KwikZips: The Late Night Edition

Sex in the CBO: You’re already doing it, so let’s do it better!

You already are teaching the young people you work with about sexual health, so shouldn’t you be more aware of it and better prepared?

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Sexual health. I can’t do that. It’s not my job. I’m not comfortable. I haven’t been trained. I, I, I. I have news for you.

You already are teaching the young people you work with about sexual health, so shouldn’t you be more aware of it and better prepared?

Sexual Health in the Community Based Organization. You are already doing it, so let’s do it better!

What do you mean, I bet you are asking, that I already do sexual health? No I don’t. Yes you do.

Do you talk, act and react to situations, and are you aware of the things that are going on around you? I think most of us would say yes. And because of our everyday talk and actions are often chock full of sexuality messages, we are in fact already doing sexual health, everyday.

Some of these daily messages include:

  • How men and women should act
  • How men and women should look
  • How people should relate to each other
  • And whether differences are accepted
, or not.

But these messages often go unexamined because we don’t think about them all that much. Turns of phrase, reactions to comments, little things can send big messages. And these messages include not only what we say but also what we don’t say, including failure to address other people’s problematic messages. We need to be aware of those messages, so we can be better at supporting healthy sexuality messages and addressing negative ones.

And, its not just what we say but its also how we interact with young people. That is, we may think they will “Do as we say and not as we do” but this almost never happens. They will almost always do as we do, and then you have to tell them over and over not to do it, yet they probably still will. Young people do not just hear our lyrics, they sense our music, and they often act in accordance to the beat going on around them rather than the words in the song.

To understand this problem, let’s look at how we communicate:

We have a really great episode geared toward young people. Its called “Diving In”. Check it out, but for today, the nutshell version:

We communicate by diving in.

We communicate directly when we say or do something that expresses exactly what we want or feel.

We communicate indirectly when we say or do something related to what we want or feel but not exactly what we want.

We also communicate verbally and non-verbally, that is with our words and with our actions.

We, and the young people around us, are constantly passing around messages in this way. And we want to be more attuned to these messages and make sure the verbal, non-verbal, direct, and indirect messages are all saying the same thing.

Are you diving in? Does your music match your lyrics?

If not, bad things can happen and young people can take away the wrong messages.

What are some of these negative, “wrong,” messages?

In your organization, you may overhear things or witness behaviors that reinforce harmful sexual health messages. These include.

Messages that shame kids for expressing gender in nonconforming ways

“he’s such a bitch, that’s so gay, she’s not feminine enough, strap on a pair, no homo”

Messages that bully, are name calling, or include derogatory terms.
“fat ass, dyke, faggot, slut, bitch, cherry”

You name it, someone will probably say it, sometimes teasing, sometimes just joking, but the words are always hurtful.

Messages that reinforce traditional, often outdated, gender roles

“girls just aren’t as good at science as boys”
“these girls need to keep their legs together”
“of course men don’t know how to cook”
“John, you need to suck it up and not show so much emotion.”
“Wow, she plays like a boy.”
“Huh, she can keep up with the guys”
“Dude, boys don’t cry.”

These can be offputting to young people who don’t fit the traditional mold and, if they are bought into, these messages can limit someone’s potential.

And then there’s a big mix of sexual health related messages that can float around unexamined. Can you imagine how each of the following statements might have a negative effect on someone?
Some of them may be said with good intentions but each can have long-term negative consequences. What might those be?

You can’t trust boys, they’re no good

Condoms don’t really work

I know kimmi’s momma’s boyfriend is messin’ with her but at least they got a man there

Same sex sex is un-natural, a sin against God, and just plain wrong.

Well you know I did drugs when I was a kid.

I think abortion is murder and would never tell you how to get one

You don’t need information you need to keep it in your pants

I sure got some big-ass thighs” or “I need to lose 10 lbs in a week” or “did you see her? girl she is so fat now”

You can’t trust no man

You can’t trust no woman.

Teens cant go to the clinic without their parents knowing about it

Other things it would be good to avoid include reinforcing the idea that females are the sole gatekeepers of sexual interactions versus both males and females might desire and can limit sexual behavior.

The whole notion that boys want it, and girls keep it away, is troublesome for both genders, and their relationships! Control of sexuality rests solely in the hands of everyone!

Finally, vague discussions about “abstinence” that don’t define sexual behaviors and don’t help people who decide not to be abstinent, have been shown generally to be less helpful than more informative approaches.

So those aren’t good, but how about some positive messages?

“I am so glad to see you today.”

A personal 1-on-1 enthusiastic genuine greeting, which may be the first and perhaps only one they get all day. Self-esteem is ‘caught’ not ‘taught.’ Catch them and praise, praise, praise.

“I love your unique style”

Say something positive to the kid who expresses his or herself in an individually creative, or gender nonconforming, way.
“Suzi you are so smart and strong”

Affirm girls for being strong and smart, and boys for expressing emotions in appropriate ways. Its easy to affirm the stereotypes so be anti-stereotypical in your praise!

“Hey has your mom been talking to you about puberty? I notice you’ve been growing a lot.”

Open the door for young people, especially those with parents you think are not paying attention.

See what they know and need, for example about menstruation, wet dreams, deodorant, and tampons.

The smelly child might not know they stink, or if they do, might not know why and may have no other caring adult to cue them in!

That’s a recipe for being ostracized.
Regarding sex and abstinence, discussions that recognize there are many behaviors that can constitute “having sex” will make it more likely they will be abstinent from or safer regarding each of those, and not just that intercourse thing.
Talking about relationships, STI and pregnancy, and including steps that can be taken to reduce risks, like abstinence, are more effective over the long term than vague talk of the importance of being abstinent.
We all like to make our own decisions, and young people are no different. Helping young people become effective sexual health decision makers, that is to find, analyze, and act on information regarding their health, seems like a better approach to helping them develop, don’t you agree?

The Bottom line.

Just be nice. Insist that everyone at your organization is nice to others as well, it’s the Golden Rule, and it goes a long way toward everyone being happier and healthier.

And, in the end, love is Love.

That is, love happens. Kids and moms, boys and girls, kids and their family pets, men, women. Love happens, and supporting this helps everyone regardless of gender, orientation, or preferred breakfast food. And we could all use a little move love. Right?

Right. And because you are the fab person that you are, you are likely conveying a lot of these all the time. So kudos for that! But can you do more?

In the end, examples are endless and its our job to grab teachable moments. Opportunities to make small and big improvements in sexual health exist all around us.

Can you help our young people appreciate what bodies do as well as diversity of how they look?

Can you help them understand that gender does not limit options or opportunities?

Can you help them appreciate that people of all genders and orientations are among us and deserve respect?

Can you help them make decisions about their sexuality and help them decide for themselves that postponing intercourse is healthy for them?

And can we all work toward using language and behavior that promotes healthy sexuality?

That may seem like a lot, but how about taking one step? The next time you are working with young people, can you look for a sexual health teachable moment? And grab it and don’t let go. Teach, make a difference. Even a short bit of praise, or an offer of help, could be all it takes to change a young person’s life.

Look around you for times when youth or adults are acting insensitively, intolerant of diversity, exploitive, or just plain unkind, and provide a counter message, a positive one to offset the negative, and help establish yourself as a trusted person and your organization as a safe place, a place without name calling, a place for healthy relationships and healthy development.

Will you help your organization be healthier? What do you think? What will you do?

That’s it for this segment of KwikZips, The Late Night Edition.

Remember, sexual health begins with you. You are always already acting and speaking in ways that convey messages related to sex, sexuality, gender and much more. Being more aware of these messages makes you better prepared to do something about them, and doing something is what it’s all about!

Sex in the C B O, you can be the difference maker! What will you do?

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