By Nici Paterson, RCRC Director of Public Policy
The State Sex Education Summit, held in Washington, DC, last week, brought together sex educators and advocates from across the country to discuss and strategize about how to improve sex education. Although sex education is not nearly where it needs to be, we have come a long way in the past decade, James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, said. Progress in broadening the network of organizations and individuals who work to improve sex education hs been particularly important. People dedicated to the fight for sex education now include those from the reproductive justice, education, LGBTQ, religious, medical, and HIV/AIDS spheres.
In order to keep moving forward, however, we need to effectively surmount the cultural barriers that stand in the way – not just the legal and political barriers. The opposition has positioned themselves as on the side of “values,” and we need to establish that sex ed IS about our values. Denial about sex and sexuality and incorrect information are dangerous. Promoting sex education is not a threat to society. How can teaching prevention be threatening?
Currently, anti-sex education legislation and policies are being introduced in several states. In Mississippi, sex education curriculum may only discuss condoms in terms of their failure rate and guardians must opt-in for their children to be able to receive sex education. In Wisconsin, a fabulous bill that requires comprehensive sex education in schools, the “Healthy Youth Act,” passed in 2010 but the new governor has promised to repeal it. Given this climate, it is more important than ever to get parents involved and to use their influence as well as grassroots organizations to achieve our goal of sexually healthy and responsible adults.
Sex education advocates have long been committed to science- and evidence-based education, but we also need to focus on the rights and agency of young people. As we move forward, education should be focused on values and character-building so that sex and sexuality can be seen as a positive and healthy part of life.
By Kelsey Van Nice, RCRC Public Policy Assocaite
There is a real hunger for more communities of faith in the sexual and reproductive health movement – a real, genuine, valued need for religiously affiliated or faith-based organizations and communities to stand up to the rhetoric of the religious right. I become more aware of this every time I am surrounded by my secular colleagues as I was during last week’s State Sex Education Summit in Washington, DC.
During a workshop entitled “Engaging Communities of Faith as Sex Education Advocates,” Cathy Thompson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, offered us the opportunity for discussion, questions, and sharing best practices with other (mostly secular) colleagues in the reproductive health and rights movement. Cathy was joined by two other panelists, representing RCRC’s close colleague organizations, Catholics for Choice and the National Council of Jewish Women. Although I realize the direct connection of sexuality and spirituality every time I take part in a sexual and reproductive health conversation with a person of faith, the workshop once again reminded me of the need to create a space to talk about this connection. Many of those attending the workshop were looking for suggestions on how to invite people of faith and representatives of faith organizations to the table. A lot of ideas, roadblocks, and past experiences were shared, but the main answer to the question of how to engage communities of faith as sex education advocates is simple: build relationships. When you put time into sharing, connecting, and listening, you will cultivate a relationship. You will be able to discern what you do and don’t have in common, how your interests and skills line up or differ. And once you have established a relationship, you are much more likely to be able to come to them when you want to partner on issues you both care about.
As simple as it seems, the idea of building relationships as the primary way to engage faith communities can still be hard. The key is patience. Trust and respect does not happen automatically, and it will take some effort to get to that point but it will be worthwhile. Communities of faith can be powerful partners in the sexual and reproductive health movement and in creating positive change for the women and families of our world.