Tuesday, February 21, 2012
In a departure from typical school-hall etiquette, Hoover High School students were encouraged to shout out slang and swear words for sex and reproductive organs on Feb. 8. Theresa Fox, a sex education speaker and spoken word artist, spat out racy hip-hop lyrics and cracked jokes about celebrities known for their sexual indiscretions. At one point, she tore a condom wrapper open with her teeth and used her arm in lieu of a banana for her tutorial.
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For Fox, blushed cheeks and hanging mouths are parts of the process of getting teens to open up and talk honestly about sex.
“I watch hard-core, I’m-so-cool guys break down and giggle like they’re eight,” said Fox, who speaks like a poet and flows effortlessly from R. Kelly to statistics on sexually transmitted diseases.
She’s part of a group of educators changing the conversation about sex in City Heights schools with an after-school event called CORE. Organized by Mid-City CAN’s Teen Sexual Health Momentum Team, the event brings artists and service providers together to take sex ed beyond statistics and reproductive sciences.
“It’s about getting to the core of sexual health,” said Carolyn Pinces, who co-chairs the momentum team. “The reason why one student will wear a condom versus someone who won't has to do with how they feel about themselves and the relationships that they have with their romantic partners, with their parents, with their friends.”
In addition to Fox’s cheeky performance, teens were invited to workshops on building healthy romantic relationships and ending bullying because of sexual orientation. A second round of workshops asked the students to reflect on what they had learned.
“I never talked about the stuff that I talked to people about today,” said student Oscar Rosales, 17. “I didn’t know half of the stuff they told me, but now I do.”
CORE came to Hoover after a successful run at Crawford High School in May. This time, the number of attendees doubled to about 600. The event was held after school so participants could talk candidly and organizers could distribute condoms.
There isn’t data available yet on whether the program has changed behaviors among local teens, but Pinces said teachers at Crawford have begun incorporating some of CORE’s messages in their regular curriculum.
Those messages are especially important in City Heights, which has some of the highest teen pregnancy and STD rates in the county. According to the county's Health and Human Services Agency, 3.8 percent of women who give birth in central San Diego are teens; just 2.4 percent are teens countywide. At 124 per 100,000 residents, the gonorrhea rate in central San Diego is twice as high as the county rate. And the number of chlamydia cases in the mid-city neighborhoods grew from 660 to 751 between 2000 and 2005.
“The numbers are scary—80 percent of new HIV cases among 13- to 19-year-olds are Latinos and African Americans,” Fox said. “But it’s not just a brown and black thing.”
“I would bring [CORE] to all of the high schools if I could,” said Ellen Hohenstein, director of Health Services at Hoover. “I just happen to work here.”