Cultural Differences in Sex Ed in the US

In light of the fact that the US has the highest rates of STDs and teen pregnancy or any industrialized country, the debate surrounding sexual education in schools is incredibly important. My home state of NM has no requirement for teaching sex ed in schools, and when it is taught, there are no requirements on what should be included. NM also has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the US. My high school did not teach sex ed, and teen pregnancy was common place with a daycare on school grounds to help moms who wanted to continue going to school. Growing up in this climate it became obvious to me that simply not talking about sex did not stop kids from having sex. For this reason I adamantly support comprehensive sexual education in public middle schools and high schools. Education is power, and teaching young adults about their bodies and safe ways to express their sexuality is important and will help protect against unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of disease.

My high school was also 85% Hispanic with 50% of those students being first generation Americans and 15% newly immigrated. This is important in this conversation because sex was a taboo subject in within this group. Strong catholic families celebrated when their daughters became pregnant, but shamefully swept the action that caused the pregnancy under the rug never to be talked about. Breaching the subject of sex in this community was uncomfortable and considered highly inappropriate especially in school. These cultural differences are incredibly important to consider when approaching the subject of teaching sex ed in public schools. The US has an incredibly diverse cultural heritage, and for many people, talking about sex is incredibly uncomfortable and for some can be terrifying. When discussing the implementation of sex ed in schools, we have to be sensitive to these needs. I work at an HIV/STD clinic in Atlanta and I have seen in support groups we have with HIV positive women from many different backgrounds that forcing someone who is uncomfortable talking about sex because of cultural or religious beliefs doesn’t work. They shut off and are not receptive to the information. The conversation has to become relevant to them, and be presented way that is respectful and approachable to them. In our support groups we have found that breaking women up into smaller groups with a peer navigator that understands cultural or religious hesitations helps to create a more comfortable and relaxed environment where the women feel safe to open up. Once this is established they usually become very engage and ask a lot of questions. I think something similar could be applied to schools. Small culturally sensitive groups could maybe be used to help students feel safer in discussion, and help mediate the cultural barriers between families.

Does this solution seem like it would be feasible?

We all know that educating students about their bodies and sex is important for future health outcomes, so what other solutions are there that still provide the necessary information but make the environment safer and sensitive to cultural differences?

One thought on “Cultural Differences in Sex Ed in the US

  1. I think you make some really great statements! I particularly agree with your statement that “the conversation has to become relevant to them, and be presented way that is respectful and approachable to them.”

    I work with Community Advanced Practice Nurses (CAPN) and most of the patients I interact with are young (usually ages 13-22) girls who come to the clinic to be tested for STI’s, receive treatment for STI’s, need pregnancy test/prenatal care, etc. One of the most challenging aspects of providing care for them is realizing that often they are educated but still choose not to practice healthy sexual behavior. The majority of the girls I talk to know the risks of unprotected sex both in regards to transmission of STI’s as well as pregnancy. However, they still choose not to practice safe sex. Furthermore, most of them have the mindset that if they get an STI it’s no big deal because they can just come get treatment.

    So, while I think that YES sexual education in schools is important and it is crucial that adolescents receive accurate and unbiased education, I also think we often have a bigger(deeper) issue at hand. I believe that regardless of how “educated” people are, if the information carries no weight for them personally (i.e. it is not specific to them…their concerns, questions, etc.) then it appears to make little of an impact.

    Thus, I think the idea of creating smaller, culturally sensitive groups, (and maybe even including parents in these groups) could be more successful then simply gathering a group of pre-teens together in a room and throwing information and statistics about safe sex or abstinence at them in hopes that they might take it to heart. In small groups, people are willing to be more vulnerable…they can talk about what they feel, what they want to know, what they are scared of, what they struggle with, and knowledge gaps can be more accurately assessed and then filled. Furthermore, when we are in close-nit communities we are more likely to feel like we are cared for and like the people educating us are also invested in us, which I think can have a profound impact on health behavior.

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