In August, if you send your middle schooler to YWCA summer sex education, she’ll likely come back, making you question your own sexual health literacy.
The YWCA Summer of Sex Ed is a week-long afternoon summer camp, 1-3 p.m., August 8-12 at the YWCA of Evanston/NorthShore, 1215 Church St. with all content taught at an age-appropriate level.
“It was designed with the knowledge of what students of [and] in the Evanston area are getting sex education,” said Hallie Cohen, YWCA Education and Prevention Coordinator and creator of the summer program. “It’s another great opportunity to continue socializing…practicing those skills of having uncomfortable conversations or being respectful around sensitive topics.”
Summer of Sex Ed uses the National Standards for Sex Education to guide the information and skills taught in the curriculum. Last October, Illinois lawmakers voted to amend the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code to include a mandate that educators use these national standards for sex education in all programs at the Illinois.
The seven topics covered are consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health and interpersonal violence.
Cohen said sexual health education will include lessons on understanding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and transmission, birth control and contraceptive methods. Additionally, the anatomy section will discuss developments during puberty to help students feel prepared for the changes in their bodies.
“We’re going to practice skills like evaluating credible information, being respectful and practicing using people’s correct pronouns,” Cohen said, “and thinking about how to show support to people working around their identity.”
The program educator
Cohen can be considered Evanston’s extraordinary youth health sex education coordinator.
“I’ve both facilitated comprehensive sex ed programs in partnership with schools and created community programs like Sex Ed Summer,” Cohen said.
Cohen works with District 65 to help the district evaluate its sex-ed curriculum and ensure it is inclusive, culturally appropriate, and up-to-date. She also trains Evanston teachers and professors to feel more comfortable with the work so they can present it with confidence.
The educator is delighted to give more useful and accurate education compared to the sex education she received – which was then classified as complete.
“For example,” Cohen said, “with STIs, the way I was taught them and my sex education in high school was I saw slideshows of untreated syphilis and herpes and very, very bad symptoms, which is not realistic.For most STIs, the most common symptom is no symptoms.And they are all curable or treatable.
It’s about normalizing sex
Cohen provided surveys to middle and high school participants of his comprehensive sex education programs. Most say in the comments that they are grateful that Cohen helps students feel comfortable discussing sensitive and potentially awkward topics.
In short, it doesn’t make awkward topics “more awkward,” which is the goal of the program – to help facilitate comfortable conversations about sexual health and related topics.
“[Students] can be a little quiet, a little afraid to speak up or share thoughts or opinions. Cohen said, “I will model comfort and openness around these sensitive topics and help them realize that these are such important aspects of ourselves, our lives and our identities.”