The History of YES+, Andover’s First Student-Based Sex Education Program

A partnership between the Dean of Students Office and the Brace Center for Gender Studies, Youth Educators for Sex Positivity (YES+) is a peer-to-peer, gender-inclusive sex education program dedicated to reducing stigma around topics relating to sex.

Founded by Susan Esty, Dean of Students and Residential Life, and Flavia Vidal, former Director of the Brace Center, YES+ opened applications in the winter of 2017. According to Esty, Andover was one of the first schools to offer an all-gender, peer-to-peer sex education program. The idea behind YES+, however, came from students who recognized the need for an accessible, sex education resource and proposed the name “YES+.”

“Students were saying, I might have gotten [sex education] in Fall Term of Lower Year, and then didn’t really think about it. And now I actually would like to know more about barrier methods or about healthy relationships, or all kinds of things about their sexual identities and relationships. And so we were wondering, how can we provide opportunities for students of all ages?” said Esty.

YES+ mainly operates through dorm talks, where a team of student educators visits dorms or day student advising groups to deliver presentations. The content of these presentations is adjusted based on grade level and the preferences of the students themselves. YES+ also organizes events outside of dorm and advisory settings and is involved with Love Better Week, hosting events such as Cupcakes and Condoms.

A key resource in building the YES+ curriculum is Heather Corinna’s “S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties.” According to Esty, this textbook has served as a basis for the program’s content since its inception.

Over the years, YES+ has gradually expanded, now comprising 16 student educators. Student educators undergo multiple training sessions with various experts in the sex education field. Nicole Jeter, Director of Wellness and Prevention Education, served as a faculty advisor for YES+ for three years. Through this program, Jeter hopes to destigmatize engagement and conversations relating to sex and sexual identity.

“YES+ uses a ‘sex positivity’ framework for thinking about sexuality; a ‘sex positive’ culture is consent-driven, trauma-informed, pleasure-oriented, and removes shame around individuals’ decisions to partake in or refrain from sexual activities. The goal of the group is to reduce stigma and fear around topics pertaining to sex so that young people can have the tools and knowledge to feel empowered in their sexual identities,” wrote Jeter in an email to The Phillipian.

Alma Mark-Fong ’23, a member of YES+, also noted increased consideration behind which student educators are sent to certain dorms. They connected this change to their personal struggle of not feeling respected during dorm talks in lowerclassmen boys’ dorms. 

“I’ve noticed that the approach you have to take for dorm talks is kind of dependent on the age group and sometimes the gender of the dorm. It’s also because I’m a woman, it’s harder to go into a younger boys dorm and be taken seriously or respected. And I also understand that for younger people who haven’t really talked to their friends as much about these subjects, it’s something to laugh about… So recently, [YES+ has become] a lot more intentional about the people that we’re sending to each dorm, trying to balance out different gender identities and age groups,” said Mark-Fong.

In the future, YES+ aims to expand Andover’s room visitation policy, increase outreach to day students, and organize a wider variety of events. A board member of YES+, Tulah Jefferson ’24 emphasizes YES+’s role as an accessible educational resource.

“We do what the community needs at the moment. Some of us helped reform the parietal situation so Seniors could close their door fully when they have room visitations. We’re also working on reforming the degree that the door needs [to be open during room visitations]… We’re trying to work with what students need on campus. If we hear people want to talk more about the ethics of pornography, or if people want to talk about sexual relationships within high school relationships and how to navigate that, we’re here to provide that information,” said Jefferson.