Advocates are working together with school and community educators to advance the inclusiveness and effectiveness of youth sexual health education through an anti-oppressive approach and the use of peer-led learning. ReproCollab is partnering with and providing support to these community-based efforts to ensure young people have medically accurate information that equips them to make informed decisions about a healthy sexual life and family planning that fits their life and aspirations.
“We have begun to address the absence of youth voice in sexual health education by intentionally engaging young people in the development of the forthcoming 2022 State of Adolescent Sexual Health (SASH) report in order to better understand the lived experiences of adolescent sexual health from young people and with greater knowledge of the systems of oppression that impact sexual health.” said Adrienne Gomez, Senior Program Manager for the Trailhead Institute’s Youth Sexual Health program.
With funding support from the ReproCollab, Trailhead launched an initiative to reimagine the 2022 SASH report using an anti-oppressive framework, beginning with the convening of a Youth Sexual Health Program Board comprised of young people and adults whose identities have been made marginalized by systems of oppression.
Under the vision and leadership of this board, the SASH is evolving with a focus on centering youth voices, uplifting pleasure-based sexual health education and emphasizing nontraditional forms of data like storytelling to shape the future of youth sexual health education in Colorado.
As leaders of Colorado’s WISE initiative (Working to Institutionalize Sex Education), Trailhead recognizes that helping schools and community-based organizations move toward the use of a comprehensive curriculum and an evolving approach is a long-term undertaking. Another big task is ensuring access. Colorado is not among the 39 states that mandate some form of sex education programming (Planned Parenthood). State law leaves it up to each Colorado school district whether to teach sex ed and the state does not track the districts that do or don’t teach it. The districts that do choose to teach sex ed are required to use a curriculum that is comprehensive and medically accurate. Trailhead Institute is working together with a number of school districts, as well as community-based youth-serving organizations, to create effective and sustainable approaches to providing sexual health education. The goal, says Gomez, is to make the programming both comprehensive and liberatory – a framework lead by sexual health advocates from BIPOC communities wherein young people are active agents in their own learning – and to ensure educators are well qualified.
Gomez points to peer-to-peer education as a successful approach for teaching youth about sexual health topics with programs such as AUL Denver’s peer sex educators and the Colorado Health Network’s #unfiltered youth program as two prime models of liberatory sex education. Colorado Health Network’s Sexpert School peer education program teaches teens how to host lessons on sexual health and become champions in their community.
Diverse cohorts of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are recruited for the program. Selected applicants receive training through online, interactive courses, followed by in-person, in-depth facilitation training. The trained peer-leaders then recruit youth participants and facilitate up to three peer trainings. The whole process takes about three months and sexperts receive a $500 stipend.
Leila Jones participated in the first-ever Sexpert School cohort during her junior year at Denver Center for International Studies high school. Now a rising junior at Loyola University New Orleans, Leila said, “When I was in middle and high school, the prime-time for receiving any sort of sex ed, I did not have that kind of help and heard so many conflicting or incorrect rumors about sex from my own peers.”
“I also discovered that the participants had begun telling their own friends what they had learned in the course,” Leila said. “This showed me that they were spreading positive, comprehensive, well-researched information about sex, rather than just spreading further misinformation or harmful rumors. It was like dominoes falling from my peer-led session out into a larger community of young people.”