My Sex Ed Experience in School

by Isabel M.

Isabel is a teen writer who is part of the Females Against Violence Education Group based in San Francisco. We asked this group to write about their thoughts on topics related to pregnancy, contraception, teen health, and teen rights. The thoughts below do not necessarily represent those of the National Center for Youth Law.

My sexual health education has been very interesting but limited. I had sex ed classes in 6th grade and 8th grade at my school. I also got to learn more about sex at Females Against Violence with activities like relationship wheels and charts. My school doesn’t have a sex-ed program, but they offer one class for five days once every other year.

I learned about sex and relationships in my recent sex ed classes at school. I also learned more about relationships in a class I took on social emotional learning. I learned about healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to deal with them if I ever encounter them.

A knowledgeable and sensitive teacher is really important for good sex ed. Current information, education on birth control methods and access, and enough time for questions at the end were really valuable for me. I would like if one of the topics in sex-ed was Health consequences of HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy.

I would also like to learn about body image because many people aren’t comfortable with their body image so that keeps them from having a healthy sexual relationship. The health consequences of STDs and pregnancy would help me be better educated about choices I make in the future.

Have questions about STDs, HIV, and pregnancy? Make sure to take a look at our Youth Legal Guide to answer your questions.

Supporting A Partner with Mental Illness

This piece was written by Jo, a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council. Jo is 19 and a college student.  She is passionate about queer activism and mental health advocacy among youth.  In her spare time she likes to play guitar and read social justice essays.

Romantic partners of people with mental illness may not be sure how to deal with addressing mental health. They will want to be supportive of their partner, but aren’t sure how to do so.  Thankfully, there are some things you can try if you feel like your partner might be experiencing mental illness or mental health issues. 

You can respect your partner’s boundaries. Some people who struggle with mental health don’t want their romantic partners to be involved in that part of their life at all, preferring to take care of it by themselves, with a professional, or with other friends and family.  

You can also respect your partner’s choice of care. Sometimes people tend to think that if someone has a mental illness, they have to be seeing a therapist and/or be on medication to be healthy.  But people may prefer to take care of their mental health on their own, within a community of friends, or within their family.  Don’t try to push your partner into seeing a therapist or taking medication. While you can make suggestions or alert them to new and valuable resources, the choice to seek care, and the kind of care that will be, is ultimately their own. 

Out of respect for your partner, keep information about your partner’s mental health on a need-to-know basis. There may be particular people that your partner would prefer did not know about their struggles with their mental health.  Even if you are unsure of the exact reasoning for this, likely your partner has a reason that you should respect.

It might be a good idea to have a crisis plan in place. If your partner tells you that they have a part of their mental illness that could send them into a possible crisis (such as panic attacks, self-harm, suicidal ideation, psychotic episodes, etc.), make sure that you know what to do if such a situation arises.  You do not have to be their only form of support, or do anything you are uncomfortable doing for them. Find a plan that both of you are comfortable with, so if something happens, you know what to do.

Take the time to learn about what your partner is dealing with.  There is a lot of stigma and false information about mental illness out there.  Look at some reputable information about mental illness, and make sure that you aren’t believing myths about your partner’s mental illness, or using language that perpetuates stigma.

The most important part of any relationship is to communicate.  So if something is making you uncomfortable, say something, and make sure that your partner feels safe enough in your relationship to do the same.  Your partner should be able to feel that you can be supportive, and you should be able to give support you are comfortable giving and making sure that your partner isn’t solely dependent on you. Both of you should feel safe and comfortable within your relationship.

Need more information about young people’s rights to mental health and mental care? Check out the Mental Health section of our Youth Legal Guide. 

 

On Love, Relationships, Sex, and Protection

This piece was written by Juli K. a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council.  Juli attends Eastern Michigan University and is pursuing a career in social work. Since she was 17, she’s worked for adolescent sexual health under organizations such as Michigan Youth (MY) Voice and Teen Adolescent Championship Teen Advisory Council (TAC TAC). She plans to continue working with adolescent sexual health as part of her social work career. 

Do you ever think about your first love? I often think about mine from high school. Despite how things ended between us, if I had not gone through some of those experiences then I don’t think I would be the person I am today.

When I was 14, being in love was never something I would have imagined happening to me. I would watch The Notebook and The Titanic, silently protesting because I just knew that someone loving me as much as Noah loved Allie or Jack loved Rose wasn’t possible. But if you have seen these classic romance movies, you would know that despite all of the love being given and received, relationships have their consequences. I learned this firsthand with my first loving relationship.

My boyfriend at the time was a few years older than me and had already engaged in sexual activity with previous partners. Although I was always very conscious about taking care of myself, I let my guard down when it came to him. We eventually started engaging in sexual activity ourselves.

When I was 15, we had a condom break. My periods were never regular, so when my period was a few days late I didn’t really worry about it. But after that incident all I could think about was how I wanted my period to come to ease my mind. After a few weeks had passed and I still did not have a period, I sat down and questioned the possibility that I could actually be pregnant. My mom was a teen mom, and I saw how that affected me and my sisters’ lives growing up.

All of a sudden I had to think about things I never dreamed of imagining myself thinking of at 15. How would I tell my mom if I was pregnant? Would I be able to terminate the pregnancy? What if my mom and boyfriend pressured me to keep the child? What would people at school think? All the over-thinking made me nauseous.

A friend of mine picked me up one afternoon and took me to Walmart where I did my pregnancy test in the bathroom. I would not have dared to take it at home; what if my mom found it in my garbage?! So there I was, in a Walmart bathroom, peeing on a stick. I patiently waited while the lines showed up, very clearly showing that I wasn’t pregnant! I was so happy I nearly cried. It was then and there that I decided getting on birth control was something I had to do to protect myself even more if incidents like this did happen again.

Deciding to engage in sexual activity with someone is quite a big decision. It’s important to protect yourself and your partner because unfortunately, being caught in the heat of the moment can actually take a toll on your future. I’m sharing my experience not to scare people from having sex, but to raise awareness about how important it is to have protection and communication between you and your partner. Even if things feel good and right, they can still have long-term consequences that could affect your future.

For more information about your questions around sex and relationships, your rights to birth control and emergency contraception, and information about pregnancy, visit our Youth Legal Guide.

Why Confidentiality Matters for Teens

By Sierra Freeman

Confidentiality. This word is so important to me now as a 22-year-old woman. But I hadn’t always paid much attention to it. Why is confidentiality so important to me now? Let me backtrack to the first time it ever became relevant to my own life.

I was a sophomore in high school and I had just become sexually active with my first boyfriend. Everything was so new to me and I didn’t know much about sexual health. For the most part, things had been going smoothly until one night when a condom broke during sex and I freaked out. I had never anticipated this happening.

Immediately so many questions started going through my head. Who am I going to tell? Does this mean I am automatically pregnant? Seriously, what do I do right now? My sexual education was very primitive at the time; I seriously didn’t know the answer to these questions. I remember my boyfriend spoke to his sister, who then told me about Plan B, the emergency contraceptive that you take after having unprotected sex. All of a sudden I had this moment of relief knowing that there would be people I could talk to. However, instant panic came over me again when I thought about having to ask my parents for money or for help making an appointment. This is where confidentiality came in to save me.

Reflecting now, I realized that when you are young, you don’t feel that you can be treated as an individual with your own experiences, thoughts, and concerns. Health was not something I felt in control of in my life. I was still looking to my parents to schedule appointments for me and to provide advice or to handle my health problems. However, the moment I was faced with a problem that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with them, I freaked out because I didn’t realize that I had confidential support.

After the incident, I reached out to my boyfriend’s sister and a couple of my closest friends, who helped me feel supported and safe. They directed me to Planned Parenthood and went with me without my parent’s knowledge. I was able to get the services I needed and all of my questions and concerns were answered. I felt safe in doing so and for the first time, I was able to speak with adults about reproductive health and the options that I had as well as how to pay for it.

I never realized, until that moment, that it my sexual health was something I had always wanted to talk about, just not with my mom in the doctor’s office. In my case, Planned Parenthood was my first taste of receiving confidential services that were so crucial to me at the time. As young adults, we have the right to confidentiality. At first, I felt slightly shameful, like I was being dishonest to my parents. However, I am proud of myself for taking control of my health and my body. If there is any advice I could give to my teen self, it would be that confidentiality is my right and not something I should EVER feel bad about.

Visit our Privacy Section of the Youth Legal Guide to learn more about your rights to confidential health care.  

Thinking about Drinking?

This piece was written by Tommy L., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council

During spring break of my junior year in high school, my parents were out of town so I had the excuse to go out very late at night. I decided to go to a party. Like, those parties.

Growing up in a pretty traditional house, I was always fascinated by parties. I never had the chance to go to any, or even go out late at night. I was curious about drinking because many of my friends talked about how good it felt when you were drunk, how much fun they had, and how partying kids were cool like college kids. Teens enjoy trying new things, and I was no exception. I didn’t want to miss out or be an outcast.

As soon as I arrived at the party house, quite a few people were holding bottles of alcohol or small glass cups. They were acting strangely. One drunk girl was being extremely aggressive–she pushed a guy, who was not drunk, onto the couch and jumped on him. Then she kissed him vigorously. I didn’t think they made a mutual consent before the kiss, but the guy went along with it anyway. After they made out for a while, the guy wanted to stop. But the girl was still blacked out and didn’t let him move. Eventually, they went upstairs and continued in a room.

This was shocking to me at the time. Even as an outsider, the scene I observed made me feel uncomfortable. In my mind, I was expecting my friends to simply chat and have a good time, but in reality, there was so much sexual tension among the group. I left the party early with another friend, and I told my parents later about what I saw. We had a nice conversation about how drugs and alcohol influence sex, which strengthened our relationship and shrank the generation gap. This experience is incredibly valuable to me because I finally communicated with my parents. I realize that escaping reality through alcohol to a state of unconsciousness is relaxing, but alcohol leads to so many unexpected events and consequences that I am not ready to take the risk for.

Want to know more about how you can stay safe in a party situation or beyond? Visit our Staying Safe section of the Youth Legal Guide. 

What is dating violence?

Dating violence is a form of domestic violence when the person you are dating hurts or threatens you. Dating violence includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

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What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence happens when someone harms you (for example, hits, kicks, hurts, scares, throws things, pulls hair, pushes, follows, harasses, sexually assaults, etc.) or threatens to harm you.

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What does a healthy relationship look like?

*This piece was written by Brandon R., a youth member of the University of Michigan’s Adolescent Health Initiative’s Teen Advisory Council*

Relationships with others have a big impact on who we are. Healthy relationships between friends, partners, family members or significant others all have a few important traits.

All relationships involve tolerance, patience, and understanding. But despite our best efforts, everyone makes mistakes. No relationship is going to be that perfect Cinderella-esque tale of romance and love. Arguments and disagreements happen.

But sometimes, those rough patches can go too far. Then, a relationship can go from healthy to unhealthy. Here are some warning signs to take note of, so you can recognize if you’re in an unhealthy relationship. (Remember, “your partner” can refer to anyone with whom you have a relationship, including friends, family, and significant others.)

  • Your partner has physically harmed you out of anger or frustration, either on purpose or accidentally.
  • Your partner has verbally harmed you—he or she has used words to make you feel hurt or depressed
  • Your partner forces you to cut off relationships with other friends or family members
  • Your partner makes you change an aspect of yourself in order to be with them. They may pressure you to wear different clothes, get new hobbies, or change your beliefs.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, you can (and should) try to get help. You can talk to a counselor at school, speak with a trusted adult, or even seek out therapy with you and the other person where you both sit down and discussing what challenges you face.

Sometimes, these problems can’t be fixed. Unfortunately, breaking up or ending relationships is sometimes the best option for relationships that just aren’t working out. Everyone has the right to end a relationship that they no longer want to continue. If you’re having trouble ending a relationship, talk to a parent or trusted adult.

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, there are ways to address the challenges you’re facing. The most important part of a healthy relationship is communication. One of the biggest reasons relationships fail is because of people not expressing their problems. And it makes sense—it’s sometimes difficult and awkward to talk about personal things, even with somebody really close.

Similarly, it is important for two people in a relationship to be open-minded and tolerant. Friends and partners never intentionally hurt each other (and if they do, it’s likely that they aren’t truly a friend or partner) so a compassionate attitude is essential to a long-lasting relationship. When communicating with your partner, have compassion and try to imagine yourself in their position. It may be challenging at first, but it’s a good first step towards working to keep your relationship healthy and strong.