on the emotional aspects of sex and relationships, and how to participate in a safe and healthy way. A few responders even stated that they’ve learned more about sex from their friends and from social media than from their school, which in and of itself is evidence enough that there is a problem with the way sex ed is being taught. One particularly passionate response stated, “I wish that people would not have to rely on the internet for their information, because a lot of information on the internet isn’t reliable or correct.”

The second optional question on the survey asked participants about the environment created by both teachers and students during their school’s sex ed program. The answers to this question were a bit more of a mixed bag. Many students felt as though their school’s program was awkward, but overall a safe and comfortable experience, while others reported feeling an inability to ask further questions about the topic, as if they were being lectured rather than taught. A good amount of biologically female respondents wrote that they were taught about their bodies in the same room and at the same time as their male counterparts, who would laugh and joke about the topic which, in turn, created an uncomfortable space for those of which the information applied to.

After surveying the students, The Regional decided to interview Mr. Ettinger, the health teacher at Nashoba, to get a different perspective on the matter. He began by describing Nashoba’s sex education policy as “an abstinence and contraception combination approach…that’s what the research suggests is the most effective.” When asked to elaborate, he explained that the two approaches are meant to cover the needs of all students, whether they are ready to be sexually active or if they want to wait to be (or never be at all). “You don’t want to shame sexual activity, but you also don’t want to shame someone who chooses to be abstinent,” he added.

Mr. Ettinger  also expressed feeling like he is given very little time to discuss various topics in the one-semester health class. Beyond sex education, he also mentioned things like mental health, eating disorders, substance abuse and fitness, all of which he felt like he could do a more fulfilling lesson on if he was given more time. He stated that, “with health meeting every other day for one semester and a wide variety of topics to cover, only 2-4 classes can be allotted for sex education.” As a result, he feels like he isn’t able to cover everything that he would want to.

The Regional also discovered from Mr. Ettinger that the problem with sex education in this district comes less from the teachers and classes themselves and more from the state’s education system. “The last time [the state framework for sex education] was revised was 1999,” he said. Fortunately, he mentioned that there was a committee that he was on that was tasked with revising this state framework for an updated 2022 version. If this goes through, it will be a huge step in the right direction for the improvement of sex education in this district.

In an era of change, it makes sense that a more concious sex education program is needed for the students of today. The information is there, and the passion from educators to teach valuable information regarding sexual health is there as well. The problem, at least for this school district, lies at a state level. If we want a better curriculum on this topic for our children and their children, the best thing to do is to educate ourselves, find good resources, and continue to push for an improvement in sex education.