2017: Choose Resistance
By Andrea Miller, Executive Director
January 5, 2017
It’s a new year, which means it’s time for new year’s resolutions! On top of our resolutions to eat better or donate more, we can - and should - also make resolutions in regards to sexual health education.
In the past couple of years, Colorado has made some amazing advancements for youth sexual health – like how the state is providing affordable LARCs, which has drastically reduced Colorado’s unintended teen pregnancy rate, or how more and more school districts are adopting comprehensive sex ed programs. But there’s still so much more to be done, and in the spirit of the new year, here are five sex ed resolutions Colorado Youth Matter will be keeping in mind in 2017:
1) Make all sex ed inclusive
CYM has already provided a variety of curricula adaptations in order to fulfill the goals of providing more inclusive sex ed, and resolves to continue to do so throughout 2017 and beyond. What’s most important to remember in regards to this resolution is that the stakes are high. In a time when many young people feel as though their identities aren’t welcome, it’s the responsibility of educators to let them know that they are worthy of respect. Including them in conversations surrounding sexual health and healthy relationships is a good way to start. If you need some more in-depth tips on how to do this, check out some of CYM’s previous blogs, which include discussions on how to make sex ed inclusive of asexual students, students who are disabled, and students who are refugees.
2) Have more schools and districts adopt comprehensive sex ed
Colorado Youth Matter’s vision is that all Colorado youth will have access to the education and resources necessary to make informed decisions about their sexual health, and the only way this vision can become a reality is for more schools and districts in Colorado to get on board. Decades of research show that comprehensive sex ed works, but some communities lag in implementing comprehensive programs because of obstacles, including availability of resources and ideological barriers. In 2017, CYM will find new and innovative ways to address those obstacles, so that all youth in Colorado will have access to information they need and deserve.
3) Expand education on sexting and update the legal ramifications of sexting
As of right now, in Colorado a young person can be convicted of a felony and be marked a sex offender for life for taking a nude picture of themselves and sending it to their partner. CYM views consensual sexting as a normal behavior in a young person’s sexual development – meaning that in addition to teaching responsible technology uses in sex ed, we need a drastic update on how we discuss and handle teen sexting.
By all means, those who share nude photos without consent should face some kind of legal ramifications. But under Colorado’s current system, victims of non-consensual photo sharing can be criminalized for having their privacy violated. CYM will work hard in 2017 to shift the conversation, and Colorado’s policies, away from victim-blaming and toward education initiatives that help youth navigate the digital communication world in a responsible, safe, and consensual way.
4) Ensure that the state continues its commitment to comprehensive sex ed
Colorado’s local control laws make it impossible to introduce any kind of sweeping legislation that would require all schools to adopt comprehensive sex ed. However, what the state can do is require any sex education programs taught in school to be comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate, and research/evidence-based. This is the current law in Colorado (HB13-1081), thanks to incoming Speaker Crisanta Duran and Senator Nancy Todd, and the efforts of COLOR and the Healthy Colorado Youth Alliance in 2013.
While Colorado is certainly farther ahead than other states when it comes to sexual health education, we still have a long way to go. Some schools have been able to work around HB13-1081 by implementing programs that fall within the letter of the law, but still focus on abstinence-only messaging. These schools tend to emphasize the fallibility of contraception and condom use in order to scare teens from trying these methods, instead of teaching proper use. Furthermore, with recent changes in the political climate there’s a possibility that vocal support for abstinence-only initiatives may increase. CYM will be tracking on legislation surrounding sexual health education, and hold our legislators accountable when it comes to maintaining and improving sexual health education standards in the state.
5) Ensure that the federal government doesn’t backtrack on progress
This resolution is undoubtedly the most daunting. With a Secretary of Education who has repeatedly supported and funded religious private schools and wants to reduce funding for public schools, a Vice President with a history of anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ stances, and a President who, to put it mildly, is difficult to predict, the odds are stacked against us.
But in the face of daunting challenges, the only option is to choose resistance. CYM will call on you to help make phone calls to congressional leaders and write them letters expressing the importance of comprehensive sex ed. We will ensure that we’re working together as a team, which means reaching out to you, students, parents, community leaders, and schools in your area and ensuring that they prioritize comprehensive sex ed. And CYM will keep a close eye on federal legislation regarding the funding of comprehensive programs, and resist any efforts to defund these programs.
2016 was a fantastic year for the progress of comprehensive sexual health education. There are undoubtedly challenges facing us in 2017, but there are also amazing opportunities. We hope these resolutions - or better yet, these commitments - will help reinvigorate your commitment to youth sexual health education as we enter the new year!