Improve Your Intake Process

How inclusive is your organization? Perhaps less than you think. Sometimes the language in our paperwork/ administrative protocols is unintentionally limiting, presumptuous, or othering to members of marginalized groups. Many thanks to Kimmie Andresen-Reed from Transformative Healing for this thoughtful presentation about ways to reevaluate what information we need to collect and how we can do so with consideration and respect.

Gazette Article About Sexual Health Education Gaps

The Gazette published an article on Friday, November 28, 2014 about gaps in sexual health education in our community. This article includes information about the Sexual Health Alliance of Linn & Johnson Counties and is a follow-up to the 2012 Gazette article SHA assisted with. A link to the article is available here. On the same day, the Gazette also published a guest column by Linn County Public Health about how to prevent sexually transmitted infections. The guest column also included information about SHA and is available here.

Below is the full article by the Gazette:

Teaching the birds and the bees
State sexual education requirements lead to gaps
By Chelsea Keenan, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — Students in Kelly Snyder’s health class at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids get a pretty thorough understanding when it comes to the birds and the bees.

The class covers issues such as healthy relationships, dating violence and “sexting” as well as sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and safe sex.

“A lot of kids feel pressured,” Snyder said. “I give them the facts. We talk about abstinence and safe sex as well as the tools and resources available to them.”

But not every student gets the kind of comprehensive sexual education that students in Snyder’s class do.

Iowa has a Human Growth and Development Mandate, which tells school districts to provide age-appropriate and research-based instruction regarding human sexuality. But the mandate isn’t funded and it doesn’t specify how much time schools should devote to sexual education.

This leads experts to believe that there are gaps across the state when it comes to sex ed.


“Schools interpret (the mandate) in different ways,” said Kristin Fairholm, executive director of Eyes Open Iowa, a Des Moines-based group that advocates for adolescent sexual health.

Fairholm said leaving the sexual education curriculum up to the individual districts and schools means there are wide discrepancies, with students at some schools receiving only one presentation while other students get a full evidence-based curriculum.

“Our chief concern is that all young people get medically accurate sexual education,” she said.

But that’s not always the case if an instructor doesn’t have proper training. He or she may incorporate personal beliefs into the presentation without even meaning to, Fairholm added.

Students need to receive fair and correct information, Fairholm said, and it’s not up to the teacher to decide what that information is.

“They need to know how to answer sensitive questions and to be fully inclusive — that means gay and questioning teens, teens who are sexually abused, who may be pregnant or have an STD (sexually transmitted disease). We don’t want instructors to shame students.”

A 2012 Sexual Health Alliance of Linn and Johnson Counties survey of Corridor schools found there are large differences in the amount of sexual education students receive, depending on their school, said Katie Jones, health education specialist for Linn County Public Health and coalition coordinator for the Sexual Health Alliance.

For example, Linn-Mar High School requires students take a health class to graduate. The class brings in outside speakers and covers issues such as sexting and dating violence in addition to discussing STD statistics.

However, Washington High School offers only a one-hour presentation in an optional health class in addition to two-days of science-based sexual health education.

“A one-hour lecture is not enough time,” Jones said. “We want programs that have been shown to work. It helps ensure students have the tools they need.”

Comprehensive Education

Eyes Open Iowa and the Sexual Health Alliance both advocate for comprehensive, evidence-based sexual education that is age-appropriate in schools.

This means schools teach students that while abstaining from sex is the best method to prevent pregnancy and STDs, it also teaches students about contraception and helps students develop interpersonal and communication skills, Jones said.

According to the National Sexuality Education Standards, comprehensive programs have been shown to help youth delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase condom and contraceptive use.

Fairholm said school districts also should have curricula that build upon one another, meaning children learn about things such as healthy body image and self-esteem in early education and move to more complicated matters such as relationships, decision-making, assertiveness and skill building to resist peer pressure as they get older.

Eyes Open Iowa provides help to schools and districts to create or improve their comprehensive sexual education curricula though two programs — its Working to Institutionalize Sex Ed (WISE) program and its Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (CAPP) grant program.

The WISE program works to implement and sustain kindergarten-through-grade-12 programming in school districts that addresses adolescent sexual health. Eyes Open Iowa is working with 19 school districts in Iowa.

The CAPP program is funded by the Iowa Department of Human Services and appropriated by the legislature. Grantees, which includes Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Linn County, must implement an evidence-based curricula in at least one school setting.

“A lot of the work that we do is sort through curricula and develop programs,” Fairholm said. “Staff goes out and reviews policy and train teachers.”

Evidence-based sex education more effective

The Gazette published a guest column on Sunday, September 14, 2014 written by the Sexual Health Alliance of Linn & Johnson Counties. A link to the column on The Gazette’s website is available here. Below is the full column:

Evidence-based sex education more effective

Sexually transmitted disease rates in Linn and Johnson counties are rising. I encourage parents and educators to consider evidence-based, comprehensive sexual health education for students that would help lower rates.

“Evidence-based” means the program has been proven to effectively show positive changes in students’ sexual behaviors. “Comprehensive” means the program is medically accurate, age-appropriate, theory driven and teaches abstinence (but is not abstinence-only) to help students develop interpersonal and communication skills.

According to the National Sexuality Education Standards, comprehensive programs have been shown to help youth delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use. Comparison studies have found comprehensive programs to be more effective than abstinence-only programs.

Many schools provide evidence-based programs, but gaps remain. The Sexual Health Alliance of Linn & Johnson Counties Education Subcommittee conducted a survey of the public high schools to see whether evidence-based sexual health education was being taught. The committee found that sexual health education varies considerably. In some schools, sexual health education is part of a mandatory health class; for others, it is a single stand-alone session or part of an elective health class.

There are many ways parents and individuals can advocate for a comprehensive, evidence-based curriculum. These include knowing the official state and school system policies on sexual health education; learning what their student’s school offers and what training their teachers have had in sexual health education; speaking with administrators; and joining school health education committees and/or participating in school board meetings. Fortunately, our community has many resources and trained professionals at its disposal. We encourage parents and educators to reach out to the SHA at or

Seth Owens is board president of the Sexual Health Alliance of Linn & Johnson Counties. Comments:

Speakeasy: Community Conversations About Sexual Health

Speakeasy (1)Please join us for an evening of community conversations about sexual health! The event is happening on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at the Clinton Street Social Club (18 1/2 S Clinton St, Iowa City, IA 52240) from 7 – 10 pm. There will be live entertainment, drinks, appetizers, and a silent auction.

This event is hosted by the Sexual Health Alliance of Linn & Johnson Counties.

“Sexy Baby” Showing in Iowa City – Monday, October 21 at 6:00 PM

Please join us for a community showing of the documentary Sexy Baby. The documentary will be shown at 6:00 pm on Monday, October 21st in the Iowa Theater (Room 166) at the Iowa Memorial Union.  Following the film there will be a brief interactive panel for group discussion.

Sexy Baby is a documentary film that explores sexiness and the cyber age, through the stories of three people: a former porn star, a plastic surgery patient, and a 12-year-old girl. The Sexual Health Alliance of Linn & Johnson Counties (SHA) brought this film to Cedar Rapids last spring, and it was such a success, we’re now bringing it to Iowa City!

Parents, educators, college students and anyone interested in the effects that the internet has had on women’s health and self-esteem are encouraged to attend.

Due to the content of this film, attendees should be 18 years or older.  For more information about this film or to see the trailer, please go to