Angela Roberts is a writer for Teen Voices, the global girl news site and mentoring program of Women’s eNews. She is a junior at Peters Township High School in Western Pennsylvania. Being involved in the Teen Voices community changed her life; it exposed her to the burden of inequality women feel around the world and inspired her to become the ardent feminist she is today. Writing empowers Angela, who loves adding her voice to the growing body of work speaking out against sexism, racism, and injustice. NCYL interviewed Angela about her work on the piece “Where Teens Don’t Get Sex Ed, IUD Goes Unmentioned”
(Editor’s note: Angela attends school in Pennsylvania, where the laws guiding sexual education curriculums are different from those in California. The California Department of Education provides explaining the current sex education laws in the state. You can learn more here.)
1) What made you interested in working on this piece? What drew you in to the topic of sexual education and the IUD?
I first started researching IUDs when Katina Paron, the editor of Teen Voices, emailed me an article published in Mother Jones about the device. Reading this article was my first time ever hearing about the IUD. As I read more about the device and its success rate, I began to wonder why I hadn’t heard of it before. It didn’t make sense that I had never learned about a method of contraception that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends as a “first-line contraceptive choice for teens.”
Yet as I thought about it, I couldn’t remember learning about any sort of contraception in Health class. And I wasn’t alone. As I spoke with my female classmates, I realized just how little information about the IUD there was in my high school. Out of the 14 girls I talked to, none could tell me any specifics about the device’s function and only two even recognized its name. When I asked them about the sex ed they had received, my question was often met with laughter. One girl even quoted the movie Mean Girls to describe the sex ed she received in high school: “Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die.”
Others noted that, although they never felt pressured to stay abstinent, they never learned enough about sex for them to pursue any other option safely. Another girl stated that her sex ed was limited to a single class period during which her teacher read a list of silly, irrelevant misconceptions about sex while the class giggled. Hearing their stories drove me to learn more about my school’s sex ed program and how it measured up.
2) What personal questions did you have that you were trying to answer while working on this piece? Did you find those answers? What did you learn from this experience?
I agreed to write this article before I even knew what an IUD was. I was also blissfully unaware of the inadequacy of the sex ed I had received. But now that I know just how inadequate my education really was, and how it’s affected my ability and that of my peers to pursue healthy relationships, I’m furious. Refusing to educate kids about contraceptive options and sex is not only unreasonable and ridiculous; it’s also dangerous.
People who are against providing sex ed to students don’t realize that abstinence-only education does not prevent students from having sex. It stops them from having safe sex. Abstinence only education also creates an atmosphere of shame and indecency around sex – an atmosphere that condones slut shaming and bullying. Students are also not taught about consent or how to diagnose an unhealthy relationship. Writing this article forced me to consider the importance of providing kids with sexual education as well as the long-term consequences for not providing it.
3) What about working on the piece challenged your thoughts and assumptions about sexual education and the rates of IUD usage?
The more I read about IUDs, the more I recognized them as safe, effective contraceptive options for teens – and the more infuriated I became that my school provides students with zero information on them. Because I was writing an article about this issue, I researched it way more extensively than I would have if I were just reading about it on my own. After interviewing my female classmates and discovering just how little they knew about contraceptive options, I felt like it was my duty to expose the inadequacy of my school’s sex ed program.
4) In your work with your peers, what experiences of theirs struck you the most? What surprised you the most?
I was most shocked by my classmates’ lack of knowledge on sex and contraceptive options. The atmosphere surrounding sex ed at my school also surprised me. When I emailed my Health teacher about the IUD’s absence from the sex ed curriculum he responded, “The scope and content of the topics we are permitted to address in our personal wellness classes do not include these various forms of birth control methods.” He did not say whether or not he agreed with the present sex ed curriculum – simply that himself and his colleagues were limited in the information they could provide students. The nurse at my school was also a vocal advocate for the IUD’s inclusion in the sex-ed curriculum. Yet despite this support, my school continues to provide students with very limited knowledge on sex and contraceptive options.
5) What do you think still needs to be done to improve sexual health education and inform teens of the options available to them like the IUD and other LARCs?
There desperately needs to be a more open conversation about sex in my school. Right now, it’s stifled and this shows greatly in the attitudes and comments of students. Since I live in a fairly conservative area, it is unlikely for parents to provide their children with information on contraceptive options. If kids also don’t receive this information at school, their risk of having unprotected sex increases significantly. If schools just set aside one day to talk about the contraceptive options that are available (including LARCs) this would, if not completely remedy the issue, substantially decease it.
6) Having worked on this piece, do you have thoughts or advice for other teens on how to empower themselves to get access to effective birth control and sex ed?
Teens need to realize that it is within their power to obtain effective birth control. IUDs can be available for no cost, just as much as any other contraceptive device, to all teenage girls living in Pennsylvania and in other states as well. Although not receiving adequate sex ed at school can be really frustrating, there are a number of people on YouTube who are dedicated to providing teens with accurate, nonjudgmental information about sex. I highly suggest checking out Laci Green’s channel as well as Sexplanations, which is produced by Hank Green.
Want to know more about your contraceptive options? Visit our Youth Legal Guide section on Preventing Pregnancy for information and links to resources. You can also check out great contraceptive information resources such as Bedsider.org and TeenSource.