Living Skills, living better: Why sex education is important in a high school environment

Text by Josephine Andersen and Juliana Griswold


The longtime taboo topic of sex may finally become a widely accepted subject in a high school environment with required classes such as Palo Alto High School’s Living Skills to educate students on the importance of their sexual health. 

Living Skills is designed to be part of the sophomore curriculum, and the sex education unit is only nine classes of the semester-long course. It teaches students information required not only for Paly graduation, but also by California law. 

“We are trying to give students information so that they can make healthy life choices for themselves,” said Alyssa Bond, a Living Skills teacher.  

In the Unite States, as of March, 2016, only 23 states and Washington, DC require a sex education course in their public schools and of that 23, only 20 require the course to be medically accurate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It is no coincidence that the states which have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases correlate with the states that are lacking the requirement of a sex education program. Alaska and Arkansas, for example, do not require a sex education course and Alaska is the state with the highest rate of STD’s and Arkansas is highest in teen pregnancies, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Considering the effects the lack of sex education has on students in high school, it becomes apparent that classes like Living Skills are imperative.

In living skills, teachers provide students with the necessary information of the different forms of contraceptives, how they are used and where they can get them. 

“We cover very important information and I know that we hit a lot of really important topics,” Bond said. 

Due to Living Skills being a required course, students often take the information taught for granted, but the teachers see the value. 

“Just being in an environment where you can get factual information in a non-judgmental way and be able to discuss it,” Letitia Burton, another Paly Living Skills teacher, said. “I can’t even express how valuable that is.” 

Sophomore Karlene Salas, passionate about the necessity of a sex education course in high schools, often promotes Living Skills and voices her opinions to her peers. After moving to California from North Dakota, a state which does not require a sex education course, Salas realized the positive impact a class like Living Skills can have on a student population. 

“All they know is [to] use a condom,” Salas said, referring to the students in North Dakota. “They don’t know other birth control options, and if they do get pregnant all they know is, ‘I am going to have this baby.’” 

Although grateful for the class, Salas recognizes that changes need to be made within the program to keep students motivated and eager to learn. 

“In my Living Skills class we talked more about mental health, which is very important, but I thought Living Skills was going to be more about sex and drugs,” Salas said. I don’t think we talked about it enough.” 

Salas even says that the summer class should no longer be an option for students, as it does not provide enough time needed to cover the necessary material. 

“It [Living Skills] is already only a semester and I don’t think it’s enough, especially for those who take it during the summer,” Salas said.  

In our own school, it’s important that when we take Living Skills, we pay attention and don’t take the opportunity to learn about sexual health in our schools for granted. 

Family planning programs such as Planned Parenthood are located nationwide and help provide people with affordable health care such as STI testing and birth control. It’s critical to support programs such as these ones so they are able to reach people in states where people may not have had the same opportunities in their education as we did here at Paly.