By Oscar Perez
Are the youth of Little Village receiving the same sexual health education as other communities?
Chicago Public Schools’ Sexual Health Education Policy requires that schools must teach sexual health education every year, with the goal that students will benefit from yearly installments of the course and build on their knowledge of maintaining healthy relationships.
According to CPS policy, “It is important for students to learn factual information about sexual health topics in school,” especially in a Latinx community, like that of Little Village, where cultural stigmas are ever-present.
Sexual consent is a matter of major concern. Planned Parenthood has defined consent as an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Legally, consent entails determining when a person is legally capable of making the choice to consent to sexual contact. In certain cases, consent can be misconstrued, and violating consent can potentially lead to legal action. “Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape, says Planned Parenthood’s website.
Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, aims to pass House Bill 3550, a bill requiring a transparent definition of consent be taught in schools’ sexual education courses. “The bill states that how a person dresses does not imply consent. Also, if someone has consented to past sexual activity, the consent doesn’t apply to future sexual activity. In addition, the bill says consent can be withdrawn at any time,” Williams is quoted saying in The State Journal-Register.
Little Village Lawndale High School (LVLHS), a CPS public high school in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, is also evolving sexual education thanks to programs like BAM (Becoming a Man) that further educate male-identifying students on sexual health and consent.
“The BAM program was launched to help young men navigate difficult circumstances that threaten their future,” says BAM’s website. The program provides a safe space for young men to openly express themselves, receive support and develop the social and emotional skills necessary to succeed.
“We’re taught how to be gentlemen, to respect women and to ask for consent,” explained Antonio Rodriguez, LVLHS student and BAM member.
“I think [sexual education] is very important,” he continued. “We all have questions, [and] it’s important to know what to do as well as when, and understanding how others feel.”
Programs like BAM present sexual education that goes beyond promoting safer sex by advocating respect, understanding and maintaining healthy relationships.
“They taught us to be respectful to one another [and] to respect each other’s ideas and sexual orientation,” Rodriguez said. “Many teens are exposed to pressure [and] don’t know how to say no, and should learn how to do so.”
Many youths in our community shared that they do not feel comfortable asking questions about sexual topics during class.
Stephanie, a youth from Little Village and student at Curie High School, voiced concerns that male students did not take the portions of the Sex Ed class that focused on the female reproductive system seriously, and that other students were unable to learn from that lesson as a result.
“The boys went ‘eww’ and pretended to know when in reality they did not,” she said. “I don’t remember learning much.”
CPS offers another sexual health program, Working on Womanhood (W.O.W.), that is intended for female-identifying students.
Female students within W.O.W. have the discretion and freedom to ask questions about their personal needs. Amy Roman, a sophomore at LVLHS and member of W.O.W., said she believes that sexual education is important and students should take the course.
CPS curriculum requires that parents be notified and required to give consent for their child to take the course.
“In my opinion, I feel that parents shouldn’t have to give consent,” Roman said. “Parents will believe they’re trying to protect their children [by not allowing them to take the course]. However, in reality, anything can happen [and without education] it’ll be much more worse.”
When students only have the option to learn about sexual wellness and reproduction through health lessons taught in school, many students end up learning little about their own bodies. When polled about sexual health misconceptions for this project, many students cited falsehoods about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.
“I learned pretty much nothing, other than you’ll probably die if you have a baby,” said Mary, a 17-year-old student from John F. Kennedy High School who lives in Little Village. “I got so scared, because the teacher was very blunt. We were shown the developmental cycle of pregnancy and told that unprotected sex would get us pregnant. It was very intimidating!”
Yollocalli Arts Reach, an alternative space in Little Village, offers a place for youth to learn and talk about sex openly, through workshops, teen exhibitions, and special events. Yollocalli’s Pop Up Youth Radio invites the community to participate and listen in on youth-led discussions. Through sharing stories, questions, and concerns, the youth have discussed a variety of topics including safe sex, consent and LGBTQ issues.
“Fortunately, the adults at Yollocalli know what’s up,” said Gloria Valle, a Yollocalli member and Little Village Resident. “I think it’s very important for everyone to know that you don’t have to participate in [sexual activity] if you don’t want to, regardless of the [relationship] you have with another person in your life…Speak up, there are resources available to you, and people that are willing to help. Don’t ever feel like you’re alone and can’t reach out for help.”