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Andrea Anderson


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POSTED: Friday, May 21, 2010

Andrea Anderson credits her Danish mother for raising her with healthy attitudes about sexuality as part of the human condition, rather than as a taboo subject.

“;My family is first generation from Denmark, so we were raised very openly with those Northern European values, where sex is just part of the everyday discussion. That was sort of an anomaly in the Midwest,”; said Anderson, 41, who moved to Oahu from Michigan in January to become chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Hawaii.

The lack of information available to young people about sexuality and reproduction is putting their health at risk, said Anderson, who encourages families and schools to address the topic.

Anderson, a triathlete who also enjoys yoga and going to the beach, worked for Planned Parenthood in Michigan for seven years before moving here.

She holds a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University, where she also was an adjunct faculty member, training health teachers in sex-ed.

QUESTION: You've talked about how important it is for schools to provide effective sexual health education. What does that look like to you?

ANSWER: Medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive, culturally relevant sexuality education.

Q: And is that available generally in Hawaii's schools?

A: It has not been historically available, no.

Q: Why not?

A: Sexuality education is a topic not many people are comfortable talking about, let alone teaching about. And so it is not one of the benchmarks. School systems tend to err on the side of not requiring it for their students so that they don't get embroiled in any type of controversy.

Q: Could it be provided by the classroom teacher, or does there need to be a special health educator?

A: It can be provided by the classroom teacher responsible for teaching health, but they are required to be trained. ... In Hawaii last July, the Department of Education passed a requirement that if schools choose to teach reproductive and sexual health care that it must be comprehensive.

Q: So, not abstinence-only, in other words?

A: Right, but they have yet to implement that. It does take a while for a system to change.

Q: When you say age-appropriate, what age are we starting?

A: I believe that parents should start talking about body issues as young as 2, 3 and 4. But that doesn't mean that we're talking with 5-year-olds about having sex. A “;sex talk”; can be using the appropriate words for body parts. A “;sex talk”; can be telling a young person that their body is beautiful no matter what. A “;sex talk”; can be talking about healthy relationships. So when people say oh, it's time for “;the talk,”; there actually is no such thing as “;the talk.”; It needs to be a continual progression so that when our young people do enter school and do enter social situations with other students, they're prepped by their family, who need to be the primary educators. It's when the young people have no sense of self, have no sense of their body, have no sense of anatomy, physiology, how things work — and they get into social situations in school systems that are also not teaching them about it — that things like out in Kapolei happen. (On May 10, a 19-year-old woman suffered a third-trimester miscarriage in a restroom at a public park; she told police she did not know she was pregnant.)

Q: May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, so there's been a lot of (news) coverage about that. But I also wanted to talk about STIs (sexually transmitted infections).

A: Disease, yes, an important issue.

Q: How can we do a better job of preventing sexually transmitted infections among young people? According to the CDC, 50 percent of all new STIs each year are among people 15 to 24, even though they account for only one-fourth of the sexually active population.

A: It goes all the way back to us talking to young people about sex. We need to actually talk about how one gets a disease in order to talk about how to prevent getting a disease. But it's that step of how one gets a disease, sexually, that a lot of people don't want to talk about, because then we're talking about things being inserted and partner sex that nobody is really comfortable discussing and what that means. It's very easy for people to say “;just don't have sex”; and then have 12-year-olds look at each other and go, “;What's sex?”; And look at the teacher and go, “;What's sex?”; And the teacher says, “;Just don't have it,”; because that's all they've been trained to say or that's all they're allowed to say or they're not comfortable talking about it either!

We need to do a better job as a society in a non-shameful way talking about sex. It is part of the human condition, after all. We need to treat it as a health imperative and recognize that we are actually endangering the lives of our young people by not giving them every morsel of information we can give them while they're in front of us in a classroom setting.

Q: When parents are included, they are less opposed to sex-ed, right?

A: Yes, absolutely. And it is actually a requirement to let the parents know about it ahead of time. We, Planned Parenthood of Hawaii, present a wonderful comprehensive curriculum called “;Making Proud Choices.”; We're out at Washington Middle School. And we always have a parent night, where prior to even going into the classroom, we invite every parent ... to come look at the curriculum, hear what we're going to talk to the young people about. And the parents always have the option to opt their students out of that class.

Q: You're in just that one school? Are you trying to expand?

A: We are in just the one school for now, but we are trying to expand. The federal government recently released an RFP (request for proposal) for grant applications to help address the teen pregnancy issue in the United States, to lower the teenage pregnancy rate.

The curriculum “;Making Proud Choices”; is on the (federal government's) short list of effective sex-education curriculums. (An outside evaluation found it helped students who were not sexually active delay initiation of sex and helped those who were already sexually active reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce the incidence of unprotected sex and increase condom use.) This is the curriculum that we teach, and we are in the process of applying for that federal funding. Unfortunately it is not on the (Hawaii) Department of Education's approved list at this point.

Q: So even though it's not on the DOE's overall list, you're able to bring it in to schools that request it?

A: Yes. At Washington Middle, we're invited in by the principal and the health teacher to sort of be the equivalent of a guest lecturer, if you will. We're trained in the “;Making Proud Choices”; curriculum by the people who actually developed it and we will go in and teach students, seventh- and eighth-graders, the entire curriculum at no charge to the school. The Department of Education is in the process right now of reviewing their list of (approved) curricula. ... It was just last year that the state passed the law requiring that sex education that is taught in schools be comprehensive and medically accurate, so I think they're in the process of revising their list now.

Q: So this curriculum includes abstinence as an element, but not the sole focus?

A: What I want to be very clear on is that we are very pro-abstinence. We here at Planned Parenthood believe that abstaining from high-risk sexual interaction for anybody, whether they're 16 or 60, is an important part of living a healthy life. ... Young people 12, 13, 14, 15, do not need to be sexually active, do not need to be participating in high-risk sexual behaviors with another human being. We consider abstinence an important part of a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum. We have always said that it is a healthy, appropriate choice for young people to make.