Everyone remembers the birds and the bees talk. Boy or girl, woman or male sexual education will cross both the paths of each individual sooner or later. Soon the boy or girl will grow up to live their own life and somewhere in that process someone needs to help guide them with sexual education. Who is that someone?
According to the National Campaign in 2012 Nevada had 33.4 births per 1,000 teen girls, age 15 to 19. The teen pregnancy rate in 2010 was 68 pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls, age 15 to 19. There has been a significant change in both of these rates. Since 1999 the teen birth rate has declined 55 percent and 7 percent within the last year. The teen pregnancy rate since 1988 has declined 52 percent.
Although the numbers have declined and Nevada is seeing improvement throughout years there are still issues in the sexual education in Nevada.
“Due to the fact the curriculum isn’t mandated in the state of Nevada many of our sexual education programs are abstinence based, medically inaccurate and focus on scare tactics instead of providing students with the medically accurate, age appropriate, research based information.” said Madeleine Poore president of VOX.
One way which students get their sexual education from is through a program called S.H.A.R.E.
“S.H.A.R.E is a great program,” said Educator for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte Jillian Anderson. “We are pretty fortunate in Washoe County because it is pretty inclusive. Unfortunately, it is hugely underfunded where as it started out with actual professional sex educators coming into classrooms and being with the students for a certain amount of time. That is no longer the case there is one person that works in the S.H.A.R.E department, the resources are so limited.”
Since programs like S.H.A.R.E are so underfunded, it is now the regular teacher’s, the classroom teacher’s responsibility to teach sexual health. It is never too early to talk to kids about sexual health.
“There are different ways that teachers can start approaching the topic,” said the Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Jeannette Soriano. “As long as the teachers at all levels have the right tools and strategies to approach the topic and help students develop mentally appropriate milestones towards their bodies, you can start at any age.”
Having the teachers teach sexual education can become problematic because well, sexual education may not be their field of interest let alone what they specialize in.
“This creates barriers,” Anderson said. “If the teacher doesn’t feel comfortable talking about the subject matter which not everyone does, the students will pick up on that and maybe shy away from asking deeper questions because they know they’ll have that teacher for the rest of the year, they don’t want their teacher to have this impression about them because of one question.”
What has been found is that asking Nevada’s districts to share the sexual education curriculum is very hard, but there is a mission to try to improve it.
“Something we are trying to focus on is accountability and transparency,” Soriano said. “When a parent signs that form saying yes, I obtain for my child to take sexual education, that parent has a right to know what is being taught.”
But transparency between the district and the parent can only happen if the district is being accountable for what is being taught.
“The law says that the school districts have to do this,” Soriano said. “The school districts have to have a sexual education advisory committee but in some school districts the committee doesn’t meet because it is not fully staffed.”
Even though these are issues that have risen in our community Planned Parenthood is hopeful that throughout the year they will be able to change the districts curriculum and help motivate the schools to be accountable for what they teach. As of right now, locally they make regular visits to every middle school and have a good relationship with Procter R. Hug High School, Earl Wooster High School and Washoe Innovations High School.
“They have the highest teen pregnancy rates,” Anderson said. “They are also the three high schools that have on sight child care available. So it’s not even that they necessary have high teen pregnancy rates but teen moms that still want to go to school they will usually transfer to one of those three so that they can have child care available.”
Sexual education in the state of Nevada isn’t where it’s supposed to be or where it is presumed to be. Students have switched the role; they don’t want to listen to an hour-long presentation. Lets face it, the only thing good about presentations are the questions you can ask at the end of them. But what if the student is uncomfortable to ask those questions? What is being seen more and more by students is skipping the presentations and going straight to the questions.
“The questions become more realistic,” Anderson said. “For middle school you’ll see questions like, will I go blind if I masturbate, it’s a little more fantastical. As you get into high school and college the questions become more real life, what does it mean if it hurts when I have sex? It just gets more in depth.”
There are two programs that Planned Parenthood truly sees the best result in educating teens and students in sexual health. These programs are peered based, called Teen Talk and Teen Success.
Teen Talk was a primary pregnancy prevention program that aimed towards middle school girls that were trying to prevent a first pregnancy by talking to one another about other topics that made you feel good about yourself and were able to talk comfortably about all kind of sexual health not just pregnancy.
“It was an evidence based program that provided them with a broader approach to sexual education,” Anderson said. “Teen talk, talked about lots of different aspects, so not just anatomy and STI prevention but also health relationships, nutrient, effective communication and values and beliefs.”
Due to budget cuts, Teen Talk is no longer a program. Teen Talk wasn’t the only program that got affected by budget cuts. Teen Success was also affected. Instead of having two groups, now they only have one group.
In this peer based program there is 12 to 20 open sports for teenagers under the age of 13-19 that are pregnant or parenting. They are able to attend a weekly support group called Teen Success, which is a secondary pregnancy prevention program, meaning the teen is trying to help prevent a second pregnancy. They also get incentives for coming, 10 dollars every week attended and a 100-dollar bonus every 25 weeks completed.
There are two goals for the Teen Success group; one is to maintain their family size and second to complete their high school education either with a diploma or a GED equivalent. Along with helping them stay on track for graduation Teen Success helps them with parenting skills, child development, health relationships, good communication, careers and development, decision-making, goal making, budgeting, self-esteem to legal issues and the law.
“Basically, preparing them for life,” Anderson said. “These girls are really going through situations where they need answers on what to do.”
“We’ve always had a waiting list to join Teen Success, unfortunately due to budget cuts in this past year we have had to let go one of the groups.” Anderson said. In the past year we have served over 24 pregnant or parenting teen moms. It is an on going group, they really appreciate it for the support.”
Along with being apart of the Teen Success program they are given free contraceptives.
“Being a member means we are supporting them to keep their family size the way it is so we provide them free birth control,” Anderson said. “The pills, a prescription for the patch, the ring, the shot and the IUD.”
This peer group based program has shown its growth and out reach.
“Girls in the general populations who are pregnant or parenting, who are teenagers about 50 percent of them don’t graduate high school,” Anderson said. “Over 90 percent of the girls who are involved in the Teen Success program will get their high school diploma or their GED equivalent.”
Sex Education? Or Simply Peer Support
Sexual education has shifted from long boring presentations and curriculum’s that teachers can’t seem to get together to teach, to peer based groups that help students open up to one another and help each other.
While incentives and free contraceptives are good, what the teenagers truly get from the teen success is the peer group support. Showing that peer based programs where students who are around the same age and are going through most of the same problems, can come together and help one another is an effective way to help prevent and keep living a health and safe lifestyle.
“It may not reach as many individuals but it has also shown that it is a very effective way to get that mentorship,” Anderson said. “You get those one on ones, you get to know the people over the school year. It’s an on going group, with a minimum participation of one year but most of the girls decide to stay because they really appreciate it, they feel like the group becomes their second family.”
Peer groups work because the teens know that once they step into the building it will be a nonjudgmental environment, they feel safe asking questions and even asking for help.
“It’s a place where they can ask questions like, I’m thinking of putting child support on my baby daddy but I’m afraid and I don’t even know where to start, and so then other members can chime in and tell them what they did and how it went for them.” Anderson said.
What is being seen is that students are sleeping through presentations and to scared to ask questions to an adult so turning away from that and turning to their peers is the way to go.
At the University of Nevada Reno Peer groups are becoming more and more popular as well starting at the Student Health Center.
“I have a group of 12 peer health educators who are students who volunteer to do health education and are trained to do health education on campus as well, ” said Enid Jennings health educator at the student health center at the University of Nevada Reno. “Sexual health is a leading health indicator for the college populations so it is something we spend a lot of time on.
What is interesting about the peer health educators is that the peer health educators are sent out to do sexual presentations at different areas like dorms, fraternity and sorority houses.
“Where they can openly talk about misperceptions about number of partners, sexual activity, what people think is happening in college and what is actually happening in college.” Jennings said.
It is about feeling comfortable about sex enough that students are able to ask and talk to their partners about wearing condoms and protecting themselves to prevent other issues that may arise from not wearing condoms like pregnancy or diseases.
“Get tested, the only way to know if you have an STD is to get tested, many STD’s are asymptomatic and that’s my message there are all these STD’s and you wont know if you have them for sure if you don’t get tested.” Jennings said.
Getting tested is encouraged by the Student Health Center once a student becomes sexually active. They even have free testing on Thursday mornings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Again getting tested is something that scares students, teens and young adults away. This is where the Student Health Center’s peer health program comes in handy once again.
“We have our peer health educators help with free testing so that they are able to do a bit of education with the patient before they get their testing done,” Jennings said. “They are there so they can answer any of the questions they have, seeing what their concerns are. A lot of the time people are pretty nervous about getting tested so its nice for them to be able to talk to someone and ask a question if they have it.”
VOX is student organization on the universities campus. The President of VOX is Madeleine D Poore and the Vice President is Tericka Lambert working together with the rest of their team, they promote a healthy lifestyle. The organizations focus is on sexual health education and being sex positive. It takes a group of people who motivate each other and trust each other to try to impact peoples lives.
“Our group works as a machine,” Lambert said. “We have all the parts necessary to function as a movement. We’re all working on a common goal. Our roles as leaders are important.”
VOX means voice in Latin, they are the voices for Planed Parenthood, better yet they are the voices for their peers on Nevada’s campus. Peer to peer education is something that VOX focuses on.
“Essentially, all of our events are feared towards college students and keeping their bodies safe and healthy.” Lambert said.
“I think knowledge is power and every student should have the power to make informed decisions about their health.” Poore said.
When VOX hosts events it gives students the chance to open up and understand each other. After one person gets talking, it’s easier for the next person to start talking about their experiences and questions because they start to trust one another because they know they’re not alone.
“Being involved with VOX has allowed me to change my community, but also myself,” Lambert said. “It has especially changed my relationships and how I approach others. But more so, it has helped me reaffirm how I dictate my sexuality.”
VOX has event that they host called Sex In The Dark.
“Sex in the dark is an event where students anonymously submit questions and have them answered by a panel of sexperts,” Poore said. “It allows students to get the sex education answers they want without having to publicly ask.”
Those same questions that make people hide behind their desk and make them feel embarrassed are now being put out on the table. What was once that hard question to ask your teacher or presenter has now become a lot easier when someone is able to ask that questions to someone his or her age or someone that has already been through it. Now students are surrounded by students, students educating students supporting them mentally and emotionally convincing them that a hard question to ask is always the smartest question to ask not the most embarrassing.
Through support and appreciation students trust their peers to ask questions, talk about certain sexual aspects that they find importance in and are able to fully get their questions answered. Learning so much more, with their a couple dozen friends sitting around a table at Starbucks, than in a classroom with a PowerPoint flipping from slide to slide.
“I think it is incredibly important, we are able to relate to one another and talk to each other comfortably, it is nice having a group on campus that can help provide sex education to other students.” Poore said.