The following guest post comes to us via Kate Thomas, community sexuality educator for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Kate has her master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona and a passion for ensuring that people of all ages have access to the information, resources, and support they need to be sexually healthy.
Earlier this month, I gave a presentation about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to a group of teens in Tucson, Arizona. This is a presentation I have given many, many times. As a sexuality educator, I’ve heard almost every question and comment there is related to sex and sexuality, so I’m not normally affected by what I hear from students in a classroom. But at the end of this particular workshop, one student said, “Oh my god, I’m so scared. This is so scary. I don’t like this.” In fact, several of the teens in this particular group listened to the information I was sharing with shocked looks on their faces.
At Planned Parenthood Arizona, we do not use fear or scare tactics when we talk about sexual health. We believe that sexuality is a natural, lifelong aspect of being human, and our workshops teach about sexual health in ways that give medically accurate information, promote healthy behaviors (including abstinence), teach risk reduction, and encourage all individuals to take charge of their sexual health and well-being by getting annual reproductive health exams and routine STI testing.
So, when a workshop participant says, “This is so scary. I don’t like this,” it makes me reflect on what could have scared them so much in a presentation that is meant to be sex-positive. It didn’t take me long to realize what the issues were for this particular group.
They didn’t know that the most common symptom of an STI is no symptom at all.
No one had ever told this group of teens that STIs can be passed by oral and anal sex, and that some are spread only by skin-to-skin contact.
They did not know that 1 in 4 teens has an STI.
They were never told that 50 percent of all young people will get an STI by age 24.
Most of them had never heard of a dental dam, let alone seen one.
Only one participant knew that condoms had an expiration date.
All were shocked to learn that you can get STIs on body parts other than the penis and vulva.
No one in that room had been given any kind of sexuality education before I had arrived that afternoon.
By sharing these facts and statistics, I was really not trying to scare them. I was trying to be honest with them about the potential risks related to sexual activity and how they can best protect themselves. But even I have to admit that the statistics are scary when it comes to young people and STIs. It’s even scarier that we do not require our Arizona schools to teach young people how to protect themselves from STIs. In fact, Arizona schools are not required to teach any kind of sex education at all.
So, instead of just being scared, let’s do something! Let’s make sure that all young people have access to medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education. All Arizonans should feel empowered to take care of their sexual health and have the information, motivation, and behavior skills needed to protect themselves from STIs.
Here are just a few of the things YOU can do:
- You can call your local school district and ask what is being taught. If you don’t like what you hear, email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn how you can become a community activist to promote comprehensive sex education in Arizona schools.
- “Like” our new Facebook page for updates on comprehensive sexuality education. Tell the Truth: Comprehensive Sexuality Education Matters.
- You can get your annual reproductive health exam and STI testing and treatment at Planned Parenthood Arizona! Call us today to schedule an appointment: Phoenix, 602.277.PLAN (7526); Tucson, 520.408.PLAN (7526); Elsewhere toll-free, 855.207.PLAN (7526).