Let’s Talk about Sex: Experiences with Sexual Health Education Abroad

UConn public health Ph.D student and graduate assistant in the Health Education office Paola Chanes shared her experiences in Haiti, Uganda and Kenya to students in the Rainbow Center Thursday afternoon.

Her presentation called “Let’s Talk about Sex: Experiences with Sexual Health Education Abroad” was part of the Rainbow Center’s Out to Lunch Lecture series.

“Sex education isn’t something that’s just about abstinence or reproduction,” Chanes said. “It’s about how it can affect and is affected by relationships, your own body image, pleasure and several other areas.”

Mentioning the idea of internationally based Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC), Chanes said that it was crucial to give them special attention and cater to their needs in terms of educating them about sex. She talked about “At Risk Adults” who according to her were more likely to be vulnerable in a low socioeconomic status and be impoverished in some way.

The discussion quickly moved to a topic of general health and the factors that lead people to either be positively or negatively affected by their own health. Mentioning previous aspects of sex education, Chanes told lecture attendees that other social determinants often make it difficult to work with people.

“In Uganda, sex workers are most certainly at risk because of their lower state of education and class,” Chanes said, while also stating that substance abusers and other social determinants of health can influence how someone can be at risk for sexually transmitted diseases. As a social worker, Chanes also noticed that the size and quality of hospitals in Haiti, as well as the lack of public roads, were clear factors in how people were treated.

Money and resources can influence the power of people and their ability to stay healthy. Having worked in Haiti for five years, Chanes said the experiences seeing the aftermath of events like the earthquake in 2010 went beyond even the casualties she saw. For example, children left as part of OVC ended up being forced to work as domestic servants, where they were often sexually abused as part of the “Restavek” slavery within the country.

That’s why it’s important to understand not only cultural context, but also to emphasize providing those in danger to access for sexual health and education, Chanes said. She also said she would be working with children and adults this year in Haiti and educating them about sexual health.

“People don’t realize that sexual education does not mean that people will be more active when their younger,” Chanes said. “If anything, giving them the knowledge they need will help people be more aware.”

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