Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Zahria. I’m 20 years old. I just started my third year at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I am currently on campus as an orientation leader for incoming freshmen. My school is testing us for COVID every two weeks and I feel very safe. At school, I am studying pretty much everything relating to Black women and sex education. I also study photography so that I can have an outlet to express myself. I’m from Dallas, Texas. I went to Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, the first public all girl’s high school in the state of Texas. I got involved with the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy (Ntarupt) through a panel that was hosted at Southern Methodist University.
What is your experience with teen pregnancy or sex education in Texas?
I feel like my experience was very unique and I was very lucky. I was able to get sex education, but it wasn’t through my school. I didn’t learn anything about sex ed that I can remember from school. We didn’t have a sex ed class. We had great teachers who wanted us to be the best we could be and pointed us to outside resources. I also got involved with Ntarupt when I was about 15 years old and learned most things I know about sex education from them. Originally, I was a part of their Youth Leadership Council (YLC). As a part of their YLC, I helped plan annual events on a variety of topics. A group of us would also go to workshops about birth control and consent. After that, I joined their Young Women’s Advisory Council in partnership with Texas Women’s Foundation and the City of Dallas. Through this group, we created suggestions that might help unrepresented women of color in the City of Dallas.
What motivated you to get involved with Ntarupt?
My mom is a nursing student, but even before she was, she had always been super open with us about the human body and has always taught us the correct anatomical words for things. I have memories of going to class with her too.We were the kids at school saying “he has a penis!”, “I have a vagina!” That background made me super interested in the topic of sex education. I realized my friends didn’t know the same things I did and I wanted to learn more.
What would you think is the most important thing teens should know when it comes to sex education?
A really important thing to know is that you can get pregnant from precum. I feel like that’s a huge thing that young people don’t understand. Also, coercion is real. If you say no to having sex with someone three times and then yes the fourth time they ask, that’s still not consent. Learning that can uncover a lot of trauma for people when they realize they’ve been involved in situations where they were coerced. People also need to know about all of the different birth control options and the pros and cons of all of them. There is so much more than just the pill.
What would you want to tell your younger self?
I wish I could have affirmed to myself that just because I want to study sex, it doesn’t mean I have to be sexy. When I tell people I want to be a sex educator or a sex therapist, people think that I must be a sex addict, sex worker, or generally great at the act.. I think it’s an important topic and everyone should feel comfortable talking about it.
Did you have a specific person or mentor who made you feel most supported?
I just want to give a shout out to Veronica Whitehead, the Director of Programs at Ntarupt. My love! I just remember riding home with Veronica after the Young Women’s Advisory Council meetings. We bounded so much during those drives. She is a mentor, sister, and friend.
Can you share a memory about something that was helpful to you when you were a teen working through decisions about sex and relationships?
The Planned Parenthood website has so many great resources when it comes to consent, birth control, and STIs. It has something for everyone about almost every topic. I go back to that website a lot if I ever have questions. My peers who were reliant on only our school to teach us sex ed, didn’t know where to go to ask questions. Sometimes, people would get sent to me with their questions about sex and their body because my friends would tell them, “I don’t know the answer, but I bet Zee does.”
What do you wish you had, what would have been helpful, or what support do you think was missing that would have been most helpful to you?
I mostly feel super lucky because I got involved with Ntarupt at such a young age. I was old enough that the information they were telling me wasn’t irrelevant and I was young enough that the message could still reach me and help me. I enjoyed being the one to help my friends and debunk sex myths they might have heard because of my experience with Ntarupt..
Is there anything else you want people reading this interview to know?
I want to stress the importance of Title IX organizations that are there for underrepresented people of color and women of color. It’s so important to fund organizations like Planned Parenthood and teen pregnancy prevention programs. If we cant get sex education from our school, we need to get it from somewhere. Not everyone would seek out an organization on their own like Ntarupt and get involved.