About Me and What I Have Learned By Creating This Website
My name is Sarah Wilson. I am a sophomore at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine where I study neuroscience and education. I became interested in reproductive and sexual health education in high school. I grew up in a small, rural community on the coast of Maine where there was a high level of sexual activity among high schoolers, a high rate of teenage pregnancy, and limited sexual education in school. After taking a class on urban education in college I realized that there are a lot of similarities between the challenges my small, rural community faces and the challenges cities face. This project taught me that a need for better reproductive and sexual health education is one of those similarities.
By researching sexual health and sexual health education, I learned a lot about the topic that I had not already known. I was unpleasantly surprised by how many children do not receive information about condoms and birth control from their parents. I had not realized how much of a role gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status played in the relevance, reliability, and message of sexuality education. I learned ways I can get involved in sexual education and sexual health activism now, and ways to have more meaningful conversations about sexuality with my own kids in the future. I also learned a lot about the stigma and shame around adolescent sexuality just from my own discomfort with writing about this topic which, after all, I find both interesting and important to write about. I can see how this discomfort poses a challenge to grassroots organizing.
I learned that, while a large part of the reason reproductive and sexual health education in schools is as bad as it is is because of the government, there are also many government programs that were created specifically to improve sexual health education and the sexual health of minors. Many of the websites I visited in my search for grassroots organizations were, in fact, sponsored and run by the government. This was especially true of websites that were concerned with preventing teen pregnancy and STIs. I suppose this is because these are the sexual health concerns that cost the most and have the greatest impact on society as a whole but it is important to think about the motivations and perspective the government has for improving sexual health education in relation to the motivations and perspectives of parents, teachers, and community members have when they create grassroots movements.
I had not realized the importance of the internet in sexual health education before working on this project. The internet is an incredible resource when it comes to educating youth about sexual health. Almost all teenagers in American cities have access to the internet and know how to use it to retrieve information. It is a place where teenagers can anonymously ask questions they may be too embarrassed to ask parents and teachers and find accurate information. They can also use the internet to find out how to access resources in their communities and find support. It is also a way for sexual health advocates and educators to engage young people through creative blogs and entertaining video series.
I also learned that, at least in terms of sexual education movements, most community-based grassroots organizations are too small and local to have an online presence, even if they serve a city. That being said, there are some important urban movements to improve sexual health education. I was most fascinated by the Grassroot Project⁹ both because the organizers were college athletes and because they chose to work with middle schools instead of high schools. Early and preventative intervention is certainly most effective, but with all the stigma around teaching kids about sexuality I was surprised they were able to take their message into middle schools.
Finally, I learned how to make a website. This is a very practical thing to know how to do and a skill I will probably use throughout my life. It is also important if I ever want to be a grassroots activist because having an online presence is an important way to get your message out and connect with others who have a similar messages.