They are about to start an engaging role-playing game. By the end, they will be able to tell their teacher exactly why doing something they believe “everyone else is doing” isn’t always in their best interest.

This is part of Draw the Line/Respect the Line, a successful sex education program that teaches middle school students abstinence and refusal skills – one of many Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ (PPRM) outreach efforts designed to educate teenagers about staying true to their comfort levels and making safe decisions about their health.

Thirty-six percent of our nation’s 15 to 19 year olds admit to knowing “little to nothing” about condoms and how to use them, and the numbers are even higher among 12 to 14 year olds: sixty-six percent1. In addition, forty-two percent of the nation’s teens believe that “it doesn’t matter whether you use birth control or not, when it is your time to get pregnant it will happen.” Even more staggering are recent estimates indicating that one in four teens is now infected with a sexually-transmitted disease. “They think those things are never going to affect them,” says Julie LaBarr, PPRM’s manager of long-term sexual education programs, “and many also believe one cannot get pregnant on her first time. They get a lot of misinformation from the internet.”

In light of this situation, the Argosy Foundation has partnered with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ Responsible Sex Education Institute in support of the organization’s comprehensive sex education programs, which provide nearly 18,000 teens annually with age-appropriate, accurate information they aren’t likely to get anywhere else. These short- and long-term workshops are offered in both English and Spanish in a variety of settings.

In a classroom where the Safer Choices program is taking place, one is bound to find students engaged in collaborative brainstorming activities that require, for example, that groups list reasons why girls and boys choose to have sex, and choose not to have sex. The same class also covers topics like basic reproductive anatomy, personal boundaries, where to go to get sexual health services, and compelling, real-life stories of young people living with HIV. In contrast, All Together Now covers health decision making processes and communication tools necessary for healthy sexual relationships. Students are invited to discuss the best contraceptive and/or boundary methods for different situations, common concerns in using reproductive health services; how to negotiate condom use; and – perhaps most importantly – they also perform a risk self-assessment after being presented with current sexually-transmitted infection (STI) statistics.

“We witness a lot of moments where teens will say, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize there were so many teen pregnancies and STIs in Colorado!’” offered LaBarr. “They really appreciate sexual health education, and they like having these honest conversations.”

In addition, participants are sent home with “homework”: an exercise sheet to fill out requiring them to talk about health and intimacy with an adult they trust. This family involvement encourages an important conversation that often wouldn’t happen otherwise. Likewise, family members are brought into the conversation through Speakers Bureau, which provides individual on-site presentations to groups and community organizations. Similarly tailored is the Promoters program, which takes place in informal “house party” settings where a PPRM staff discusses health services available to the community. Such multi-generational formats are particularly effective with Latinos – a large demographic group in Colorado – who often consider health decision making a family affair2.

Positive Results

“About half of the ninth-graders we meet haven’t had any sexual contact,” says LaBarr, “but that’s not what they think. They thinkeveryone is doing it.”

According to the organization, teens who believe everyone is having sex are more inclined to engage in unwanted sexual activity, and are at higher risk to contract an STI or become pregnant. However, after attending one of PPRM’s workshops, participants were significantly more likely to state that it is okay not  to be sexually active as a teen. Additionally, post-workshop evaluations identified considerable growth in the number of teens who agreed with the statement that “it is a good idea to use condoms to lower the chances of getting STIs.” Finally, even more encouraging results were found in the increased number of teens who said, after attending a program, that they were comfortable with telling a partner what they want and don’t want to do sexually.

Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood operates within a controversial landscape where misconceptions about its work abound. For example, while some criticize Planned Parenthood’s perceived “focus” on providing abortions, the reality is that nationally, only three percent of the agency’s services are related to pregnancy termination. In fact, Planned Parenthood does more to prevent unintended pregnancies than any other organization. Family planning services helped American women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies in 2006, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions3. Planned Parenthood focuses its efforts on keeping unintended pregnancies from happening in the first place – thus decreasing the subsequent need for abortions. The Argosy Foundation is proud to provide support at such a challenging time for Planned Parenthood, helping to ensure that youth in Colorado are equipped with the necessary tools to make life-long healthy decisions and leave a lasting, positive mark on those around them.

[1]The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (2012) With One Voice 2012: Highlights from a Survey of Teens and Adults about Teen Pregnancy and Related Issues [Fact Sheet] Available by clicking here.

2]Du Pre, A. (2009). Communicating about health: Current issues and perspectives. (3 ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[3]Gold RB et al., Next Steps for America’s Family Planning Program: Leveraging the Potential of Medicaid and Title X in an Evolving Health Care System, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2009.

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