You Live, You Learn
When I was younger, I often saw Public Service Announcements alerting me to the idea that “Knowledge is Power.” At the time, I believed that the goal of these messages was to keep me in school, but, on some level, I must have internalized the point, for I still believe in the value of education to this day. My belief in edification has led me to pursue higher education, to work for a University, and to write for a sexual health education website. And, as I grew up, I became firmer in my belief that education carved a path for empowerment—learning was essential to betterment. Thus, it only made sense to me when I heard about the United States’ plan to combat HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Ever since I can remember, the United Sates has been pouring money into Africa with the goal of eradicating poverty, famine, and AIDS, with a portion of the funding going toward education measures. For most of my life, I didn’t pay much attention to the whole situation—I knew that AIDS was bad and that we were fighting it. That had to be a good thing, right?
But what happens when education doesn’t work?
In 2007, an economist named Emily Oster published a paper that suggested the poorest Africans had adopted fewer safer sex habits as they had less incentive to. It turned out, according to Oster, that remaining free from AIDS or other STI’s was not so important when your life expectancy was not very high.
Whether you agree with Oster’s findings or not (there are plenty of people who don’t), one conclusion that you can draw from all of this is that educational/prevention programs must provide relevant information for the populations that they are attempting to serve.
As I mulled over the importance of Oster’s paper, I began to think back to a number of Latino students from Santa Ana mentioning how they grew up in an environment that expected them to drop out of school or become pregnant and, all of a sudden, the problems of Africa didn’t seem so far away. What if I was running into the same problem? What if I was going about all of this in the wrong way? What if I wasn’t providing pertinent advice?
I took a breath.
I’ve managed to get to a point in my life where I know enough about sex to keep myself safe; I know what I value and I’ve developed the skill set to ensure that I make smart choices (well, most of the time). On the one hand, this provides me with the ability to share my knowledge and mistakes with all of you. But, on the other hand, I think that I occasionally forget how hard it is sometimes to be a teenager facing all of the pressures out there today. For one, I certainly don’t have other people worrying about if I’m having (or not having) sex and with whom said sex is or isn’t occurring. Well, at least, if they are, I don’t know about it.
So, while perhaps my experiences are not exactly the same as yours, I think that my job as a writer is to find the universal truth of situations and to help you feel what I’ve felt. With any luck, you can relate to parts of my story (if not the entire thing) and use my words to point you in the right direction. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I do think that I know a little something about the subject of sex and sexual health. As I’ve said many times before, sexual health education isn’t just about learning how to use a condom or to avoid rape—those things are important as well, but maybe, this time, it’s about the “expert” learning from you.