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Student Health Advocacy Project Addresses Sexual Health

Simon Thompson


A Guttmacher Institute study found teen use of contraception was higher in states with more comprehensive sex education.  New Mexico has the highest rate of teen pregnancy. But there is an effort to improve sex education the state.

Audrey Robledo is a sophomore at Las Cruces High School with an interest in reproductive health.  But she said it’s not an area of knowledge shared with most of her peers. 

“I was at a party with my friends and everybody was talking about their ‘body count’ a body count is how many people you have slept with and this guy is telling he has slept with six girls. You know you have to wear a condom every time; better be safe than sorry and he was like ‘what is a condom? He was being sarcastic and he says who even uses those any more?"

Robledo said "Like do you not care about the outcomes?”

Robledo said she learned most of what she understands about sexuality and health from a sex education advocate she met outside of school.  She said that’s how she learned about contraception, safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases.

“It is kind of gross, kind of weird but honestly I think most kids would be like “alright I am going to use a condom. I am going to get on birth control or something else'.”

Robledo said

“In my head I was like why don’t they teach that at our school, I feel like it is something that should be taught. Just in my class alone there are two pregnant girls.”

Robledo said sex education in school ended after the eighth grade.  And she says what she learned back then wasn’t as comprehensive as it should have been.

“They showed us the video about the body,  how girls change,  how guys change.  I remember that they took us into separate rooms and they gave girls little bags with stuff about what we should be expecting. They taught a little bit about HIV and STDs what my teacher really focused on was abstinence.”

New Mexico does not require public schools to teach sex education, but according to the administrative code…districts must provide instruction on quote ‘ways to reduce the risk of getting AIDS, stressing abstinence.”

“I couldn’t even tell you who is a virgin in this school any more” Robledo said.

It’s not just Robledo and her peers who are unconvinced by the effectiveness of abstinence education.  Research from the Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education shows teaching abstinence has no effect on the onset of sexual activity among children.  2013 Centers for Disease Control data shows more than 57% of sexually active New Mexico students did not use a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse.

Meg Long is a project coordinator with the WAVE program- The Wellness Alcohol Violence Education service at New Mexico State University she said when students get to her they’re still often misinformed about the basics of sexuality, STDs and unplanned pregnancy.

“There is a lot of misinformation about contraception and abortions, a lot of misinformation! So just educating the students on what their options are what works, what are side effects, what are side effects they have heard of that are not true.” Long said “Even with the older students I have, they are really surprised when they find out the facts about contraception and about STDs.”

As part of a peer initiative, Robledo is working to broaden sex education in Las Cruces public schools. She’s doing it through an Advocacy at Work initiative at Las Cruces High School. The project is overseen by New Mexico State University Health Policy Project Coordinator Ruben Marquez.

“They get to choose the health outcome, then they look at the risk factors  then they look at the individual behaviors. Then the upstream causes.” Marquez said "To be able to take the health outcome and trace it back to a root cause then they can develop a plan”.

With Marquez’s guidance, Robledo is drafting a curriculum outline and a proposal for change. She said she hopes it can empower and equip the next generation of New Mexico students to have healthy and informed sexual relationships. 

“I want it to be taught, taught right. I want us to be able to have more information about it. My little sister is going to be in high school in two years.  I don’t want her to come in and not know anything.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, New Mexico ranks 12th nationally for reported cases of these STDs:  chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV.

Robledo plans to present her proposal to the Las Cruces school board early in 2017. 

Simon Thompson was a reporter/producer for KRWG-TV's Newsmakers from 2014 to 2017. Encores of his work appear from time to time on KRWG-TV's Newsmakers and KRWG-FM's Fronteras-A Changing America.