The Dallas Examiner
In U.S. high schools, 40 percent of students have had sexual intercourse – with 46 percent not using condoms within their last sexual encounter, according to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
These shocking numbers hit close to home as they translate in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Dallas residents age 18-34 have the highest HIV infection rate in North Texas. Also, Dallas – along with San Antonio and El Paso – is rated among the top ten cities in the United States for teen pregnancy, and has one of the highest repeat teen pregnancy rates in the country.
Many factors contribute to these elevated rates, such as poverty, lack of education, peer pressure and other variables. In an effort to address all possibilities, the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Teen Pregnancy – known as Ntarupt – held a free teen health conference June 15 at Mountain View College for over 200 local youth, ages 12-18. The conference was geared toward evolving sexual and dating behaviors in the 21st century.
One of the early sessions started with a domestic violence skit by the TeenAge Communication Theatre group.
Laughter filled a small corner of the classroom as students begin to settle into session. The laughing youth were focused on a 13-year-old male who stood up confidently as he mimiced the violence depicted in skit, before the breakout session began.
Planned Parenthood health educator Amanda Mendoza’s face became flushed and she appeared to be shocked as she saw the seventh-grader impersonate the actor who portrayed the young teenage girl being slapped by her boyfriend – making it seem like a more animated cartoon scene.
During the session, the young teen learned the realities of intimate partner violence – beyond the skit and his joke. He and the other teens learned that this form of violence can occur in various forms of abuse; physical, emotional, sexual, financial and digital.
Domestic violence has greatly affected the teenager population. At least 1.5 million high school students experience physical abuse each year and 1 in 3 U.S. teens become victims of abuse from a dating partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“That’s off the charts,” said the young man, as his initial jokes turned into questions. “It’s too much. Why is it so common?”
Mendoza explained that the commonality of partner violence boils down to different things from mental health to lack of knowledge.
“People don’t know what a healthy relationship is,” she said.
The students differentiated the many parts that create a healthy and unhealthy relationship. Some children stated honesty, responsibility, morals, love and equality as traits for a healthy relationship, and in contrast, labeled hate, violence, lies and irresponsibility as components of an unhealthy relationship.
Mendoza expressed that it’s imperative to clearly define a healthy partnership as well as understanding the signs of a violent union.
Intimate partner violence is present if the abuser uses intimidation through words, looks or weapons; isolation; minimizing, denying and blaming; using male privilege; using economic abuse; coercing and threatening; and pressuring into sex, drugs and alcohol, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Mendoza advised anyone in an abusive relationship to break up with the abuser immediately and/or call the police.
“If that person doesn’t feel safe, they should never break up in person, ” she explained. “It’s OK to text someone ‘It’s over.’ if that person feels endangered. Even in email. Try to do what’s safe.”
She further advised that victims who choose to break up in person should do so in a public place and create a safety plan just in case.
“Don’t explain yourself to your ex and say why you want to break up,” Mendoza expounded. “You can say it once but that’s it.”
Notify friends and family about your location at the time of break up or have friends present if there’s a fear of violence or stalking. Also, create safety routes from school to home, if the abuser knows your residence.
“Even if it doesn’t apply to you right now, hopefully one day you will need it,” said Ayelia Ali, Ntarupt educator, to her school-aged audience.
The social media era and the high HIV infection rates in Dallas place a stronger need for sex education among millenials and the younger generations. At age 13 or 14, children have an increased acceptance of nonmarital sex and understanding of sexual content presented on television shows and movies, according a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
During the session, Ali explicated the importance of sexual health to the sixth through the 12th grade audience.
Once this current climate, the educator stated that Dallas millennials must understand the different sexually transmitted infections and sexually transmitted diseases that are contracted through unprotected sex, blood transfusion and skin to skin contact. She further explained that there are cures for bacterial STIs, such as gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia, but viral STDs like HIV, herpes and Hepatitis-B are incurable and could be present with symptoms.
Possible symptoms of a STD could vary from itching, nausea, flu-like symptoms and discharge, and if left untreated could result in infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and death.
“There’s no way to know if you have it … the first answer I would give is, if you’re not showing any symptoms but you had unprotected sex or a new sexual partner, it’s very important to get tested,” she said.
The information left many raised eyebrows among the students who asked about the proper way to protect themselves and if specific items such as birth control pills are suitable against diseases.
Abstinence – which means to completly avoid sex – and condoms are the best forms of protection, while birth control only prevents pregnancy, according Ali.
In classroom, the educator also displayed the different types of condoms and demonstrated how to use a condom on a phallic object during the session.
Ali disclosed the biggest takeaway from her sex health discussion is that the youth should be aware of the choice they make and what influence these choices.
“They are autonomous with their bodies … they have control to protect their own bodies and the responsibility to do that,” she said. “Give them the education they need and to choose for themselves what works best for them.”
In addition, Ali advise parents to “start the conversation as early as elementary school age” and gradually increase and become more in-depth as they get older.
Dallas HIV rates are highest among Black young adults. According to a 2015 Ntarupt report, Black children ages 12 to 19 decisions about sex are influenced 54 percent more by their parent as compared to the 10 percent of influence they receive from friends.
“The parents know the child better than anyone else,” Ali expressed. “Children would want advice more from their parents than a stranger like me.”
Sexual behaviors are primarily governed by consent whether you are agreeing to sex with another person or to participate in other activities with a partner.
In the final conference session, Planned Parenthood health educator Marenid Planell-Camacho delved into the impact of consent and sexting in the internet age and its legal consequences.
Advanced technology and social media has significantly aided in the rise of sexting. One in 4 teenagers reported they have received a sexually explicit image, video or message electronically, according to a Journal of the American Medical Association analysis. The study also noted that the sending and reception of sexts increase with age, ushering in a sense of normalcy.
Sexting could hold legal penalties and interfere with child and adolescent mental health, if used maliciously. In Texas, minors – age 17 and under – can be charged for sending or receiving a sexually explicit text from other minors.
“It will be considered a [Class C] misdemeanor, and you will have to attend a class and pay up to $500,” Planell-Camacho said.
Penalties could increase for minors who are repeat offenders or if the crime was part of cyberbullying or other forms of harassment.
Adults – age 18 and up – who sext with minors may be charged with child pornography or solicitation, and could face up to 20 years in prison. The adult offender would also have to register as a sex offender.
The distribution of photos or messages legally is connected to a degree to consent. State laws only grant young adults – 18 years or older – legal consent.
Planell-Camacho continued the discussion on sexual behavior she described consent as a “sober, verbal, conscious, willing-given, enthusiastic, continuous, revocable and mandatory” response from the recipient of a particular question no matter the situation.
“We need to ask for consent not only before engaging in the action but during the given action,” she said.
The educator discussed the F.R.I.E.S. method for those who are unsure of an answer to a consensual question: Freely-given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, Specific.
“It is important we understand this because consent is not suppose to be something we push for,” she expressed. “You need to ask, receive your answer and if you are not happy with that answer, you need to step back and think about it.”
People who are still unsure of a received answer may ask again respectfully.
Planell-Camacho advised that children who have experienced an uncomfortable situation involving a non-consensual situation should tell a trusted adult and seek help.
Other sessions included workshops on anger management and human anatomy for teens. Meanwhile, parents and other caregivers were offered a workshop to help them be more approachable for adolescence.