marion county commission on youth logoThis article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

Starting Conversations to Improve Teen Sexual Health Education

According to Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2015 41.7 percent of Indiana high school students reported having had sexual intercourse at least once in their lifetime. Furthermore, 31.7 percent reported being sexually active, meaning they had had sexual intercourse with at least one partner during the three-month period prior to taking the survey.

Additionally, the New York Times recently reported that cases of sexually transmitted diseases have risen in the U.S., with chlamydia in particular showing high rates among 15- to 24-year-olds.

With statistics as high as these, some organizations are working to ensure youth have the appropriate knowledge when it comes to sexual health and reproduction.nov-1

Leigh Zaban and Jeremy Cord Roseberry work for Indianapolis-based Health Care Education and Training. They provide education, training, technical assistance, program development, grants management and evaluation services to professionals, health care systems, community-based organizations and state and local government agencies.

According to Zaban, community programs director, and Roseberry, project manager, for more than 20 years HCET has identified “policies, practices, program delivery and systems change that support the fundamental right to reproductive and sexual health care, training and education for all.”

“Unfortunately, many adolescents are not receiving medically accurate information regarding sex, pregnancy and HIV/STDs at home or at school, and instead are getting incorrect information from their peers, the internet and media,” said Zaban and Roseberry. “This can lead to many teens not understanding how to effectively prevent unplanned pregnancy, HIV and STDs.”

Zaban and Roseberry cited data from the Indiana State Department of Health’s School Health Profiles Survey, which shows that only 27.6 percent of all Indiana middle schools and high schools in 2014 reported providing training in all of the HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention topics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as essential components of sexual health education.

Age-appropriate information is critical. HCET programming for children focuses on healthy relationships and personal responsibility. From there, programs can build upon those early lessons to talk about sex and abstinence when youth hit their teen years.

“Research has shown that effective teen pregnancy prevention can begin as early as elementary school, and the Office of Adolescent Health has evaluated and identified evidence-based programming for children as young as kindergarten,” said Zaban and Roseberry.

If possible, it’s important for parents and guardians to have these serious conversations with their youth.

“Teens want to hear from their parents and parents want to talk to their teens, but parents often need support and resources to help them start and maintain the conversation,” said Zaban and Roseberry.

They continued, saying, “Research has shown that youth would most like to get information about sex and relationships by talking with their parents, more so than their peers, teachers or the media. Engaging parents and providing education on improving parent/child communication is yet another way to integrate teen pregnancy prevention programming at an early age.”

The HCET team recommended the following resources for parents who need help in pursuing conversations with their youth regarding sexual health:

Another resource that can provide facts and tools for parents is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health.

HCET’s hopes to improve communication regarding sexual health is clear. Said Zaban and Roseberry, “Communities need to start conversations about the need for effective teen pregnancy prevention and sexual health education in their areas. It is crucial for stakeholders at all levels, including schools, law enforcement, health care providers and social service programs, to begin a discourse on how to offer programming to youth in their communities.”