Most of us understand the importance of talking with teens about self-esteem, positive body image, good self-care, respect for others, and caring for family and friends (Healthy Youth Act, 2012). For young folks in our rural community, fostering an open dialogue about the complex issues of sex and health is critical.
Year after year, the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the developed world. Rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among U.S. teens have greatly declined in the last twenty years but rural America is noticeably lagging behind. According to a new study from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, while teens across the country have largely been having less sex and using more contraception, teens in rural areas have actually been having more sex and using birth control less frequently.
Community organizations like Room One teach health education in schools with a clear mission in mind: prevent unintended pregnancies and end the transmission of STIs. Our approach is not radical. By teaching over thirty classes annually in our local 7th through 12th grade classrooms, we help teens make healthy decisions in their relationships and help schools build strategies that promote their students’ positive and healthy sexuality.
The vast majority of Americans believe sex education should look like the Room One model – including information on birth control and STI prevention – and schools and districts committed to expanding teens’ access to sexual education and health resources have greatly reduced teen pregnancies. But many rural school districts continue to teach abstinence-only sex education. Fortunately, the Methow Valley is privileged to have a dynamic school board, committed to upholding the best practices in teen pregnancy prevention.
Despite the success of our school district and Room One, the Methow Valley sees many young adults becoming parents before they plan to be, due to a set of very complex issues. Even with education and resources available, teens in coercive or abusive relationships may not be able to practice safe sex. Education needs to include information on healthy relationships and identifying and preventing abusive patterns. . Research also shows there is a higher prevalence of pregnancy in the period just after high school. Communities need to consider providing jobs, apprenticeships, or other opportunities for young adults – especially those not headed to college – to actively contribute . Schools can also play a part in preparing students for their next step after high school through their comprehensive health curriculum.
- Room One staff