Oregon Youth Sexual Health Plan Stresses Community Infrastructure

Objectives include reduction of dating violence along with reduction of teen pregnancy and STDs
The Lund Report

June 7, 2012 -- Oregon's youth sexual health plan has received high praise from STD prevention officials at the national level for bucking a major trend in youth sexual health programs.

Oregon's plan looks at sexuality as a normal part of healthy development, whereas historically, preventing pregnancies and STDs took center stage in sexual health programs.

The plan came after former Oregon Govenor Ted Kulongoski called on public health and education professionals in the state to prioritize teen pregnancy prevention. But those who worked on the plan, including Brad Victor, a sexuality education specialist for the Oregon Department of Education, decided to take a more comprehensive and sex-positive approach.

“Our main objective from day one was that we were not going to approach it from a negative perspective,” Victor said.

Rather than setting quotas for the number of screenings performed within given populations, as many sexual health plans do, Oregon's plan set “soft objectives” of improving health and addressing the social determinants affecting youth sexual development.

In addition to including comprehensive sex education – which includes information about safer sex and contraception, rather than touting abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases – the program places an emphasis on recognizing the social determinants of health and the way they fit into sexual health.

"We know that youth who don't meet the target for healthy development are more likely to take sexual health risks,” Duke said.

On the other hand, young people with good physical and mental health, who are engaged in their community and have adults to safely discuss their relationships and sexuality are far more likely to make safe choices around their sexual health.

Creating the foundation for healthy choices, then, takes more than just classroom instruction on what those choices are. So organizers have focused on building a coalition, including a youth sexual health
task force, that meets monthly to coordinate efforts.

The coalition approach has the additional advantage of being more streamlined and cost effective. Oftentimes, nonprofits, schools and other private organizations end up duplicating each other's efforts
and compete for the same grant funding.

“We're not competing. That's a real difference between Oregon and other states,” Victor said. “It shouldn't set us apart, but it does.”

The task force is also looking at infrastructural issues – not just buildings, but a well-trained workforce, Duke said.

Right now the task force is looking at school-based health centers to see how they can provide more reproductive health services. While individual schools may or may not decide to distribute contraceptives in their health centers, expanding that availability is something organizers have discussed.

Another objective that's been highlighted by recent media coverage is the reduction of sexual violence, as well as teen dating violence – the latter effort coming partly on the heels of a bill that passed the Legislature this session to include dating violence education in school curricula.

So far, there is little funding for specific efforts around dating violence, but the emphasis on recognizing and maintaining healthy relationships, and also recognizing the red flags of a dangerous relationship, are already a part of the core sexual health curriculum, Victor said.

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