Viewpoint: Peninsula teens need comprehensive sexual health education

On a recent February morning, ninth graders walked into a health class at Homer High School to talk about anatomy, reproduction, puberty, consent, healthy relationships, behaviors, contraception and abstinence with Kachemak’s youth-focused REC team. Bay Family Planning Clinic (Enrichment Resource and Cooperative).

The district-approved sexual health education curriculum was introduced by the team of trained adults and teen educators to more than 80 HHS freshman students this winter. Covers critical topics with evidence-based information that ensures all students have equal access to medically accurate facts: information that helps bust the myths teens encounter on social media and in conversations with their friends.

KBFPC-led sexual health education has been taking place in middle and high schools on the southern Kenai Peninsula for decades and reflects a partnership between Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic staff, individual school administrators, classroom teachers and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

In fact, the district was the first in the state to pass a comprehensive sexual health curriculum, developed by the KBFPC REC team, following passage of Alaska House Bill 156 of 2016, School Accountability Measures.

KBFPC also partners with each teen’s parents or guardians, who are included in the learning through conversation starters built into the assigned homework that encourage adults and students to talk about their families’ beliefs and values ​​about the topics. Parents and guardians may also opt out of their teen’s participation if they wish to do so.

As one HHS parent said: “One of the biggest fears parents had at a recent community meeting was what kind of sexual content their children were being exposed to online. Children are getting sexual health education whether we like it or not. They need evidence-based sexual health education like KBFPC and the REC team delivered to them in a safe learning environment.”

REC staff will continue to teach in schools in the area around Kachemak Bay and further up the peninsula in the coming weeks.

The multi-day learning is guided by national research and standards, including the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), conducted by high school students across the state this spring and every other year. Since 2016, when the current REC curriculum was first approved, the YRBS has reported a decline in teen pregnancies.

The comprehensive content of the KBFPC’s sexual health education curriculum helps the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District meet the state of Alaska’s requirements in the Alaska Safe Kids Act: Erin’s Act (Statute 14.30.355), which aims to reduce and prevent sexual abuse and sexual assault through training for students, and Bree’s Act (Bylaw 14.30.356), which addresses the prevention of dating violence and training in healthy relationships.

“The healthy relationship part was awesome and actually kind of empowering to realize the rights I have in any relationship,” said one Homer High School student in a post-survey survey.

Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the country. Rates of sexually transmitted infections in Alaska continue to rise, both among adults and among teenagers.

Misinformation and lack of quality sexual health information puts teens and our communities at risk. We all want healthy teenagers and promote their growth into thriving adults. Understanding sexual and reproductive health helps them make informed and intentional decisions about their bodies, behaviors and relationships.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Young people need developmentally appropriate information about their sexuality and how it relates to their bodies, community, culture, society, mental health, and relationships with family, peers, and romantic partners.”

Sexual health education like KBFPC’s is critical to addressing serious public health issues that affect teens and adults in Alaska and can help prevent sexual assault (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2020), sexually transmitted infections or STDs (American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2012) and unintended pregnancy (National Academy of Sciences, 2022).

Having access to factual and comprehensive information, a variety of local and authoritative online resources, and the opportunity to ask important and potentially life-changing questions of experienced professionals and trained peers helps teens better understand the decisions they may face, how to find the help they need, and it supports their overall health.

Health literacy, including sexual and reproductive health, is essential for strong and vibrant communities.

Claudia Haines is the CEO of Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, a longtime Homer resident and mother of two teenagers.

Viewpoint: Peninsula teens need comprehensive sexual health education

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