Jess Melendez

she/her  |  Author, Curriculum Development, Educator, Non-profit, Speaker  |  California, US


Jess has over 10 years of experience of sexual health and specializes in talking to youth. Jess often facilitates workshops in middle and high schools. Youth are exposed to different messages surrounding sex and sexuality throughout the media. Jess provides tools for youth to identify critical thinking skills while navigating the topic of sex and sexuality. Jess had the opportunity to collaborate with the San Francisco Unified School District to create a High School media and sexuality lesson that is now implemented in the Be Real, Be Ready sexual health curriculum. Her main topics of focus include media and porn literacy, HIV/AIDS, and sexual orientation.


I have been working with adults and youth in the sexual health field for 12 years. Working with middle-school and high-school aged youth has given me the ability to facilitate developmentally appropriate sexual health education through a unique lens. My teaching style is interactive, inclusive, honest, and empathetic. Teaching youth about sexual health is my passion. There is nothing greater than creating a safe space for young people of different identities and watching them develop critical thinking skills. “Traditional” school-based sexual health curricula focus on white, heterosexual and cisgender identities. Even in sexual health, these curriculums are created through a white supremist lens, meaning it does not “meet youth where they are at”. It’s easy to say, “here are birth control options that you can talk to your doctor about”. Teaching this information also requires understanding the social determinants of health that impact a young person’s ability to access such reproductive and gender-affirming services. In CA (where I teach), starting at 12 years old, a person can access reproductive health services without a parent’s consent. Many youth are unaware of their rights and my job is to advocate for them. It’s a reality that young people do not have a trusted adult in their life that they can reach out to for questions about sex and sexuality. I strive to empower young people about their rights, bodily autonomy, and to make healthy decisions that will positively impact their sexual health.


One of my “specialty topics” to teach youth is media and porn literacy. Every young person deserves access to shame-free comprehensive sexual health education. Having a conversation with a young person about porn can help them better understand the misconceptions it creates about sex and sexuality. It is also a moment to normalize their curiosity about these topics. Porn literacy conversations are an opportunity to dismantle unrealistic expectations on people’s identities and white supremist ideologies. I am currently finalizing a project that includes a developmentally appropriate book for teens that focuses on media and porn literacy. In addition to teaching youth, I also teach other educators and parents about being a trusted adult and providing sexual health education to young people. Teaching others how to talk about such topics also brings me joy. Parents, Guardians, and teachers are typically the constant adults that show up in young people’s lives. The discussions held in any of my workshops are intended to validate and increase confidence in others. I often feel that sexuality educators are overlooked in professional sexual health spaces, while we are actively fighting against the right-wing systems and ideologies that seek to oppress us and young people’s education. Sexuality educators are an integral piece to shaping the minds of young people to navigate their own lives by thinking outside the societal box.