The Connection Between Female Empowerment and Sex Ed

America has the highest rate of teen pregnancy among all first-world nations. 43% of adolescent girls do not receive information about birth control before they have sex for the first time. Neither abstinence-only nor comprehensive sex ed has proven effective in school-based settings, which is where 75% of teens receive their education.
You get the idea. Girls and young women today are growing up in an increasingly sex-saturated culture, but sexuality education is proving to be ineffective. So how can Ellis give your daughters the knowledge they need to make healthy choices? Enter: Talk: the New Sex Ed, an innovative and modern approach that is putting teens first and redefining sexual education. 

Founded by Sam Bushman, Talk: the New Sex Ed (Talk) is a program that redefines traditional notions of sex ed by focusing on education, empowerment, and parent partnerships. No matter how awkward “the talk” is for parents, keeping the lines of communication open with their daughters is essential as they learn and grow. That’s why Talk’s model first and foremost empowers Ellis students with the information they need to make sound decisions about their bodies—and brings their trusted support people into the fold to help them do it as well. 

“Parents and guardians are very necessary social supports who are often missing from this dialogue,” shared Ms. Bushman. “One of the things we do is prompt parents to engage with their children about their own family’s beliefs and values. This helps to remove some of the barriers and obstacles from ‘the talk’ by destigmatizing sensitive topics.” 

At Ellis, Ms. Bushman offers several outlets and opportunities for you to begin this work with your daughters. One such way is through Community Conversations, one for middle school families and one for high school families, focused on raising girls in today’s world. In these conversation-based workshops, parents learn a framework for how to articulate their values with their daughters, as well as develop skills and strategies that prompt effective communication around sexual health and well-being. Students are also assigned take-home work in Ms. Bushman’s classes that must be completed with your partnership. This ensures family members are brought into the conversation and seen as allies, support persons, and resources.

In the classroom, Ms. Bushman uses this same empowerment-based model. Her lessons revolve around developing your daughters’ sense of agency, building decision-making capabilities, and applying critical-thinking skills when it comes to their bodies and relationships. Simply put, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach—the curriculum is student-driven. In Middle School, Ms. Bushman begins with a wide lens, offering girls information about reproduction, puberty, and healthy relationships, and dials in her messaging throughout Upper School to include pertinent information on topics such as consent, contraception, identity, and sexual orientation. Throughout it all, Ms. Bushman creates a safe space for dialogue about age-appropriate sexuality-related topics. 

“I want girls to graduate thinking there’s no decision they can come into contact with in the domain of relationships and taking care of their bodies that they don’t feel prepared to confront,” Ms. Bushman said. “I want them to know they can make good decisions and have good outcomes. I believe in teenagers’ abilities to make good decisions for themselves, but we can’t expect them to do that on their own—like everything else, we need to educate them. When we do, we give them a much better shot at making a healthy choice.”

In the all-girls setting, the impact is even bigger because the students are less encumbered by gender roles in the classroom and are ready to engage with the content. Ms. Bushman noted that students at all-girls schools seem more prepared to interact with the material and have tough conversations because they already have a high sense of comfort in their environment and with their peers. 

From understanding what it means to be a healthy person to exploring how girls can understand and clarify their own boundaries and values, Talk is influential because it educates your daughters not only on sex ed, but on how to feel comfortable speaking up, asking questions, and seeking support. The power is in their hands. Talk teaches them how to use it.
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