My Sex Education

Cornell student Hadiyah Chowdhury, who has been working with the ACT COE this summer, has a particular interest in how students from different cultures do or do not benefit from the sex education they receive in schools. Although her own high school sex ed was not evidence-based, we asked her to share her experiences of sexual health education in a small upstate city.

I was born and brought up in Corning NY, a town of approximately 40,000 people, 92% of whom are white. My parents immigrated to the United States as graduate students from Bangladesh in 1987. I grew up speaking fluent Bengali until the time came for me to go to school and I forgot all my Bengali. The specifics of my upbringing may not resonate with too many people, but I have a feeling that many people reading might be feeling a sense of familiarity. When I was 11 my family and I moved to Paris where we lived for three years before moving back to Corning. The culture shock I experienced when I moved back to the States at age 14 was confusing to say the least.

In order to get a sense of what I was feeling, it becomes necessary to understand Corning as a town. Corning is a company town, meaning that your parents either work for Corning Incorporated (a company that produces glass) or they do not. The rich and poor of Corning, New York can be described as simply as that. This very visible and obvious distinction led to an extremely stratified high school experience: you had the honor’s kids on one hand, who only took AP classes and whose parents exclusively worked for Corning, and the regents kids (or “dirts” as they were called by some) whose parents did not. Because of this distinction, I pretty much cycled through the same group of 15-20 kids in all of my classes in high school. The only exceptions to this rule were PE and health class.

My health class had a total of seven students, only three of which I had interacted with before. As was the case in most of my other classes, I was not only the only South Asian person in the class, but also the only person of color. I remember being apprehensive of the class (as many teenagers are) not only because I thought some of the discussions in the class would be uncomfortable, but also because I didn’t know how my thoughts and ideas would be perceived by others based on the color of my skin. See, the problem was not that my parents were conservative when it came to sex, the problem was that I was not. Despite my apprehension, I found health class to be a place where I could express my thoughts about relationships, sex, and health more generally in a fairly intimate way. I remember my teacher had us sit on the floor in a circle and led us into rather unstructured, facilitated discussions. This method worked well because of the small class size and the way the instructor facilitated conversation between us, even though we definitely disagreed about many of the topics she had us discuss. I never felt attacked because of my skin color or my more liberal opinions about relationships and sex. This was pleasantly surprising to me since I was uncomfortably aware that I was perceived as different by most people at school. Not a day went by that someone wouldn’t make some comment about how my liberal opinion on some topic was no doubt due to the “chocolate” color of my skin. Health class was something of a refuge from these kinds of comments.

I must give credit to the instructor: she worked at a rape crisis center and a rehabilitation center for individuals addicted to meth and cocaine before coming to my high school. She obviously had to be able to manage rooms full of people from different backgrounds. She was easily able to contact Planned Parenthood to come and do two workshops for us, one on different forms of contraception and another on abusive relationships.

I looked forward to health class every day because I knew the instructor would handle disagreement well while also allowing us to be honest about our opinions. It was only when I came to college that I realized that this was not everyone else’s sex ed experience. Many people had to deal with instructors who would slut-shame, or preach abstinence only to classrooms. Some people told me that they were terrified of engaging in sex for fear of becoming pregnant or getting an STI after going through sex ed in high school. Others told me they had no kind of sex ed at all in school. While sex ed wasn’t perfect in Corning, I at least felt that I had access to useful resources. My health class focused on the mechanics of heterosexual, penetrative sex and tended to ignore topics around gender (specifically gender-non-conforming people) and attraction. However, since I felt that I knew where to go if I had questions, I think my sex ed ended up being quite comprehensive. In addition, my instructor made it clear that sex can be really emotionally or physically painful for some people, forcing me to conceptualize my ideas about sex in a different way. This class also became the beginnings of my interest in feminism and gender theory more broadly.

So in general, I am very grateful for the way health class was conducted in my rural, upstate high school and I recognize I was very lucky to have such a good instructor. The way she handled cultural differences in the classroom was respectful and allowed me to feel very comfortable while discussing topics that weren’t necessarily very easy to talk about.


– Hadiyah Chowdhury

Hadiyah Chowdhury is studying Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies as well as Anthropology at Cornell University.

What is Consent?

Consent: an informed, sober, freely-given, ongoing, enthusiastic YES.

Seems simple, right? Not quite.

Consent has become a hot topic over the past several years as many sexual assault and rape cases have gained heavy media attention. The notion of rape culture on college campuses has also been a major discussion for some time now, and rightfully so. Sexual assault and rape are illegal, traumatizing, and far too common. But for some youth and young adults, it is not easily understood. Fully understanding what is meant by sexual assault and rape is important, but understanding what obtaining and providing consent means and looks like is critical.

We have gathered some great resources that explain, show, and provide language around these difficult and sometimes confusing issues. Let us know in the comments what you think of these resources and please share any others you may have!

Teaching Young People about Consent (PDF)
In this article from ACT for Youth, Elizabeth Schroeder discusses the need to talk about consent with youth “early and often,” and offers tips for educating children and youth on the topic.

What Consent Looks Like
In this short Q&A, RAINN outlines how consent plays out in real life.

What is Consent? discusses the meaning of consent, what it looks like, what consent does NOT look like, and red flags.

Consent: It’s Simple as Tea
This video by Blue Seat Studios, Emmeline May, and Rachel Brian illustrates the need for consent through the clear and humorous metaphor of tea.

How Do You Know if Someone Wants to Have Sex with You?
Planned Parenthood produced this video to demonstrate what consent looks like, giving examples of ways to find out if your partner wants to do what you would like to do.

This video for middle school students is part of the AMAZE sex education video project.

These resources and many more are posted on the Dating Violence page.

Divine Sebuharara  – Divine


Return to the ACT COE website

BWIAH Provider Days – What did your colleagues think?

It’s always great to have face-to-face time with all of you, and for us that was certainly a highlight of the 2017 Bureau of Women, Infant and Adolescent Health (BWIAH) Provider Days. Amy has compiled the evaluations to give us a sense of how it all went for you, and how we can improve in the future. Here are some of our takeaways.

Registration and communication before the event was more difficult or confusing for people whose agencies work with more than one Center of Excellence.

  • If we have this opportunity again, we should work on clarifying the audience for each day and streamlining the registration process across COEs.

The hotel itself received mostly positive reviews – but the few who had a bad experience had a very bad experience. Your comments ranged from “Beautiful” and “Love it!” to “Horrible.” However, there were many comments on the location and size of the hotel, and despite our own positive experience with the conference planners at this hotel we will explore other options.

  • Many noted that the distance from the train station and lack of a shuttle made for expensive taxi rides.
  • Food options were limited by the location, and meant that many of you had to brave crossing the highway. As one participant put it, “Street crossing was like the video game Frogger.”

We were unable to provide lunch, coffee, or snacks because of the terms or our funding, and we were unable to negotiate an affordable lunch buffet or boxed lunch option for you with the hotel. Some of you found the 90-minute lunch break a waste of time, others appreciated the breather.

The May 9 plenaries, meetings with program advisors, and workshops were all rated as valuable with very few dissenters. Nearly all of you seem to have found the content useful. (Or are you just trying to make us feel good?)

The May 10 evaluations tell us you thought the day overall did a good job of meeting its objectives, especially the goal of “recognizing the opportunities for collaboration among community providers.” The speakers—especially Tom Klaus—were appreciated and presented useful information.

Community meetings got mixed reviews. Some of the groups were bigger than anticipated, so the noise level in the ballroom was a real problem. Some providers noted that they have limited opportunities for collaboration in their own regions. But some regional groups were excited about meeting each other, and we’ve heard of at least two regions that are already planning to meet again. In general, opportunities to network were rated highly, and 88% of you agreed (or strongly agreed) that the community meeting will enhance collaboration in your community.

Thank you for coming and sharing your opinions! What else do you want us to know? Has any part of Provider Days stuck with you? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 – Jutta

Reviewing Cycles Before Submitting Them into the ORS

We’re excited about how well people have taken to the Online Reporting System (ORS)! At the same time, we know there’s a learning curve, and we’ve been seeing some errors come through. That’s why we ask you to review cycles before you press the “submit” button. To help with the review process, we’ve put together a brief presentation, which you can find here on the ACT for Youth website:

Reviewing Cycles Before Submitting Them into the Online Reporting System (MP4 presentation — we recommend using Firefox, Chrome, or Safari to view)

Slides only (PDF)

Regardless of how you are handling cycle review at your organization, the following things should always be checked (and fixed if need be) before submitting the cycle:

  • Have you entered the correct priority population and the correct setting for each cycle?
  • Do you have the right number of youth participants entered?
  • Do you have youth attendance entered correctly?
  • Have all activities been marked as either having been implemented or skipped?
  • Did you enter the correct number of sessions and are they marked with the correct date?

Most mistakes you can fix right on the “Review & submit cycle” page. A few things, such as deleting a blank session or blank participant, will need to be changed on the “Revise existing cycle / participants” page.

Adding this final check to your routine will keep your data accurate – and you won’t have to deal with our follow-up calls!

In the future you can find the presentation and slides right on the Online Reporting System information page.

Dora Welker
– Dora

What Do Youth Think about Birth Control Methods?

A few years back, the Department of Health asked the ACT COE to gather young people’s perspectives on family planning services. With the help of CAPP and PREP providers, we were able to speak with 336 youth in 36 focus groups all over New York State. What we found was, for the most part, not surprising: Many had confidentiality concerns centered around the fear that parents would find out or people would know their business. Youth were afraid of being judged by clinicians and other staff; talking about sex and contraception felt awkward; and clinics did not always seem friendly to youth. There were also fears about getting bad news at a clinic visit.

No surprises there. But to me, one finding did stand out: the overwhelming negative beliefs and attitudes that youth expressed about birth control methods.

Participants were asked to name contraceptive methods that they were aware of and briefly discuss each method. Our researchers counted the number of negative vs. positive remarks made about each contraceptive method – and in nearly every case, the negative comments far outweighed the positive comments.

Negative comments most often referred to side effects they had heard about, as well as perceived lack of reliability. Emergency contraception in particular was considered dangerous – and had five times as many negative comments as positive. The only method where the good edged out the bad? Abstinence. Abstinence was not mentioned as frequently as other methods, but youth clearly understood that it is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy. (It was also largely seen as unrealistic.)

This study is several years old. More recently, researchers in South Carolina* conducted a small focus group study with black and Latina/o youth in two counties. They found many of the same themes: young people expressed the need for private, confidential services in an environment that is friendly to teens. And again, negative feelings about birth control surfaced – especially with respect to side effects. As one teen put it when talking of contraception commercials, “I hate it when they say side effects may include dizziness, drowsiness, heart disease…I say no thank you.”

We know we need to work on the perception and reality of confidential services for youth. At the same time, let’s make sure youth are getting positive messages about birth control. The good news is, they’ve received positive messages about abstinence, and these messages appear to be getting through. How can we present other methods in a positive light as well? Teens who are now or will soon be sexually active do need to know the side effects of any method they are considering, but are they also hearing about convenience, effectiveness, ease of use, and accessibility?

What are your thoughts? Do you have strategies to share? Let us know in the comments.

Karen Schantz– Karen

*Galloway, C. T., Duffy, J. L., Dixon, R. P., & Fuller, T. R. (2017). Exploring African-American and Latino Teens’ Perceptions of Contraception and Access to Reproductive Health Care Services. Journal of Adolescent Health, 60(3, Supplement), S57–S62.

You can find more on the ACT for Youth study here: Youth and Family Planning: Findings from a Focus Group Study (PDF)


Welcome (and Welcome Back) from the Technical Assistance Team!

Hello CAPP and PREP folks! Congratulations on being part of this statewide initiative. Some of you know who we are, and some of you are new to us, so we wanted to take advantage of The Hub and make a brief introduction to our new Technical Assistance structure at the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence.  For those of you “old timers,” you’ve seen or talked with the TA team in one way or another (Jutta, Heather, Michele, Divine, and Beth).  For you newer folks, HELLO from all of us.

With the new funding cycle, the ACT COE has developed a new structure for providing you with technical assistance. We have de-centralized the process so that we can quickly and personally respond to your needs.  We hope this new structure gives you a chance to know us better, as well as for us to get to know you better so that we can provide more personalized TA for you. Each of you now has a specific “dynamic duo” comprised of a TA and Evaluation Team member. These folks will be your go-to contacts for any questions or technical assistance needs you may have.  Thinking of making adaptations to your EBP? Contact your TA person. Have a question about the new online reporting system? Contact your Evaluation person. You can find out who your support team is here: TA/Evaluation Support Teams for CAPP and PREP (PDF). If you want to know more about what to expect, take a look at this Technical Assistance Guidance Document (PDF).

We may have already had the chance to talk with some of you through the Needs Assessment conversations we have been having with all of you. We have really enjoyed being able to talk with you, get to know you a bit better, and to hear what you’re looking forward to or what challenges you anticipate with this new funding cycle.

We are looking forward to working with all of you as we continue to support your good work with young people!

  – Beth

Slow Internet?

We realize that some providers might be lacking infrastructure for fast or wireless internet, and this could be affecting their ability to use the online reporting system and setting up tablets to collect youth survey data. While we can’t do anything about your internet service, we brainstormed some general solutions you can approach your organization’s IT support about.

  • Ask your IT support about firewalls or others blocks that might be limiting your access.
  • Consider using a tablet with a data plan to enter information in the online reporting system.
  • Ask your IT support about setting up a wireless router or adding a wireless access point to boost your connection.
  • If hardwired updates aren’t possible, explore the possibility of purchasing a mobile hotspot. Smart phones or tablets with a data plan can often serve as a hotspot, or separate mobile hotspot devices and plans can be purchased.

Once the early kinks are worked out, we are confident you will see the advantages of collecting data online! As always, if you have questions or are having problems with any of our online systems, be sure to let us know.

Amanda Purington, MPS – Mandy

The Hub!

Welcome to The Hub!, the blog of CAPP and PREP providers in New York State. Here the ACT for Youth Center of Excellence (ACT COE) will answer common questions and highlight tools, hot tips, and resources to help you meet your goals. Please comment, post your questions, and share your ideas here too!

A little housekeeping:

  • On your first comment, please include your agency name. (To reduce spam, we need to approve your first comment. After that, comments from your email address will be automatically approved–you’re good to go!)