Falling Short: Sexual Health and LGBTQ+ Youth

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

We know most young people in Arizona are not getting sex education in their schools — or if they are, it is often abstinence-only, not fact-based, and not inclusive of all students’ identities. Comprehensive sex education programs do a better job of approaching sexuality from a more holistic perspective covering a range of topics such as STDs, relationships, birth control methods, reproductive anatomy, and abstinence, at an age-appropriate level and utilizing fact-based information. Additionally, comprehensive programs are often more inclusive of students’ identities — specifically various gender identities and sexual orientations.


Schools should be responsible for educating all students about keeping themselves healthy.


However, even with comprehensive sex ed, we often fall short of inclusivity when addressing topics of pregnancy prevention and choices, healthy relationships, and sexual health.

As educators and providers of sexuality information to young people, when we talk about pregnancy we often slip into language that assumes (heterosexual and cisgender) identities, which leaves many folks out of the conversation. We all have a gender identity, a sexual orientation, and sexual behaviors that we engage in — sometimes those pieces line up in a way that is “predictable,” but oftentimes, they don’t.

For example, in working with a student who is a cisgender girl, how often are we going to automatically assume she is attracted to boys, and that she will then be having vaginal/penile sex and therefore be at risk for unintended pregnancy? The answer is often. Continue reading

The Racist Roots of the War on Sex Ed

JBS-supported billboard accusing Martin Luther King Jr. of communist ties. Image: Bob Fitch photography archive, Stanford University Libraries

The 1960s were a decade of dramatic social and political changes, many of them catalyzed by the shock of assassinations or the dawn of culture-changing technology like the birth control pill.

It would seem, then, that by the end of the decade it would have taken an especially grave development to prompt warnings of a “subversive monstrosity,” a “mushrooming program” that was forced upon an unwitting public through an insidious campaign of “falsehoods, deceptions, pressures, and pretenses.”

The John Birch Society published those words 50 years ago this month in their January 1969 newsletter. What atrocity spurred JBS founder Robert Welch Jr. to write this clarion call? No trigger warning is needed for this one. He was alerting his readers to the “filthy Communist plot” known as sex education.


It wasn’t just premarital and extramarital sex that stirred anxieties. So, too, did interracial sex.


Welch’s alarmist language was common currency in an organization that was known for its anti-Semitism and its espousal of conspiracy theories. They were traits that kept the Birchers’ numbers modest throughout the 1960s and ’70s — an estimated 20,000 to 100,000 members — and led to the group’s decline in later decades. The JBS, a far-right group that advocated for limited government, got its name from a Baptist missionary and military pilot who was killed by Chinese communists — an early martyr of the Cold War.

However fringe they may have been, Welch’s words signaled the beginning of intensive backlash against sex ed among a broader base of conservatives. Within months, that backlash put organizations like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Medical Association on the defensive. As the debate raged, the NEA sought allies nationwide in churches, civic groups, and the media to save sex ed. By the following year, the NEA was reporting that sex ed programs had been “canceled, postponed, or curtailed” in 13 states and were under scrutiny in 20 state legislatures. Continue reading

An Inhuman Industry: Responding to Sex Trafficking in Arizona

Every year, from late January to mid-February, the city of Tucson hosts upward of 50,000 visitors, as the annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase — more commonly known as the Tucson Gem Show — draws exhibitors, traders, and tourists from around the globe. It is the biggest show of its kind, and the economic impact is considerable. This year’s show, which officially wrapped last week, was projected to bring $120 million in spending to local businesses.


Effective sex education arms young people with information about consent, negotiating proper boundaries, and forming healthy relationships.


In recent years, media coverage has also put the Gem Show in the spotlight for its alleged impact on an underground economy. The annual event has become a news hook for activists, victim advocates, and social workers who believe it serves as a boon to the nation’s $3 billion sex-trafficking industry.

Although the Arizona Republic rated the claim as “mostly false” when Martha McSally made it in 2015 — noting that evidence was mostly anecdotal — the idea that large events like the Gem Show lead to a spike in sex trafficking has remained a popular talking point. For example, at an awareness event last year, held shortly before the Gem Show’s kick-off, Tucson city council member Steve Kozachik commented, “Every time you have an outside event coming to any community, whether it be a sporting event or the gem show, the numbers of trafficking incidents spike.” He added, “That means the young in this community are vulnerable.”

Federal law defines sex trafficking as recruiting, harboring, transporting, or otherwise inducing a person to perform a commercial sex act against their will — or before they are legally old enough to consent. Last year, KGUN9 suggested that, during the show, as many as 100 women are “sold for sex” every night. The report, however, did not specify if it was referring to commercial sex as a whole or to trafficked sex exclusively — and whatever role the Gem Show plays in the trade is also a murky subject. Continue reading

Consent and Sexual Entitlement: A Case for Truly Comprehensive Sexuality Education

The following guest post comes to us from Catherine Sharp, a Tucson volunteer who worked for 10 years in finance and operations for an online media company. Catherine volunteers for Planned Parenthood as a Rapid Response administrator, a fundraiser committee member, and a speakers bureau trainee.

Let’s be clear, most men don’t leave for a night out with the intent of rape. They leave with hopes of a good time and maybe getting lucky. Some men focus more on the getting lucky part since it is considered a trait of masculine success.

During the summer of 1985 one such young man, I’ll call him Steve*, headed out to a party to have fun and maybe score. I happened to be in his path. I was 14 when I lost my virginity to Steve, a handsome 20-year-old introduced to me by my aunt. I thought Steve was cute and was flattered that he believed my aunt when she told him I was 16. As the night wore on and I drank the too-strong drinks my aunt gave me, I ended up asleep in her bed. I woke in the night to Steve in bed with me. He was naked, had undressed me, and had his hands all over me. I was groggy, shocked, scared, and confused. Before I knew it, he was on top of me attempting intercourse. I pushed against his chest, clenched my legs together as tight as I could, and repeatedly said no.


I did not possess the language to communicate what I was experiencing.


Apparently, this was not enough to send the message that I was not a willing participant. Somehow, he managed to force himself inside me, all while I was resisting. When he finished he said to me, “You would be pretty good if you relaxed a little.” Even in my state of shock I was incredulous. I couldn’t help but think, “What do you mean?! Relax a little?! I was using all my strength to stop this!”

Confused and outraged by his words, I did not know what to do. I was scared and ashamed that I “let this happen.” Of course, my 95-pound, 14-year-old self was no match for Steve, but I still felt responsible. Years of being told to ignore or brush off sexist comments, butt slaps, bra snaps, arm punches, and hair pulling led me to believe that my discomfort with Steve’s actions was my problem. Continue reading

Abstinence Education Harms LGTBQ+ Youth

Did you know that lesbian, bisexual, and gay teens are just as (if not more) likely to have or father a teen pregnancy than their heterosexual peers? Furthermore, as most major data sources fail to gather data on gender identity, the trans teen pregnancy rate is largely unknown.

Last month was Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. This month, June, is LGBT Pride Month. That makes now the perfect time to discuss queer teen pregnancy and what we can do about it.


We can create a world where every young person feels empowered to make choices for themselves, and where every pregnancy is planned and wanted.


To combat queer teen pregnancy, reduce homophobia, and save taxpayer money, the federal government should redirect the $90 million budget for abstinence education toward LGBTQ+ inclusive comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programs. All too often, sexual health education focuses on heterosexual and cisgender youth. LGBTQ+ people are often only discussed in tandem with HIV/AIDS. As a result, queer youth report that sex ed feels irrelevant to their needs and further stigmatizes them. Worse yet, the federal government spends $90 million annually on sexual health education programs that teach sexual abstinence instead of equipping young people with the tools and resources they need.

This may soon change — but not for the better: President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, while maintaining $85 million dollars for abstinence education programs. Continue reading

April 10 Is National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day

The following is a guest post by Planned Parenthood Arizona’s Director of Education Vicki Hadd-Wissler, M.A.

Young people born in the 1980s belong to the first generation to have never known a world without HIV and AIDS. The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are alarming, with young people between the ages of 13 and 29 accounting for almost 40 percent of new HIV infections in the United States! In Arizona, people ages 25 to 29 had the highest infection rate (28.1 per 100,000), and people ages 20 to 24 come in second with 26.1 per 100,000. It is estimated that 13 percent of those infected with HIV (in all age groups) are unaware they are infected — and, among HIV-positive youth ages 18 to 24, an estimated 44 percent are unaware of their status.


Help the next generation know a world where AIDS no longer poses a threat to a vibrant, healthy future.


National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD) on April 10 provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the importance of prevention, promote HIV testing, and help reduce the stigma often associated with HIV and STDs in general.

First organized in 2013 by Advocates for Youth, NYHAAD is intended to serve as an annual wake-up call to organize and educate young people about HIV and AIDS, and press leaders for investments in medical advancements and prevention strategies. The observance has received less attention nationally this year than in past years — no doubt due to the need to focus on saving the Affordable Care Act. But we can still be activists on the issue of HIV awareness. All of us have a young person(s) in our lives who we care deeply about. Let’s mark our calendars for April 10 as a day to commit to having a conversation with them to share important, life-enhancing information. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About … Being the Parent of an LGBTQ Child

The following guest post comes to us from Planned Parenthood Arizona’s education staff. Contact them at education@ppaz.org.

father-and-son-thumbnailOctober is Let’s Talk month, when Planned Parenthood advocates for better parent-child communication around sexuality. Last year we wrote about why it’s so important for any parent to talk to their child about sexuality — early and often. Parents are the primary sexuality educators of their children, and children who can talk to their parents about sexuality wait longer to have sex, and are more likely to use protection.

Planned Parenthood has great resources to help parents talk to their kids. Advocates for Youth also has a comprehensive guide to help parents through difficult conversations. Planned Parenthood also has resources for parents of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) youth. You might also ask your friendly local librarian about one of these books recommended by PFLAG, a national organization for families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ people.


Demand LGBTQ inclusivity and comprehensive sex education in your school district.


On November 2, Planned Parenthood will host an interactive workshop in Phoenix for parents of LGBTQ youth, where they can practice being an “askable” parent. Parents of LGBTQ kids may find it a little more difficult to be an “askable” adult. But it’s even more important because your children are at particular risk. LGBTQ youth face significant obstacles in their schools, in the world, and, sometimes, unfortunately, in their own homes. LGBTQ youth experience high rates of homelessness, depression/anxiety, and astronomically high rates of suicides — 3 times higher than straight youth. Study after study has shown that, in schools, LGBTQ youth face much higher levels of bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats, and physical assault than their peers. Stopbullying.gov reports that bullied LGBTQ youth (or youth perceived as LGBTQ) are more likely to skip school, smoke, use alcohol and drugs, and to engage in other risky behaviors.

If your child is transgender, their risks are exponentially higher. Almost all transgender students report being harassed at school about their sexual orientation and/or gender. More than half of transgender students report being physically harassed (pushed, shoved) in school. And about a third report being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon). For more information on transgender discrimination in schools, please see Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools, available online here. Continue reading