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If you send your middle schooler to the YWCA’s Summer of Sex Ed program next month, be forewarned: they may return home with some pointed questions, making you question your own sexual health literacy.
The YWCA’s Summer of Sex Ed is a weeklong afternoon summer camp, from 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 8-12 at the Evanston/NorthShore YWCA, 1215 Church St. It is the program’s second year providing comprehensive sex education in a summer session, with all content taught at an age-appropriate level.
“This was designed with the knowledge of what students in [and] around the Evanston area are receiving with sex ed,” said Hallie Cohen, Training and Prevention Coordinator at the YWCA and creator of the summer program. “It’s another great opportunity to continue socialization… practicing those skills of having uncomfortable conversations or being respectful around sensitive topics.”
Summer of Sex Ed uses the National Sex Education Standards to guide the information and skills taught in the program. Last October, Illinois legislators voted to amend the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code to include a mandate that educators use these national standards for sex education in all Illinois curriculum.
The seven topics covered are consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health and interpersonal violence.
Cohen said that sexual health education will include teachings on understanding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and transmission, birth control and contraceptive methods. Additionally, the anatomy section will discuss developments during puberty to help students feel prepared for the changes their bodies undergo.
“We’re going to be practicing skills like assessing credible information, being respectful and practicing using people’s correct pronouns, and thinking about how to show support for people who are working around their identity,” Cohen said.
The program’s educator
Cohen can be considered Evanston’s own youth health sex education coordinator extraordinaire.
“I’ve been both facilitating comprehensive sex ed programs in partnership with schools and creating community-based programs like the summer of sex ed,” she said.
Cohen works with District 65 to help the district assess its sex-ed curriculum and ensure it is inclusive, culturally responsive and up to date. She also trains Evanston teachers and faculty to feel more comfortable with the work so they can present it confidently.
The educator said she is excited to give a more useful and accurate education compared to the sexual education she received – which was classified as comprehensive at the time.
“For example,” Cohen said, “with STIs, the way they were taught to me and my high school Sex Ed was I saw slideshows of untreated syphilis and herpes and really, really bad symptoms, which is not realistic. For most STI, the most common symptom is no symptoms. And they’re all either curable or treatable.”
It’s about normalizing sex
Cohen provided surveys to middle and high school participants of her comprehensive Sex Ed programs. Most respond they are grateful she helps students be comfortable discussing sensitive and potentially awkward topics.
In short, she doesn’t make awkward topics “more awkward,” which is the program’s goal – to help facilitate comfortable conversations concerning sexual health and adjacent topics.
“[Students] may be a little bit quiet, a little bit afraid to speak out or share their thoughts or opinions,” Cohen said. “I’m going to model comfort and openness around these sensitive topics and help them realize that these are such important aspects of our whole selves, lives and identities.”
Register for the YWCA’s Summer of Sex Ed here.