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Sex is often discussed yet rarely understood. The first exposure to the “sex talk” adolescents are expected to get is from home, but what happens when their home does not provide them that platform for conversation? This leads to the second exposure, their high school sexual education course. Children of the Latin American community are lacking proper sexual education in high school putting them at high risk of pregnancy and STD’s. High schools are not teaching inclusive sex ed and the curriculum is inadequately preparing them for sex in the future. The Latinx community is the point of focus in this problem since they have the highest teen pregnancy rates and their religion has a foothold in standing against homosexuality and premarital sex. Sexual education in schools should include the intersections of race, gender, orientation, trauma and ability, better preparing students for what lies ahead. This is especially important for underprivileged students without a parental figure and Latinx homes that solely teach abstinence.
This paper is categorized into 3 main sections, two of those having sub-sections. The first section will introduce the intercultural communication problem between the Latinx community and the American high school sexual education programs in place: a real-world example of the problem, the source of the dilemmas the Latinx culture faces, evidence that sexual education is affecting the Latinx culture, and harm resulting from the inadequate sexual education given. The second section will tie the issues Latinx cultures face, in light of the sexual education they receive, to social learning theory: relevance/analysis of the theories’ connection to the communication issue. The final section will include action I am taking on the issue of the lacking communication between the sex ed system in place and the Latinx culture and a conclusion on my research.
How it works
Latin American culture is known for its strong religious footholds. While they are also known for their close families, when the sex talk comes around, it is typically framed through their religious views; be abstinent until married -therefore no conversations about consent- , no homosexuality, no pleasure -because sex is for baby making- and no talk about sexually transmitted diseases (because you are to only have sex with that one person). The intercultural communication problem comes into play when these Latinx adolescents hit high school and begin their sexual education courses. While many have received a sex talk at home, it is not assured that the information they got was inclusive. Inclusivity is important because the person who is teaching it might have a positionally that keeps them from sharing all the knowledge they have on the subject of sex. If students do not have the information they need about sex they are less likely to know how to give and receive consent, use protection to prevent transmitted diseases, and prevent themselves from becoming pregnant. It is the responsibility of the United States’ high school system to implement an inclusive sexual education course nationwide so that the children of Latin American and other cultures can be better prepared for the times ahead of them.
Real world example. A teenage girl from a Latinx home has been told her whole life to abstain from sex until she is married. At school, she has taken a sex ed course but she decides to take part in a sexual experience with a boy. This boy did not have a sex ed course at his school, they met through Instagram and the only thing he knows about sex is what he has learned through porn. Prom rolls along and when the night is wrapping up they begin to get intimate and she decides this is where she draws the line, in her head. When she begins to think back to sex ed she realizes she was never taught how to say “no”. To not make the situation more awkward, she proceeds to have sex with this boy. The boy, on the other hand, doesn’t know how to have sex, he’s only seen it on his computer. When he goes for a condom he does not know if she wants to have sex with him but since he was never taught to ask for consent, he goes with his gut and assumes he wants to because they have been kissing thus far. Thinking back to his porn, he realizes he never saw proper condom application, just that it would prevent kids -probably- so he struggles to put one on but he manages and they go ahead. The young lady finds out she’s pregnant within weeks.
Source of the issue. The sex ed curriculum that is in place right now is not relevant, not accurate and not current. This puts children at risk because they can not practice safe sex if they do not know how. High school sex ed classes are not being implemented nationwide, in fact “only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education, of those, only 13 require the information to be medically accurate” (Planned Parenthood). That leaves 88% of the adolescent high school population learning an inaccurate sexual education curriculum or not having received one at all. As mentioned in the University of Washington School of Medicine’s digital publication Right as Rain “if you do not provide access to the information young people need to live healthy sexual lives, you can’t expect them to make safe decisions.” This goes to show that even if 22% of the high school population has medically accurate information, the people they are engaging in sexual acts with might have little to no knowledge on how to protect themselves. If students are not protecting themselves, or they are having sex with people who are not, they will run a higher risk of contracting STDs. While kids may get the sense that they are completely safe because of their safe sex practices, they may not always “completely” safe. One might become intimate and exposed to someone who has not been as conscientious, and that is all it takes. The people who fall under the category of most likely to be unaware of safe sex practices are Latinx children in high school since at home they learn very little and at school, they continue to receive inadequate information from their instructors.
Evidence that a lacking sex ed program predominantly affects the Latinx culture. Since the majority of the young Latinx community learns about sex throughout their time in high school it is imperative that the information they receive is accurate, current, and relevant to what they will experience in the near future. The current sex ed programs are affecting the Latinx culture negatively. They leave these teens to be the most likely to end up pregnant and that is just one way they are affected. School sex ed programs are also reinforcing abstinence-only education and according to the statistics, this “state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.” (Stanger-Hall, 2011). The pregnancy rates for Latina teens are painstakingly high and “according to the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Wechsler, 2012), Latina teens aged 15–19 are three times as likely to become pregnant as white teens”, proving that they are the culture most highly affected by this sexual education system.
Further, Latina females experience higher rates than White females of gonorrheal and chlamydial infections (Berman et al., 2009), which increases the chance of contracting HIV. The young adult Latino population now has the second highest rate of AIDS diagnoses of all ethnic and racial groups (Berman et al., 2009) and more Latino than White youth report never having been taught in school about HIV/AIDS. (Larson, 2011).
Something needs to be done about this, the job of educating students on issues such as AIDS, HIV, STDs lyes in the hands of educators and they are doing nothing to aid the hurting Latinx culture. This is putting Latinxs at a higher risk than their cultural counterparts.
Harm resulting from inadequate sexual education.Children of the Latin American community are lacking proper sexual education in high school putting them at a higher risk of pregnancy and STD’s. High schools do not have proper sex education courses and the curriculum is inadequate. The Latinx community is the point of focus in this problem since is apparent that they suffer the most from a deficient sexual education system. This is seen in Latin’s across the board, not just Latinas because of their high pregnancy rates. With that said, Latinas are the ones at the negative side of the spectrum.
Teen pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of living in poverty and substantially reduces the likelihood of participating in the workforce and completing an education. Long-term consequences of sexually transmitted infections include infertility, cervical cancer, and the devastating sequelae from AIDS. The research available indicates that sexual risk behaviors and the negative outcomes of these behaviors are more common among Latino youth than other youth groups (Alvarez et al., 2009; Villalba, 2007).
This proves that there is clear harm being done to the Latinx community and they are the ones most highly affected by this lack of sexual education. They tend to be the ones that are not privileged and that puts them even more behind the peers right beside them. Not only are they more likely to have life long consequences of a lack of safe sex practices but they are also prone to be more vulnerable with a partner. The lack of education around consent poses a threat to them as well as others. In a survey conducted by PlannedParenthood in 2015, only 21% of respondents stated that they had been taught how to ask for consent in their sexual education classes. Only 25% were taught how to give consent. And only 33% stated that they had been taught how to say no to sex. Consent is being left out of the conversation and therefore Latin’s and other students alike are left out of the chance of having that conversation with partners of theirs.
Social learning theory is a part of the reason why the Latinx youth culture is struggling so much in regards to sex. It begins at home with what they learn from their parent or guardian and then flows into the realm of their school life. The model of the social learning theory, as per Albert Bandura reflects on the actions of a person based on 3 aspects: cognitive factors, environmental factors, and behaviorist factors. The cognitive factors are within themselves as a child of the Latinx culture. Their attitude can vary depending on personal variables. The environmental factors can include such things as their influence on people around them, maybe a sibling or nephew. (Toolshero, 2018) It also includes norms of the culture around them, this brings us back to the ideals of heteronormativity and abstinence. In the educational sphere, the educational factors would also include their education, specifically high school sex education. This is where Latinx need to receive positive reinforcement to practice safe sex and be informed about what will happen if they don’t.
Relevance/Application of theory to the problem the culture faces.The social learning theory is the perfect model to describe the issues facing Latin American Culture. This theory applies to the issue the Latinx culture faces because through social learning theory one learns to behave after is modeled around them through positive or negative reinforcement. There is a clear negative reinforcement in the home sphere that they are not fully able to explore because peers at school might talk about sex often and it is not coming negative from that sphere. It is stated by Albert Bandura that “people can represent external influences symbolically and later use those representations to guide their actions.” This is especially true for children with strong parental figures who’s opinions guild their actions. The same can go for a school environment if students were to engage with positive role models at teachers they too should theoretically act positively on what they saw the value. If in this case, it is a positive sexual education teacher who teaches about the different intersections of race, gender, orientation ability, and trauma, one might in the future encounter one of these topics and reference that representation in their actions.
Of course, everyone has control of themselves and therefore has a sense of personal responsibility. Yet, even though everyone should take steps to protect themselves during sex, they are less likely to if they don’t know how. The most effective way to combat the issue of a lacking sexual education is to educate me and educate others. This is a solution called Peer-to-Peer sex ed. Peer-to-peer sexual education is a system that is currently implemented at high schools and colleges around the nation. The system is really quite simple: professional health educators come and educate peer advocates on sexual issues and then allow them the space to organize their own discussions about sex with their peers. The training is relatively simple and helps to create a safe environment for students in which they can really level with someone their own age about the sexual issues they deal with on the daily.
What’s even more amazing about this program structure is that both parties benefit from it. According to a 2017 study conducted by the American School Health Association “peer educators and ninth graders perceived benefits of participating in teen peer-to-peer across a range of domains, including intentions, skills, and knowledge.” High schooler’s felt better about their experiences and according to an article published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2017, college students can benefit as well. I believe that it is imperative to get out and take action. If I can educate myself properly I can try and educate my friends and those around me as well and as stated by these studies and journals, not only will our peers benefit from it but so will we. It is clear that freshman in high school was able to get a positive response to the information given to them on a peer level, I think that is what makes this the most important aspect of the solution. What I have with me right here and right now to aid me in helping to resolve this issue is my voice. Then the most important part of peer-to-peer sex education is communication.
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