A special thank-you to 2018 IWF Grant Partner EyesOpenIowa for writing this guest blog and telling their story. To learn more about this organization and their work in our state, visit http://www.eyesopeniowa.org/. 

 

Removing Stigma & Shame from Sex Ed

by Kristin Fairholm, Executive Director EyesOpenIowa

 

What do you think of when you hear the words “teen pregnancy”?

 

Poverty?

 

Irresponsible teens?

 

Bad choices?

 

Everyone has a different reaction to these words, but too often, our culture sits in judgment of teens—and particularly young women—who become pregnant. We falsely believe that if young people would just be more responsible, less silly or stupid, and listen to the adults around them, teen pregnancy wouldn’t happen.

 

At EyesOpenIowa, several of us have had very personal experiences with teen pregnancy and have been on the receiving end of unfair judgment and stigma. These experiences drive our passion for ensuring that young people in Iowa have access to sexual health education and services.

 

I became pregnant with my oldest daughter at age 16. My pregnancy was the result of just one night in which I was placed in circumstances I had not previously faced, and with which I was not fully equipped to handle.

 

What a difference just one sex education class would have made for me.

 

After I began working at EyesOpenIowa, I returned to my high school. Nearly 25 years later, I was stunned to learn that the only improvement the school had made (from offering no sex education at all) was to teach STDs to 12th graders.

 

At that moment, I decided it was time to speak up. So many Iowans care about the health and well-being of teens, and yet we don’t talk about sex education. We also don’t talk about the sexualized world around us. Parents want to assume that schools are teaching sex ed, and schools assume that parents will be mad if they teach it.

 

Fortunately, Iowa law mandates that school districts utilize human growth and development curricula that include research-based, age appropriate, and bias-free sex education. Unfortunately, the law has some grey areas, leaving schools that don’t want to teach sex education to do just that—or worse, to teach abstinence-only programs that shame young people and have been proven ineffective in preventing teen pregnancy.

 

For schools that do wish to follow the mandate, there is little to no funding available to obtain the necessary resources, including teacher training, curricula, classroom resources, etc.

 

The environment for this work has only become more challenging in recent months, with battles over women’s health and education—including access to basic birth control—heating up at the state and federal levels.

 

In the face of these challenges, we have recommitted ourselves to ensuring that young people are given the information and education they need so they are not left in the dark about their own bodies and their own health. With this education and support, they can remain in school, graduate, and create positive futures for themselves and their families, including continued family planning and economic self-sufficiency.

 

We are incredibly proud of the work we have done so far and continue to work every day to change the environment in Iowa so that no young person has to find themselves alone, pregnant, scared, and ashamed. We are committed to creating a safety net for all teens, including pregnant and parenting young women, who need our support more than ever.