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Latina Youth Disproportionately Affected By Lack Of Information Of Sexual And Reproductive Health

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Culture as a Barrier

A silent threat to young Latinas is the lack of information on reproductive and sexual health they receive at home. Traditional beliefs about sexuality in the Latino community influence younger generations heavily. Of course these ideas are held onto stronger by older generations than by younger ones influenced by American culture. Despite this, the huge emphasis that Latinos place on religion, morals, family and honoring parents and elders still affects younger generations. These cultural influences dictate the way Latina teenagers deal with certain topics like sex and reproductive health.

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Family and gender roles are vital in the Latino culture. Men are recognized as the head of the household, while women take a passive and submissive caretaker role. “Machismo, ” a term used to describe traditional masculine behavior and values, emphasizes the importance of men’s strength, control, and dominance over women. Machismo is often correlated to the traditional Latin view that a man should do all that he can to protect the women in his family. Latinas, on the other hand, tend to focus on house chores and maternity, often putting family needs above their own personal goals. Often, mothers stay at home, while the husband works outside of home. Many studies have shown that in comparison to other racial groups, young Latinas desire to start a family earlier and have multiple children. Latina teenagers are also likely to grow up in a religious household.

Although younger generations tend to be less religious, to most Latinos, religion is more than a practice as it is embedded within social norms, routines and traditional views. Most religious Latinos in the U. S. are Catholic, a religion that remains conservative with issues of sexual activity and abstinence. Many Catholics believe in the importance of waiting to have sex after marriage, sex being solely between man and woman, and the prohibition of birth control and condoms. Part of feminism in Latino culture includes the view that preserving a woman’s virginity is highly respected and even required. In fact, many Latinas look up to the Virgin Mary as a model of what women should aspire to become, pure and holy. For these reasons, Latinas do not discuss sex out of nervousness, discomfort and fear of being labeled as promiscuous or offensive. In fact, studies show that Latino families avoid any discussion relating to sex. Keeping sex as a topic of taboo, Latina teenagers turn to friends, school peers, or keep to themselves with questions of sex and reproductive health. Ultimately, their lack of information or misinformation from others is highly dangerous. Coupled with poverty and lack of health care, lack of information is a cause for the high rates of unintended pregnancies, STDs, and cervical cancer with Latinas.

Sexual Education in Schools

Abstinence-Only Education

Since 1981, the federal government has funded abstinence programs in public schools and community organizations. Funding for the programs began as part of welfare reform efforts under the Clinton Administration. Over the past two decades, about $2 billion has been spent on abstinence-based education. Recently, the Trump Administration has cut more than $200 million in federal funds for teen pregnancy prevention programs, while extending millions to programs focusing solely on Abstinence-only education. Much of these programs contain guidelines that are scientifically unproven and ideologically driven. Funding for Abastinence-only programs tend to go to schools that are predominantly minority and since much of the legislation on sex education allocates funding in proportion to the amount of children in each state that are low income. For this reason, Latinas’ disparities in access of reproductive health information intensifies since they are more likely to receive abstinence-only education and will be negatively affected by it. Usually, abstinence-only programs censor information about contraception and condoms as prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unintended pregnancy. Premarital sexual relationships are taught within these programs to be psychologically and physically harmful. Very few abstinence-only programs discuss STDs, but only in the context of abstaining from sex, disregarding any other methods of protection against STDs. Contraception is touched lightly in, but in a negative tone describing how its methods fail.

As a method of pregnancy and STDs prevention, abstinence-only programs ignore other scientifically and medically proven methods, while depriving students from crucial information on making healthy choices. Presently, most of the sex education nationwide follows this model, indicating that these programs are the only formal education regarding sexual and reproductive information to which many students will ever have access to.

Abstinence-Only Education Provides Misleading and Inaccurate Information

During an investigation of the content of federally funded abstinence-only programs it was revealed that most of the information taught by abstinence-only programs are misleading. According to the report, almost ninety percent of the curricula “false, misleading, or distorted information, ” regarding STD transmission and infection rates, abortion, condoms and their effectiveness, and human genetics. Most of the false information centers around the effectiveness of contraception, HIV, and the risks and aftermath of abortion. Programs also promote exaggerated failure rates of condoms as an effective means of preventing pregnancy, HIV, and STDs, or in the alternative fail to instruct teenage students on its proper use of contraception. This failure to provide truthful information about condoms and other birth control only worsens the disparities in Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), teen pregnancy, and abortions among Latina teens, leaving them in a worse position than had the government declined to fund any form of sex education. Misinformation about condom usage in particular, harms Latinas especially when the AIDS rates among Latinas is nearly seven times that of their white peers. Many widely used abstinence-only curricula also contain heavy anti-abortion bias and misinformation. One program states that five to ten percent of women who have abortions become sterile. The curriculum also teaches risks that generally do not occur after abortions are performed, such as premature births, mental retardation in children, or ectopic pregnancies. Some abstinence-only curricula incorporate religious beliefs about fetuses being people as a scientific fact. The FACTS program depicts six to ten day old embryos as “babies, ” and describes them as being able to “snuggle into” the uterus. Another program demands teachers play a video in class about a woman who has an abortion and regrets her choice, followed by a discussion on the harms of abortion.

Abstinence-Only Promotes Negative Stereotypes Detrimental to Latinas

Abstinence education programs promote damaging stereotypes that reinforce sexual inequality and contribute to sexual violence towards women. Generally, abstinence-only curricula portray girls as naturally chaste and boys constantly struggling to control their sexuality and hormones. These stereotypes repeatedly undermine female sexual decision-making and achievement by raising ancient myths. One curriculum teaches students that “women gauge their happiness and success by their relationships, ” while “men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments. ” Girls are made out to be unmotivated and dependent, while boys are go-getters and overachieving. By promoting dangerous sex and gender stereotypes, abstinence education insinuates that boys’ sex drives are uncontrollable and girls need to be the “gatekeepers of chastity, ” removing male responsibility for any acts of harassment or assault, while shifting the blame on girls. In fact, these programs fail to meaningfully discuss rape, sexual violence, and consent, issues that are so prevalent today with the “Me Too” movement. Many of the programs also contain racist and sexist stereotypes about minority girls. For instance, “The Choice Game” has two versions that are shown to students, one where ninety-five percent of the featured students are white, and another where about eighty percent of the students are Latinas and African American. The former shows minority girls as being sexually aggressive and drug users. Instead of debunking these myths, the program highlights them within the curricula. These stereotypes are particularly harmful to Latinas. Studies measuring female empowerment have found that Latinas are more likely to accept traditional gender roles, including machismo attitudes that tend to undervalue women’s self-sufficiency and define women as maternal and submissive.

Moreover, abstinence-only programs emphasize the harms of sex and pregnancy outside of marriage, stigmatizing Latina teens, who are more likely to come from a single-parent household and to become a single parent themselves.

15 July 2020

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