Youths and Sex Ed


Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in partnership with Imagine Englewood If, a youth services organization based in that South Side neighborhood:

At an event about sex education at TEAM Englewood Community Academy High School February 17, I felt like any of the discussions could relate to me. But actually, the people talking were teens my age who got pregnant or contracted a deadly disease – HIV – or other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

Jalen Mitchell reads some important information. Photo by Tyreshia Black.

At the event at the school, 6201 S. Stewart St. in Englewood, a huge crowd in the audience listened to two female doctors, three people who had contracted HIV and teen parents. The doctors explained and compared HIV, AIDS, STDs, STIs and HPV. They explained that HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which weakens your immune system by destroying important cells called immune cells that fight against disease and infections. A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host, which it invades and uses to make more copies of itself. The doctors also stated that HIV can hide for a long period in your body.

Two of the people with HIV said they didn’t even know that they had the disease. If they had taken a blood test sooner, they could have been treated and cared for better. One of them, Mr. London, has become an activist, talking to kids and families about his experience with HIV. He told us about ways HIV is spread and not spread.

The other HIV activist, Damon Richardson, explained more about AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is caused by the immune system being depleted by the HIV virus, so that it is not capable of fighting off other diseases.

Sharonda Jackson, a doctor from the University of Chicago, explained that STDs and STIs are spread through sexual contact including skin to skin contact and bodily fluids, including blood and saliva. She told us that if an STD is left untreated it can spread to other parts of the body.

I really was getting interested in the conversation so I thought I should get up and ask about HPV, which I did not know a lot about previously. One of the doctors, Ms. Hernandez, explained that HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that causes small, painless bumps around the genitals, anus and the mouth. She said that the virus cannot be cured. The virus has been linked to higher rates of cervical cancer. Women can prevent cervical cancer by having frequent PAP tests, a medical test which examines whether there are any irregular cells which could indicate a precancerous condition.

The next discussion was about teen pregnancies and the risks of unprotected or forced sex.

Tiana Watson, 16, is a teen mother. “It’s sort of a sacrifice when it comes to parenting. You have to give up nearly everything just to nurture your child,” she said.

Jalen Mitchell and Makylia Anderson learn about STDs. Photo by Tyreshia Black

Daniel McCoy, 17, is a teen father. “You never know what’s next when you become a parent at any age,” he said. “You have to be above (watching over) your child at all times, no excuses.”

Jaylen Miller, 14, said the sex education session was really helpful. “I felt really safe since they talked about AIDS and HIV and how young people are contracting things and becoming pregnant,” he said. “They were basically telling us that we should stay safe, wear condoms and question your partner before you have sex.”

Makylia Anderson, 13, said she thinks teen pregnancy is a problem. “I feel that it is wrong and stupid because some teens can’t support themselves, and yet they’re trying to support kids,” she said. “I expect that teens should wait until they are older and capable of taking care of another life.”

Cornelius Jordan, 12, said, “Teens need more adult guidance, and they should wait to have sex, and when they do, they should be protected.”

After the discussion, the doctors gave us condoms and resources that we could use to prevent things like teen pregnancy. They referred us to websites to learn about HIV, AIDs and STDs. I really enjoyed the discussion and I thought the whole thing was very informational. I learned a lot of new facts that are important to staying healthy. I could have learned these things sooner if my parents talked to me more about sex. Teen pregnancy and diseases are a serious problem, but information is a powerful way to fight this problem.

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