Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My full name is Cindy Ximena Ruiz Zamudio, but I go by Ximena. My pronouns are she/they and I am 20 years old. I am a freshman at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) and I am a Criminal Justice major with a minor in Theater. I was born in Harlingen, Texas, but currently live in Edinburg, Texas. I also spent some of my life living in Mexico. I currently work at a Boys and Girls Club and work with young teens in an after school program.
What is your experience with sex education in Texas?
I attended middle school in Texas, and I received very little sex education. I don’t remember a lot of what they taught us. For example, I remember they taught us the parts of the body, but it was not very detailed. I also remember they taught us how intercourse was supposed to happen, but the teacher encouraged abstinence.
I then attended high school in Mexico, where I did receive a lot more sex education. They went into detail and made us do presentations about certain topics. They showed us what condoms were and everything related to STDs. The problem was that all the information related to that was really basic.
When I came back to the United States, in the university I am attending, I learned even more information that I had missed out in middle school and high school. I attended sex education events and organization meetings that taught me more.
I learned that STDs in Mexico have really bad stigma. If you had an STD, you were always seen as a slut or promiscuous. When I later learned more accurate information about STDs in university, that changed my perspective.
Some clubs I joined in university that taught me the sex education I was missing was Access for Sex-Education and Intersectional Feminist Student Organization. Access for Sex-Education is a club that is in collaboration with Access Esperanza Clinics, and they talk a lot about relationships, STDs, birth control, emergency contraception, and things related to mental health and sex.
Intersectional Feminist Student Organization also taught me about reproductive rights and how to advocate more on feminist topics.
What do you want teens right now to know?
I would like for them to know two things. One of them is that birth control is different for everybody. So maybe my body likes the pill, but it may not be okay with other hormonal birth control such as the IUD.
The second thing I would like for them to know is that boys need to learn more about menstrual cycles, periods and anatomy. Boys tend to know a lot about their own body, but not about the girls. Boys tend to be split up when they talk about periods in school, but I think it is equally important for them to learn about periods. It can help everyone grow up, because a lot of boys get grossed out about periods, but periods are normal and natural.
A lot of people who get their menstrual cycles should also become more aware about their body. There are a lot of misconceptions about the woman’s body. I have heard people express they do not know their body parts. Teens should not be ashamed to want to learn more about their body.
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 liked if the person who was doing a sex education presentation when I was younger would have been more inviting and did not have a prejudice. I would have liked it if I was given the choice by them saying “it is okay if you do not want to learn about this right now.” Sometimes it can be hard for some people to hear about certain topics, not everyone is ready to learn about these topics.
I do think getting comfortable with the sexual health educator is a big factor why teens do not learn about sex education. People feel ashamed, scared, or uncomfortable with the presenters. Not only that, but people who come from really religious backgrounds tend to feel more ashamed or scared to learn about sex education.
What are some suggestions you would want sexual health educators to know?
One suggestion is to take the teens to a safe space where they feel like they can talk about these topics, in case they do not want to talk about this loudly because there are still a lot of stigmas.
Second, talk to teens with the truth. Try to educate them, and tell them that sex or periods are normal and things we shouldn’t feel ashamed about.
Third, I would also recommend giving or showing teens where they can receive things such as menstrual products, condoms or informational packets without them needing to ask for your permission.
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?
Melissa, my health educator from high school taught us about STDs and how effective contraceptives are. She did not share all the information, but she gave me a lot of the information that I missed in middle school. She also was transparent about STDs and showed us images and taught us the side effects of STDs. Those presentations helped me to know how STDs looked, because if I had looked them up myself, I would have traumatized myself.
The second person that helped me learn more was Ivania from the UTRGV Access for Sex Education club. She brings informational papers, condoms, lubricants and other things we might need and always says “take some for yourself or if it’s not for you, your friend might need them.” She always encourages us to take care of ourselves. She also always reminds us that every meeting is a safe space, and we should not feel ashamed about what we do because it is our sexuality, it’s our body, it’s our choice.
How do you wish to help others in your community?
I wish to talk more about these sexual health topics. People tend to not attend events that relate to these topics because of the stigma, so I hope to spread more awareness or have a safe space where these conversations can happen.