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 Therefore, the curriculum was not only outdated, but also not relatable or inclusive. Additionally, the materials being used were also outdated, and some were not medically accurate.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!