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Planned Parenthood sex education goes online

Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon has launched an online sex education program to ensure kids have access to evidence-based sexual health information during the pandemic.

Although it wasn’t the original plan for the month of May, which is Sex Ed for All Month, the timing worked well to ensure local youth have information they need to make safe choices during the quarantine, said Amy Handler, chief of education and community partnerships with Planned Parenthood.

“This is a month when we champion increased access to sex ed, and under COVID-19 that doesn’t change,” Handler said. “We have to be adaptable and meet people where they are and still get information to youth.”

The online approach includes two programs: a set of recorded materials that teachers can integrate into their online curriculum for fifth grade through college level, and a virtual classroom in which 10 to 15 youths in grades 5-8 can receive supplemental health education for a period of several weeks.

Handler said teachers should reach out to Planned Parenthood to receive online links.

Handler said the organization plans to facilitate several online teaching programs this summer.

Formal sex education has declined across the country over the past decade, and especially in rural areas, Handler said.

The share of rural adolescents who have received instruction about birth control declined from 71% to 48% among females, and from 59% to 45% among males, according to a 2017 Guttmacher Institute study.

“Only about half of adolescents (57% of females and 43% of males) received formal instruction about contraception before they first had sex, and about four in 10 (46% of females and 31% of males) received instruction about where to get birth control.”

Handler said Oregon has some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections in the country.

Sex education helps young people to delay sex, have healthy relationships, avoid STIs and prevent unintended pregnancies, she said.

Handler said all Planned Parenthood clinics are open and offering full services. Patients can also schedule a telehouse visit online if they have access to a screen. It’s like a FaceTime call with a health professional, Handler said.

In response to COVID-19, Planned Parenthood sent surveys to educators in southwest Oregon asking what online resources would help them. The survey included options ranging from reproductive anatomy and birth control to gender and sexuality. She said they expected teachers to pick one to three options, which they would then use to create online resources, but every teacher who filled out the survey selected all of the answers.

“That’s when we realized there’s a big void right now for access to quality virtual content,” Handler said.

Planned Parenthood has also created resources for parents to help them navigate these conversations at home.

With parents taking a more active role in their children’s education while schools are closed, Planned Parenthood encourages parents to talk with their children about sexual health.

“Resources from our education team at PPSO can help start these conversations,” Handler said.

For more information and to sign up for the virtual classes, see the Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon website at www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-southwestern-oregon, or email education@ppsworegon.org.

Contact Ashland Tidings freelance reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

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