The Sex Ed Initiative (SEI) creates curriculum by teens for teens by providing students with the tools they need to reform their schools, fight for improved sexual health education, and share facts and statistics regarding sexual health.

Like many young people – the team at the Sex Ed Initiative (SEI) of Illinois found their sexual health education full of stigma and shame.

“The fact that they know [sex] is happening but refuse to take action to help is the wrong attitude – they are just saying ‘abstinence only,’ which is really not the right answer to give to students,” says SEI founder Irene Park.

Park and her team, Catherine Tang, Sarah Wheeler and Amee Patel, are all 16- and 17-year-old high school students. While balancing school, clubs, relationships, friendships, mental health and more, they found time to revolutionize sex ed in Illinois, hoping spark a change nationwide.

SEI creates curriculum by teens for teens by providing students with the tools they need to reform their schools, fight for improved sexual health education, and share facts and statistics regarding sexual health. The curriculum is condensed into a handbook that includes worksheets, discussion questions and activities for students to learn sexual health education in a stigma free space. Handbooks will be published and provided to Illinois schools when they seek out information on obtaining a charter status. 

Each of the young women said their personal experiences with sex ed led them to join SEI.

Sarah Wheeler said her sex ed only consisted of teaching students that sending nudes before 18 is considered child pornography.

“At first I thought that maybe it was because we were online and when we were in person again we would have comprehensive sex education, but that never happened,” she said.

Amee Patel says she recalls her teacher telling the class that a vagina after sex is like a crumpled piece of paper – you can straighten it out, but it’ll never be the same again.

“I just remember getting to high school and learning stuff on my own,” she said. “But when did we learn consent? Or putting on a condom? We never did.”

Catherine Tang said her sex ed teacher couldn’t say the names of reproductive health organs and told the students not to look at her while she said words like “vagina,” “penis” and “testicles.” This only created further stigma, Tang says.

“It was shunned. We spent more time talking about the bones in our body than sex. School curriculum is abstinence based, it teaches us to avoid these interactions but is harmful because we need to know about these things,” she said.

To spread more awareness, SEI hosted a contraceptive drive and collected donations for “Sweats for Survivors” to provide victims of sexual assault comfortable clothing to wear during rape kit tests.

Even though SEI is still in the early stages, that isn’t slowing Park and her team down.

“The way we are treating sex is just not right,” Park said. “We want all schools in Illinois and around the country to offer inclusive sex ed.”

To get involved with SEI, check out their website or instagram.

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a writer and the calendar editor for Rebellious Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @samstroozas.