18/Dec/2017

I just finished three amazing days in New Brunswick, NJ at the 30th annual Sex Education Conference, hosted by the Center for Sex Education. My time was filled with keynotes and workshops, networking and socializing, presenting and discussing, and encouraging and leading. This was my third time attending the conference, my third year as a member of the Sex Ed Network, and my third year witnessing success and growth.

Many of the workshops I attended were about engaging youth and meeting them where they are at. This included through social media platforms and interactive games, but it also meant acknowledging the variations of gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, physical ability, developmental ability, trauma, and more. Many people encouraged this discussion including the Women of Color Sexual Health Network (wocshn.org), as well as individual presenters and keynote speakers. While I am conscious of who my audience is when teaching sex education or doing sex therapy, I felt challenged to have this on the fore-front of my brain, rather than as an after thought. Specifically, the WoCSHN encouraged ALL presenters during the opening keynote, to alter their presentations and include an aspect of inclusivity on race and people of color. I presented on polyamory, open relationships, and swinging (and the differences among them) and I wasn’t sure how to embrace this challenge. When the topic of cultural values arose during my presentation, a clear path developed and both myself, and those engaging in my presentation, were able to go down that road together. It was a learning moment for myself and others in the room.

While I had my own learning moments during the conference and was able to acknowledge that I continue to grow as a person, educator, and therapist, I also had the opportunity to share my knowledge with others. As I mentioned, I led a workshop about polyamory, open relationships, and swinging. Monogamy was also discussed during this conversation and its historic roots. I was able to provide definitions and resources, as well as my own expertise working with people with different identities. “That’s just an excuse to cheat” was a myth I was able to clear up among quite a few people. During the discussion I was able to emphasize communication, honesty, and more communication. The topic was new and vulnerable for many, but others identified it as a safe space to come out and share their own stories.

In between sessions, I also volunteered at the AASECT (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) table. As the leader of the Nebraska AASECT chapter, the Chair of the Development Committee for the national organization, and an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, this organization is extremely important to me. There were many people that approached the table asking how to become involved with AASECT, how to get certified, why they should get certified, and how to learn more. Thankfully, my “sales pitch” to them wasn’t actually a pitch at all since I am so passionate about AASECT. It’s my professional home and where I am able to find a sense of community within my professional career. You can’t sell that! I was really glad to see people inquiring about the organization though and wanting more information. It reminded me of my own passion that was sparked when I was in college which pushed me into this field.

Another wonderful thing that occurred at the National Sex Education Conference was meeting Kirsten deFur, the editor and contributor to the 4th Edition of Unequal Partners, the book that some of my own sex education lessons on consent will be published in! She is also the editor and contributor for another book, that has yet to be named, chock full of LGBTQ lessons, which I will also be published in! In addition to meeting Kirsten, and giving each other a big hug, she gave a wonderful keynote presentation all about consent and how simple, yet oh so complicated, it is. She was a great speaker on such an important topic.
The last highlight of the conference was having Laci Green present as the final keynote speaker. Laci Green is a sex educator youtube media sensation (https://www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen). She has over 5 million viewers from each video she posts, and has had viewers from every single country. Wow! She shared her own personal story, acknowledged her privilege, added humor and humbleness, and spoke about reaching youth where they are at, the Internet. When she finished her presentation, she filmed people from the audience (with a special shout out to PoC who wanted to speak) about what they had learned at the conference. Guess what? I was filmed and will get to be a part of an original Laci Green youtube video! I got so nervous I forgot to share my youtube handle (#KristenLilla) but I did share how important the topic of consent is, and how it needs to start at a young age. I will definitely post a link to the video once it’s completed (she said it will probably be available in January 2016).
All in all, I would say the 30th National Sex Education Conference, and the 3rd annual one for me, was a SUCCESS! Shoutout to all the wonderful people at the Center for Sex Education for pulling off their biggest conference yet.


18/Dec/2017

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I am writing as a community member, professional, and future parent of an OPS child. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Sex Therapist (and in 2016 I will be the only person in the state who is both a Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Sex Educator), I have dedicated my entire education and career committed to this work.

I wanted to touch base in light of the forum this evening at the TAC building and the vote on November 16 from the OPS School Board. I hope that you have been supported by parents, students, teachers, and the community to move forward with implementing sex education that is both comprehensive and medically accurate.

Unfortunately, sex education is the only curriculum that doesn’t have any standards or requirements of educators. We certainly wouldn’t let a history or math teacher educate in our schools without a degree, let alone without continuing education and an established curriculum. For example, you would never ask me to teach a music class, because I can’t read notes. The same standards should exist for sex education. Not only does the teacher need to be educated and aware, they need to be comfortable and competent teaching the subject matter. To meet the needs of our youth, and the astronomical numbers of gonorrhea and chlamydia in Douglas County, as well as the number of pregnant mothers each year in OPS, we need to have a sex education curriculum. Setting standards ensures that adolescents get the most accurate information there is, just as they get they get in their science and history classes.

I’m sure you have a lot to consider, but most importantly, please consider the future of your students. Sex education will never be the most popular class among parents because no one wants to see their child grow up and think of them making adult decisions. However, I would argue that sex education is the most important class adolescents may receive, as most people will transition from abstinence to sexually active at some point in their lives (75% of us by the time we graduate from high school). When you consider a topic like consent, it is a lesson that should be taught in Kindergarten, because it’s not okay to take someone else’s toy without asking! The lessons can be tailored and age appropriate, but they need to start early and with accurate information. Our youth needed trusted and competent adults to teach them. I know that I am one of those adults and I hope we can stand next to each other.

Best,

Kristen Lilla MSW, LCSW, CST

P.S. to readers, go find out who it in your district and a send a letter of support ASAP! Need more info? Watch this: http://www.kmtv.com/news/local-news/ops-to-propose-revisions-to-outdated-content-in-sex-education or read this: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/fscse.pdf


18/Dec/2017

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being a part of a committee. Not just any committee though, one that discusses sexual health, sex education, and sexuality. This may seem like just a part of what I do, talking about sex, but this meeting was very intentional. Why did such a meeting happen?

You may recall, that about a year ago, Omaha Public Schools made a plan to send out a survey to parents of youth in the school district. The survey was to gain perspective from parents about what the school’s sex education curriculum should look like. Considering that Omaha Public Schools have not updated their sex education curriculum since the 1980s (over 20 years ago), the survey was beyond overdue. Since the 1980s, abstinence only education programs have also been proven unsuccessful, and topics such as the LGBT community are being left out. Therefore, the curriculum was not only outdated, but also not relatable or inclusive. Additionally, the materials being used were also outdated, and some were not medically accurate. Believe it or not, sex actually has changed in the last twenty years.

The survey was conducted over several months, with over 1500 parents participating. Parents were asked if a variety of topics should, or should not, be included in the curriculum including masturbation, the LGBT community, and contraceptives. With rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia much higher than the national average in the state of Nebraska, specifically among those ages 15-24, contraceptives should be essential lesson in the curriculum. In 2014 alone, Douglas County had 3,390 confirmed cases of chlamydia and 961 cases of gonorrhea and national statistics show that 1 in 4 teens will contract an STD each year. Luckily, there are many places to get tested in Omaha that are both confidential and FREE, including many of the libraries in town!

The results of the survey that Omaha Public Schools conducted were shared at a meeting on April 7. Overwhelming, 93% of respondents supported lessons that taught both abstinence and ways to prevent pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. That’s good news, considering “The vast majority of research studies about abstinence only programs have shown that they are ineffective at preventing teen pregnancy and STIs, whereas comprehensive programs, and in some cases abstinence plus programs, are effective” (Bennett & Assefi, 2005; Kirby & Laris, 2009; Kohler, Manhart, & Lafferty, 2008; Santelli et al., 2006; Trenholm et al., 2008). Over 150 people attended the meeting in April to continue the discussion about how sex education should be implemented and taught to adolescents.

As you can see, sex education in Nebraska is a hot topic right now. Between the pressure on OPS to update their curriculum, the parent survey, the positive responses from parents and the community, and the hard facts regarding the STD epidemic and teen pregnancy rates in Nebraska, the sex ed super heroes (that includes me) banded together to continue to push change.

Now back to where we started, the committee yesterday. It was good. It was inspiring. It was motivating. The Nebraska Sexual Health Alliance Committee actually configured just a few weeks ago, after the Nebraska Sexual Health Summit. It spawned from the idea of having a forum for all of the sexuality educators (and therapists like me) to be able to collaborate. The discussion focused on upcoming legislature and how to make positive and effective change. There were several researchers on the committee that will be contributing sound research that illustrates just how effective and important sex education is, and how ineffective abstinence only programs are. Since I’m not a researcher, but I am involved in the community and in making social justice and change occur, I offered to start a statewide petition. I believe there is power in numbers so I am committed to get as many signatures as humanly possible to show Nebraska legislation that this is a pertinent and important issue.

If you’re on the fence about schools implementing a sex education curriculum, you should know that Nebraska taxpayers spend about $67 MILLION on teen pregnancy costs each year. Some of this probably went to the 53 pregnant teens at Omaha South High School in 2013 (and there were another 50 at the school that were already teen parents). Teaching effective methods of contraceptives comes at a more cost-effective rate, both for taxpayers and for these adolescents’ futures.

So how can you make change? You can start by writing a letter to your senator explaining how important evidence based, comprehensive, and medically accurate sex education is. (Need help finding yours? http://nebraskalegislature.gov/senators/senator_find.php) You can also sign the petition we’ve started. Ask me about it next time you see me. An online petition is also being developed and I will post it as soon as it is available. Then, you can encourage your friends, family, and co-workers to sign it. Here’s to all of you being sex ed super heroes yourselves!


(c) Kristen Lilla 2017