A group of high school students in Cleveland, Ohio have started their own sex education program in an effort to teach their peers about safe sex.
The kids are part of a group started by Case Western Reserve University's Infectious Disease Alliance. The alliance is railing against abstinence-only programs and is utilizing peer educators from local high schools at a time when HIV rates amongst teens is rising.
"The idea is to reach teens before their sexual debut so they have information on how to have safe sex before they have sex," Amanda Healen, a co-director of the program, said. "It's a tried and true approach."
The educators are from Shaw, Glenville and John Adams high schools and have been training for a year. They became experts on the topic after attending sexual education classes, participating in instruction to build self-confidence, and learning first-hand from specialists like a sexual assault nurse examiner.
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They are also working on a public health campaign that targets teens in high-risk zip codes.
During one of the sex ed classes, they teach fellow teens about safe sex and answer questions.
At one session, a male high school freshman said, "You mean, if she's drunk or high and says 'Yes,' that's still rape?"
Others submitted their questions anonymously into a box. Questions included, "Is it safe to have unprotected sex in a pool with chlorine?" and "Should you tell your partner if you're infected with an STI?"
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One educator, Autumn Nalls, asked the group whether girls can get pregnant while having sex standing up. A student said it must be impossible because the sperm isn't "going up."
Nalls responded, "In fact, no, the sperm is already swimming, it's like a little tadpole."
After the lesson, the student said he felt the discussion was enlightening.
"I feel like it's something to talk about and there might be some things I don't know and I'd like to learn," he said.
Peer educators seem to have a more profound affect on students, as they are seen as more relatable than adult teachers who may be viewed as patronizing or out-of-touch.
"The value of peer educator programming is that it has far greater reach than adults could ever have," Angel Brown, a senior program manager at the D.C. based Advocates for Youth, said. "Young people are engaging with other youth in settings that go beyond the clinics and the community settings. It has a trickle down effect."
When each session ends, the educators pass out bags of condoms.