Sex Ed and Sexual Health at Menlo: Menlo Makes Changes to Sex-Ed Curriculum

Abby Becker, Staff Writer

This story is the first in a seven-part package about sex ed and sexual health at Menlo. It also appeared in the March 2021 47.4 print edition of The Coat of Arms.


The Menlo sexual education (sex ed) program has undergone several changes for the 2020-2021 school year. Before this year, sex ed was taught to all grade levels through yearly or biyearly question-and-answer style class meetings delivered by a guest speaker, while freshman received additional education through the freshman rotation seminar course. “The class meetings happen to be one of the ways that you can reach a lot of students in a short amount of time,” guest speaker and former Menlo Dean of Student Life Programs Cathy Chen said.

The model this year and going forward incorporates both class meetings and workshops into the sex ed program. Workshops, which were first conducted in February 2021, consisted of two advocacy groups brought together and led by one of eight trained faculty members.

These workshops were intended to open up discussion and allow students to share more comfortably with one another. “You get to see what another student is thinking about, and [workshops have] you interacting with students that maybe you don’t talk to on the quad,” Upper School Counselor Jake Fauver said. Fauver teaches the freshman rotation sex ed course and has been working extensively to develop the new sex ed program.

According to Fauver, feedback from student surveys have shown that student response to the addition of the workshops has generally been positive. “People are dealing with more personal topics in their lives as they get older, so workshops that address [sex ed] are more helpful than ones that are more broad,” senior Ella Marks said. 

This year, more guest speakers are being brought in to speak at class meetings. This year, Kate Bedford, who has taught sexual health to parents and students at numerous different schools, and Chen were both brought in to speak. Currently, Chen works at Village Coaches, an organization that supports adolescents in navigating through school and life challenges.

Inside the class meetings and workshops, students are now receiving a more comprehensive sexual health curriculum. Topics that were covered in freshman year, such as contraception and sexually transmitted infections, are being reinforced at different grade levels. “[I find it more] effective if you revisit material [when] students are developmentally in a different place,” Fauver said. 

However, the counselors also acknowledge that learning sex ed in a Zoom environment is much more difficult than in person. “You lose the ability to turn and talk or giggle with a friend who’s sitting next to you when things are uncomfortable, and you lose the privacy of being in a classroom,” Fauver said. 

Some students have also felt that virtual sex ed doesn’t have the same authenticity and level of engagement as it does in person. “People feel screen fatigue and don’t pay attention,” senior Egan Lai said.

Although COVID-19 limited more robust efforts for more in-person workshops, Fauver is hopeful for the future of the program. “I’m actually excited at the prospect of moving past [COVID-19] in how many more things we have accomplished this year that we can even do even better next year,” Fauver said.