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Secret Life of an American Teenager

A program encourages teens and parents to talk about sex

A program encourages teens and parents to talk about sex

June 16, 2009|By BRIGITTE GREWE / Pulse Correspondent

Teen pregnancy is often been talked about in schools in Washington County. You hear about it from your teachers, in health class and in Family Life class.

But growing up as a teen in Washington County, most of our "sex ed" comes from experiences and friends.

The bulk of what teens know is the stuff we've heard off the street. But sometimes, what teens hear isn't always right.

In 2007, the Washington County teen birth rate was the third highest in the state, according to the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition. In 2007, 238 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 and two teens 14 or younger gave birth in Washington County.

So how do teens find out the truth about sex?

TEENS AND SEX



The Just Say Know program is a 10-week program that concentrates on teen sex education.

Diane Eves, chairperson for Faith Based Initiatives for the Teen Pregnancy Coalition, said the 25-year-old program is biblically based. It meets for two hours each week and is focused on ninth- to 12th-graders. The course provides about 20 hours of sex education.

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During the past two years, the course was offered twice by two churches in Hagerstown -- Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren and First Christian Church. The programs were funded by a grant from Washington County Community Partnership.

This past year, Eves said about 35 teens, both guys and girls, participated in Just Say Know.

A recent class series was held from Jan. 15 to March 12 at First Christian Church in Hagerstown.

The course covered an extensive range of issues related to sexuality and relationships, including anatomy and physiology; myths about sex; teen pregnancy; sexually transmitted infections; contraception; differences between male and female perceptions and responses; healthy self-image; sexual orientations; dating; sexual abuse and harassment; drinking; and dating protocols, such as how to break up and how to recognize true love. The program ends with a mock wedding.

"Underlying all (the courses) is God's perspective on the gift of sex," Eves said.

Teens watched videos and PowerPoint presentations and participated in games to make the curriculum understandable and easy to grasp, Eves said.

"(The course) gave them a feeling that they should respect their bodies," she said. "It challenged them about what they 'know' and what they really know."

WHAT THEY REALLY KNOW



Before the course, teens were given a test to find out what they really knew about relationships and sex. Eves said a lot of them couldn't answer many of the questions.

The same test was given to the parents during one of the four parent sessions. Eves said even the parents couldn't answer some of the questions.

Parent sessions were held to give a condensed version of what the students were learning in the program. Teachers Brian and Sarah Ickes taught both teens and parents in the Just Say Know program.

Eves said the Ickeses showed the parents how to talk to their teen about sex, giving many parents eye-opening knowledge such as revealing facts about teen sexual behavior.

Lori Thomas, a parent of one of the course participants, learned some surprising things.

"The most common time for teens to be having sex is between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. Right after school and before sports," Thomas said.

WHAT THEY LEARNED



Some might think it would be easy to get teens to talk about sex, but Eves said she had a hard time getting students to participate. Being such an awkward subject, she said many teens were bribed to participate.

"One was bribed with a new cell phone," Eves said.

Kylie Stoup and Lakin Thomas participated in Just Say Know. Kylie, 14, said she was afraid the classes would be like school classes.

"I was a little hesitant to go because the classes at school were sort of weird," said Kylie, 14, of Smithsburg High School. "I felt better going with the people from church, though. It was informative and taught new things besides what I learned in school. It was interactive and I felt comfortable."

Lakin, 15, from North Hagerstown High School, had similar feelings about the program. She said she would do it again.

"There were fun activities that were on our level," she said.

Lakin's mom, Lori Thomas, said it was a good lesson for her daughter.

"It's hard for teens to have these kinds of conversations with their parent," she said.

This course opened them up and showed them that sex wasn't bad and that they wouldn't "go to hell" for talking about sex, Thomas said.

Kylie and Lakin's parents expressed how beneficial the course was for their daughters to take. They said the smaller groups allowed the teens to ask more questions, unlike larger sex education classes in school.

Lakin said she had some trouble talking about such subjects as abortion, but these were some of the subjects the teens encountered during the course.

Eves said opinions were encouraged at the program and by the end, everyone was comfortable enough to express themselves. If they didn't want to ask questions in the group, they could ask questions anonymously by placing a question in a box.

But both Lakin and Kylie said when the course was over, none of the teens wanted it to end.

MORE LEARNING



Another Just Say Know program will be scheduled for fall, according to Eves. Plans include training more teachers, so as to not put all the strain on the Ickeses.

Eves said the two churches that hosted the Just Say Know program liked the result. She said they plan to open it up to members of other churches.




KNOW MORE



For more info about the Just Say Know program, contact the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition at 301-671-3000 or go to www.teenshavechoices.com

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