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At Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of sex education , we are always working to make sure young people have all the information and skills they need to make healthy decisions about sex and sexuality. Not surprisingly, the last year has been a challenging one for our education team. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in spring 2020, Planned Parenthood of Illinois had to quickly rethink how we provide age-appropriate sexual health education to school districts across the state. A year later, we’ve learned some surprising lessons that could reshape the future of sex ed across Illinois. 

Virtual sex ed breaks down barriers

Usually young people are told to stay away from computers to learn about sex. However, over the past year, we’ve learned a valuable lesson: virtual sex ed can be very successful — sometimes, even more successful than in-person learning!

Thanks to interactive tools like Zoom, online document sharing, interactive quizzes and polls, and breakout groups, students were more engaged than ever. Some students have even told us they enjoy the virtual lessons better because it took away the embarrassment of sitting inside a classroom with their peers.

But, of course, a virtual space is not perfect. By now, I’m sure we’ve all been in a group video call where no one wants to speak up. So our educators worked hard to make sure that students could share answers, ask questions, and be involved in small-group discussions in ways that felt safe. 

Virtual classrooms allow more students to access high quality sex ed

Another advantage to being virtual is that we didn’t have any travel limits, so we were able to offer sex ed in new places across the state. 

We were thrilled to be able to expand our geographic reach to help more students learn how to develop healthy behaviors and relationships. During the 2020-2021 school year, we provided comprehensive sex ed at 8 different schools across Illinois, reaching more than 4,000 students.

In a challenging year like this one, our ability to reach new students had a huge impact. And it relieved burdens on rural and underfunded schools who did not have the resources to hire experienced, in-person teachers to teach sex ed.

Some of those challenges won’t go away when students return to classrooms statewide next year, meaning these new virtual models could help expand access for years to come.

The future of sex ed in Illinois

While we look forward to getting back into classrooms this fall and teaching in-person again, we are planning on continuing to offer virtual education.

We love sharing what we know about human development, relationships, and sexual health with young people. And we can’t wait to continue providing accurate, inclusive, and engaging sexual health education both in-person and virtually.

If your school, social service organization, professional organization, or faith organization is interested in learning more, please reach out to our Education team at [email protected]!

If you’re a parent or caregiver looking for more tools to help you have those important one-on-one conversations with the young people in your life, check out our seven-part Real Talk series online.

Tags: remote-learning, sex_ed