Let’s talk about sex, baby


Graphic illustration by Lillian Fu

There are differences in Lynbrook students’ perception and experience with sex, from choosing abstinence until marriage to embracing sexual experiences earlier on.

Elizabeth Cheng and Jasmine Rihal

There is no topic as severely stigmatized as sex. It’s everywhere — books, movies, TV shows, music videos — yet it is often still an uncomfortable subject for many high school students. 

Although everyone experiences sexual education in elementary, middle and high school, there are differences in Lynbrook students’ perception and experience with sex, from choosing abstinence until marriage to embracing sexual experiences earlier on. 

Sex allows couples to express intimacy and commitment, relieve stress and experience pleasure. However, it can easily become enveloped in shame, social stigma and insecurities. A lack of open conversations with parents or misconceptions from dramatized media can lead to these negative perceptions of sex. 

In California, the age of consent is 18, so even if minors have sex to which both parties consent, the law does not deem the act consensual, as minors are considered unable to recognize the weight of such a decision. In some other states, the age of consent is 16 or 17. Many teenagers in the U.S. still choose to have sex despite these laws: According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered by the CDC, around 39% of American teenagers under the age of 18 reported having had sex. However, if both parties are under 18, it is uncommon to face statutory rape charges because both of them are considered to be the criminal and the victim.

“I think the age of consent [in California] should be lowered to 16 or 17 because people don’t listen to it anyway,” junior Gina Sadar* said.

Sexual interactions between certain minors are not mandated to be reported because the age of consent law is different from reportability laws. For example, a sexual relationship between a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old must be reported, but not one between an 18-year-old and a 14 year-old. However, the legality of a sexual interaction does not immediately justify it, as every individual matures at their own pace.

“Whether the situation is mandated to be reported or up to clinical judgment depends on the ability of a person to voluntarily make the decision and not have it be coerced in a power differential,” Lynbrook’s school-based therapist Jenna Starnes said.

One reason why teenagers may choose to have sex in high school is because they feel pressured by their partners. A fear of a significant other leaving can lead to someone having sex before they are ready, as some use sex solely to maintain the relationship. It could also come from other forms of peer pressure, such as the belief that everyone else is having sex.

“Sex starts becoming toxic when people start thinking that you need to have sex with someone so that they stay happy and will stay with you,” junior Teresa Aurora* said. 

Sex can transform from a form of intimacy into a strain on the relationship when the two partners are not on the same page about why they are choosing to have sex. 

“If both parties feel secure and good about having sex, then cool,” Starnes said. “If there’s a difference in how people are approaching sex, like if one person views it as a way to be more intimate but the other person views it as an act of pleasure, then there’s an imbalance in vulnerability. That’s where we see the negative effects of sex.”

The state requires CUSD and FUHSD to provide comprehensive sexual education for seventh and ninth graders in order to better educate students. Schools follow guidelines set by the California Sexual Health Education Act and the California Healthy Youth Act, which outline qualifications for educational material regarding medical accuracy, age appropriateness and more.

“We’re taught about sex and told that it’s a good thing; it’s how humans work,” senior Ethan Morris said. “But there’s this underlying meaning in how we’re being taught that you shouldn’t have sex because it can be bad for you.” 

Both districts have continued to use the Positive Prevention Plus and Health Connected programs, respectively, despite the curriculum being heavily criticized in recent years for not being inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.

FUHSD’s sexual education curriculum provides freshmen with videos, worksheets, readings and other resources on consent, contraception, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, dating, sexual violence and inclusivity. Despite this, some students feel that Lynbrook has not provided enough resources regarding what to do if a student became pregnant.

“A lot of public schools offer free contraception or pregnancy tests, but Lynbrook doesn’t,” Sadar* said. “They don’t educate people about what to do after [sex], and the school doesn’t support people who’ve gotten pregnant or want an abortion.”

The district’s sexual education has taken steps to discuss the importance of consent and how it can impact a relationship. In 2020, students learned about the nature of consent from guest speaker Mike Domitrz from Center for Respect in a presentation titled “Can I Kiss You?”, and the presentation was overall well-received by students.

The presentation touched on consent regarding sending nude photos online, commonly known as sexting. Despite being a common practice, it is illegal for anyone, including the subject of the photo and the photographer, to possess child pornography, which is defined as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. 

“Some couples choose to send nudes, especially in a long distance relationship,” Aurora* said. “For girls, we often feel like if we don’t send our partner the pictures, they might break up with us. It can make the relationship dependent on nudes, which isn’t healthy.”

Recent U.S. studies show that 70% of 15 to 17-year-old boys have watched pornography at least once. Many teens are now using explicit or pornographic sites to learn about sex, which can create false narratives about sex.

“When people see such content [like pornography], they create this image in their mind that sex is supposed to be rewarding in a different sense than it actually is,” Sadar* said. “People make the whole thing about sex to prioritize your own pleasure, but it’s more about the journey than the destination. Porn is really animalistic and dehumanized, and it sets unrealistic expectations.”

Lynbrook has a high percentage of first and second-generation American students, so many parents are from backgrounds in which romantic relationships and sex are never discussed or even not allowed at all. For some families, sex is a taboo topic, so it is common for students to hide their relationships and sexual activity from their parents because of a lack of open conversations. 

As couples at Lynbrook seek intimacy, it is vital to have open conversations about sex to maintain a healthy relationship.

“Sex is one of those taboo subjects because people have different judgements on it and there’s so many societal stances,” Starnes said. “It’s not just sex — it’s sex with all these sticky notes and labels and layers to it.” 

*Names kept anonymous for privacy