Written by Devon Linn, Electoral & Organizing Intern
Teenagers across the country rely on Planned Parenthood’s services and sex education programs. Every year, nearly one million middle school and high school aged adolescents are provided sex education by Planned Parenthood. Through Planned Parenthood’s programs, teens are educated on a variety of topics, including gender identity, sexual orientation, consent, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception. I have interviewed Zaakirah Hamid, a sex educator with Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and Ryleigh Lord, a member of the Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania High School Action Group, to get their perspectives on Planned Parenthood’s teen services and programs.
What Do Sex Educators Think?
Planned Parenthood sex educators play an essential role in providing teens with the knowledge and resources they need to stay safe and healthy. I spoke with Zaakirah Hamid about comprehensive sex education, the importance of inclusivity, and COVID-19’s impact on sex education programming. As Zaakirah explained, sex ed significantly improves lives in many ways,
“Comprehensive sex ed has been proven to reduce dating violence, unplanned pregnancies, STIs (including HIV), as well as health inequities among LGBTQ youth and low-income youth.”
Significant disparities exist in sex education: according to the GLSEN 2019 National School Climate Survey, only about 5% of all LGBTQ students see positive representations of LGBTQ topics in health classes. Planned Parenthood sex educators work to make their programming as inclusive as possible. Zaakirah emphasized that sex educators use inclusive language and maintain a safe environment for all students. The CDC has indicated that racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities also persist in teen sexual health and knowledge. According to Zaakirah, Planned Parenthood educators work to bridge those gaps by focusing on areas with the “highest rates of unplanned pregnancies, highest rates of STIS, or the least access to comprehensive sex education or reproductive health care.”
COVID-19 has resulted in significant changes to the Planned Parenthood sex education programming. With the switch to remote learning, educators have to consider students who may not have internet access or a safe space to learn in. While sex educators have had to adapt their approach, Zaakirah believes that virtual learning has helped them educate students they may have had difficulty reaching before. Zaakirah explained in her interview how remote learning has allowed sex educators to reach a wider audience. Zaakirah stated that they have been able to “expand where we can offer these services as well as how.” Planned Parenthood sex educators have been able to use closed captioning for their students and also record programs, making sex education more accessible and inclusive.
The Teen Perspective
Along with sex education, Planned Parenthood provides a multitude of health services to teens. In 2019, over 12,000 teenages relied on Planned Parenthood services in Pennsylvania alone. To understand the role Planned Parenthood plays in young people’s lives, I spoke with seventeen-year-old Ryleigh Lord, who has been volunteering as a high school advocate for Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia for the past two years.
In 2019, Planned Parenthood lost tens of millions of dollars in Title X funding; Planned Parenthood was forced out of the program after the implementation of the gag rule, which prevents clinics that provide abortion referrals and counseling from receiving funding. This defunding has already had significant impacts on Planned Parenthood’s ability to ensure access to affordable care, and we will see even greater consequences in the years to come.
Title X funding is essential for teen health and wellness. Teens rely on birth control and contraceptives for a variety of reasons: to prevent STIs and pregnancy, regulate periods, control menstrual cramps, and even treat disorders, like PCOS and Endometriosis. By defunding Planned Parenthood, many teens will not be able to get the reproductive health care they need. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “over half of younger clients with insurance indicated that they would not use it to cover the [contraceptive] services because of confidentiality concerns.” Title X funding and confidentiality are both essential to ensure teens are able to afford the care they need and that they feel comfortable finding and receiving services.
With the Planned Parenthood high school advocacy group, Ryleigh has seen Planned Parenthood’s dedication to teen health and wellness firsthand; they have distributed menstrual care products and contraceptives, and provided essential information to other high school students through the program. Planned Parenthood has consistently provided the education and facts to teens so that they are ready to make informed decisions about their own bodies. As Ryleigh emphasized,
“Teenagers need to be given the right to decide what they want to do for themselves.”