NYC to Require Sex Ed in Public Schools

Cheetos bag

As the NY Times reports, starting in the upcoming school year, for the first time in nearly two decades, students in New York City’s public middle and high schools will be required to take sex education classes. Previously, NY had been one of 12 states that required H.I.V. education only.

I love that some of the momentum behind this decision was explicitly tied to Mayor Bloomberg’s recent announcement that he will put his own money towards programs and policies that address the needs of minority youth in NYC. Hell yeah, cause we matter and we are currently under-served!! (I’m still classified as a “youth” somewhere, right?)

A few months ago, I gave an interview to the “Where is Your Line” blog in which I described a negative experience I had with sex ed that actually made me question some of the values being touted by my teachers and helped nudge me further towards my feminist destiny:

I went to a big public school, where I was very alone in my feminist beliefs, save for a few close friends of mine. And I’ll never forget, in 9th grade, experiencing my high school’s version of “sex ed” which consisted of, among other things, being asked to consume a bag of Cheeto’s, then gulp up a glassful of water, swoosh it around in my mouth, and spit it back into the glass. As my classmates and I looked at the unappealing orange flecks that had been transferred to the water, we were matter-of-factly told that when you have sex, you are exchanging bodily fluids, and the more partners you have, the more flecks you pick up in your “glass of water”. Though I found myself reeling at the image along with my classmates, a part of me questioned the foundation of the exercise and wondered how such an abstract and shaming image could help give me the tools I needed to navigate my sex life safely and pleasurably.

I’m mostly happy about Mayor Bloomberg’s decision because it brings us one step closer to eradicating such a silly and dangerous experience for the adolescents of NYC.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • nazza


    No one tried that with me. I didn’t have anything offensive, so much as inadequate. In fifth and sixth grade, we received some sex education, but it was only to satisfy state education requirements. None of it was especially informative beyond a few terms and definitions.

    And this was during the days where HIV/AIDS was super scary, so I do remember lots of attention being placed on prevention. But as for accurate information about the act itself? I’m afraid it was nowhere to be found.

  • arayah

    I actually have a great sex ed story. (i know, rare!) In 9th grade my physics class hosted the requisite abstinence only “sex ed” class to my class, which happened to be for gifted/honors students only. I feel sorry for the woman now, but when she came in preaching against “petting” and oral, we tore her apart. The class worked together, and remained polite (relative to our age) and calmly questioned her about condoms, abortion, the possibilities of being pregnant, virginity in terms of LGBTQ relationships, etc. She had to answer “legally” and so we received almost no information, naturally. It caused quite a stir across the school for a few days, but we got what we wanted. A week later a Planned Parenthood volunteer was brought in and we got answers to all of our questions. Mission Accomplished.

  • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I guess I’m lucky to have been out of high school prior to King George and “abstinence only”. Our sex-ed was woefully inadequate and heterosexist, but it mainly stuck with biological facts and diagrams of reproductive organs, and didn’t involve spitting out Cheetos or any of the other nonsensical things I’ve heard about abstinence only programs

    I couldn’t help that all the initiatives Bloomberg’s funding in the article were stated as being aimed at black and Latino men–words like “male” “fatherhood” etc.keep coming up. My amnesia towards cuts he’s made towards a number of services including womens’ crisis centers isn’t kicking in just yet…

  • Diane

    “Previously, NY had been one of 12 states that required H.I.V. education only.”

    Provided I’m reading that article correctly, NY is *still* one of the 12 states that requires only H.I.V. education. New York City requires a bunch of things above and beyond what the state requires.

    That said, I received some pretty good sex ed despite the fact that I went to a public high school in NY. The teacher went over various methods of birth control with their pros and cons, taught us how to use condoms properly, discussed abortion and adoption, and even had an interesting discussion on the use of the word “slut.”* I hope the sex ed requirement goes over well in NYC so that the whole state will require it too.

    *The question, asked only to the girls in the class: “How many guys would a girl have to sleep with before you call her a slut?” The answer: “At least one more than the number of guys you have slept with.” The point of the lesson: We call other people sluts because we don’t want to be labeled as a slut ourselves, but it’s so highly subjective why do we even bother using that term?

  • Melissa Lynnette

    I’m a bit horrified at the Cheetos story but I guess I can’t really talk since I went to Catholic school where we got nothing whatsoever in terms of sex ed except for a passage in the student handbook letting us know that pregnant students would be asked to leave. (And when my class didn’t have any pregnancies, we smugly congratulated ourselves for “making it”. Teenagers.)

    I luckily had a mother who is a 6th grade public school teacher who brought home a video from her school’s library, sat me down, graded papers while I watched and then said “any questions?”.

    She then proceeded to make me feel unashamed enough about sex and my body to ask someone else all of my questions because it was still awkward talking to my mom about it, but at least I knew that I wouldn’t be struck down by God for having the information.

    Ideally these are things that parents should get over themselves about and teach at home, but since that won’t ever happen, I’m glad more and more schools are tackling it. Fingers crossed that they will do it properly.