Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name is Ivania (she/her). I live in Edinburg, Texas, and am a university student. I am studying mass communications with a concentration in PR and advertising and also minoring in political science. I am a Campus Health Educator for Access Esperanza Clinics and the founder of the RGV SAFE Project.
What is your experience with sex education in Texas?
Growing up, I did not have sex education. My mom was very open and a “liberal parent,” so anytime I had a question she would gladly answer it. Nonetheless, having the courage to ask questions was difficult and also, I had no idea what to ask because I did not know exactly what I was talking about.
Growing up, attending a public school in Texas, the lack of sex ed is very prominent. My friends and I had to learn from online movies, social media, or telling each other things we did not know about. The first and last time I had some type of professional sex ed that talked about my body was in 5th grade. All the girls were taken to the library one day and were shown a very outdated video clip of what menstruation is. In the end, they gave each of us a bag with pads, a pamphlet, and some Midol. I remember at that time being confused because it happened out of nowhere, and it was never talked about ever again. I came home and told my mom. She told me, “just make sure they aren’t talking about other stuff because you can talk about that with me.”
Because I was not receiving any information about sex ed professionally at school, I would go to my mom and ask her questions, even though I was never eager to ask. It was interesting because I had friends come to my mom and ask her for advice. Having a mom like mine definitely helped me be more okay asking about certain topics, but regardless, my mom being Hispanic still made her be somewhat conservative. There were sex ed topics that she would go on and on about, but then would end the conversation with “pero no andes haciendo esas cosas” (but don’t go doing those things) or “pero tu esperate” (but you wait).
What do you want teens right now to know?
I want teens to know that it is important to talk about how your body works, contraception, and consent. I want teens to know that relationships don’t need to be romantic and can be good and healthy. I want every individual to know the importance of what consent is. I feel like it is the base and key of sex education.
What could have been offered to you as a teen to make you feel more supported in making decisions about sex and relationships?
I would have wanted to be given more information in learning the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive relationship. Growing up, I was educated about relationships based on the movies and day-to-day things I would see, but I was never taught to watch out for red flags or what a healthy sexual relationship is. Due to the lack of knowledge regarding healthy relationships, I ended up being in relationships that I could have avoided if I was given the correct information.
It is necessary to give teens those resources to understand that there are certain things that should not happen to them, and understand the signs when you’re with someone who makes you feel unsafe. If I had learned this information, I would have made wiser decisions about my body and the relationships I was in.
I would have liked more accurate information about my body. During the time when everyone around me was exploring their sexuality, everybody had crazy ideas on how their body works and not fully understanding how a vagina worked. Many of my friends were having sex but did not know how to pleasure themselves. Looking back now, I definitely wished I had received information as a teen, on how my body worked and how I could enjoy sex myself, rather than focusing on giving pleasure to someone else. I think this is important because when teens go out and explore their sexuality, they miss out on exploring themselves.
Can you share a memory about a person or service who was most helpful to you when you were working through these decisions about sex and relationships?
I remember in high school, I was in the cafeteria with a bunch of my friends and one male friend asked something relating to how orgasms worked. At that time, a female friend expressed with sarcasm, “it must be nice” and we responded with “what do you mean? You can still enjoy sex as much as men do.” This conversation then led to the debate of what is and isn’t a sexual pleasure for people.
We all got on our phones and researched information and shared what we found among us. We were all whispering and hoping no one heard our taboo conversation. That experience with my friends was nice because it showed that we all had each other’s backs on trying to find the best information for ourselves. We were trying to educate ourselves better as a group.
What support do you think was missing that would have been most helpful to you?
I had a lot of support from my friends. One thing that I noticed growing up was the push for abstinence. I remember constantly hearing comments like “you have to wait” “you can’t be doing that” or “don’t have sex with someone on your first date.”
The community I lived in and the high school I attended had that culture that revolved around you not speaking about sex education and if you speak up about it, it would be seen as nasty. Sexual acts were always attached with a negative connotation, it made a lot of people feel super guilty. I wished people would have said, “you know what, this is completely normal” or “the thoughts and feelings of you wanting to learn more about your body is normal.” I lacked reassurance and support of the feelings I had and the experiences I wanted to have.
How do you wish to help others in your community?
Currently, I am trying my best to give teenagers and young adults the resources and information I did not receive when I was a teenager and wished I had. As a campus health educator, I am able to help university students get access to everything related to sex ed, consent, birth control, and STDs. Getting to talk with the community about sex education has been very fulfilling.
The RGV SAFE Project is a project I created to spread awareness on safe dating and helping to put an end to dating and sexual violence by giving out tips to teens and young adults. We also focus on going out in the community and speaking out about legislation or laws that relate to the decisions of our bodies. We organize to fight back because we believe in bodily autonomy.
I have noticed the eagerness of teens and young adults to learn more and educate themselves better. That eagerness is the fuel for us to keep doing what we are doing. We are on the right track to help teens. The audience is there, and they are waiting to hear. I admire this generation that wants to learn more about their body and how to be better partners.