Illinois youth have taken sexual health education into their own hands with a group-written handbook.

“Shattering the Taboo” is the title of a sex education handbook written by a coalition of Chicago students, meant to help de-stigmatize teaching what teenagers need to know about their bodies, their choices, and their options.

The Sex Ed Initiative (SEI), which wrote the book, is a youth-led group founded in 2021 by student Irene Sooah Park, now a senior at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. Park founded the group after realizing just how little she’d learned in the two-day sex ed classes her school offered each year.

“I think sex ed can seem daunting at first, but it includes a lot more than just talking about the body, talking about the act of sex itself,” Park, an Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy senior, said. “It can include things like healthy relationships, personal hygiene, just knowing how to keep yourself safe. And I don’t think a lot of people really have knowledge about sex education in that perspective. You can tell there’s a lot of ignorance regarding topics as well. When I first came to the Illinois Math and Science Academy, I overheard this one guy asking: What’s menstruation? I was shocked.”

Park and other Illinois youth in the group spent several months researching, writing, and producing their book. “Shattering the Taboo: A Guide to Sexual Health Education,” was published on Amazon, and is a guide for youth by youth, with chapters about everything young people need to know to make informed decisions about their own bodies. It covers consent, medical facts, healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how to engage with what education schools do offer.

The book is intended to be inclusive, age appropriate (for 12-18-year-olds), and interactive, with worksheets and discussion questions. It also looks at how other countries approach sex education, and the writers took feedback from educators in places that seem to do it well.

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