FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
So, what if you're someone who gives the talk to other teens? That's what 17-year-old Jacquelyn Richards does. She recently graduated from high school in Long Island, New York, and has been a peer educator with Planned Parenthood for the past two years. Jacquelyn, welcome to the show.
Ms. JACQUELYN RICHARDS (Peer Educator, Planned Parenthood): Hi. How are you?
CHIDEYA: I'm great. So, you were hearing about Dr. Maxwell and her approach to sex and sexuality in the discussion between parents and kids. How do you think that conversation changes when you're talking about teen to teen?
Ms. RICHARDS: Well, I think it's much better teen to teen because most of the teenagers, they kind of don't listen to their parents or adults. They think they don't know what they're talking about. And when you hear it from your friend or peer, they kind of take it more seriously. They're like, oh, I didn't know that. You know, and they believe it more.
CHIDEYA: Give me an example of a conversation - well, first of all, tell us what it means to do peer education. What kind of, you know, a space are you in? How many people are you talking to? Just give us a visual for that.
Ms. RICHARDS: Well, a teen advocate is basically a teenager's resource. We help teens who have questions or concerns regarding sex, sexuality, dating relationships, dating violence and so on. And I kind of speak to roughly about three to four teenagers a day, and I'm constantly giving advice. We reach out to teens in our classrooms, community centers, MySpace, Facebook. We do everything from performing skits to community outreach to talking one-on-one with the teens. And because we care so much and our only concern is keeping teens healthy and safe, we advocate. Once a year we go up to Albany and lobby to legislators to pass the Healthy Teens Act,which is a piece of legislation that provides resources for schools to - that give comprehensive sex education.
CHIDEYA: We talked a little bit with Dr. Maxwell about how sex ed is controversial in many neighborhoods, many communities, many government districts. Do you find that it is - you know, New York is not exactly known for being prudish but at the same time, do you face opposition when it comes to doing things like lobbying around an issue like this?
Ms. RICHARDS: I do. I recently just graduated from high school. And the high school I graduated from, we had to take a theology class, and a film that we were watching in theology dealt with some sexual content. And the film - the lady in the film had said, my husband likes to see me pregnant, and he would poke holes in my diaphragm. And every lady, every female in that classroom raised their hand asking, you know, what's a diaphragm. Now, knowing that they - most of them were sexually active, I believe that they should know what a diaphragm was. And I wasn't allowed to say what a diaphragm was because it was a theology classroom and you know, saying something about sex or anything involving the sexual act is against the religion.
CHIDEYA: So, that's a clear case where your mission came up against other people's rules?
Ms. RICHARDS: Yes.
CHIDEYA: Has - how often does that happen?
Ms. RICHARDS: In my school, it happens a lot, but it's same in public schools. I used to go to my - Uniondale High School, where I live in Uniondale, but I attended private school also, where it wasn't any different. Yes, they spoke about HIV and how it's transmitted, but they did not speak about how you can prevent it from happening.
CHIDEYA: So, what do you think needs to happen? I mean, there's unfortunately teens and people in their 20s are one of the fast-growing groups of people who get HIV and this is, you know, 25 years after we started knowing about AIDS and HIV. What do you think will make a difference in terms of reaching people who may think, well, that's something that happened back then. I don't have to deal with it in my generation.
Ms. RICHARDS: I think we just need the education. We need our parents to be open and honest. I mean, it worked for me and my mother. She was very open with me, and I know I hear a lot of parents say, well, if I teach my kid about sex or whatever that, you know, pertains to, they're going to go out and do it. And I'm one of those kids that, yes, I was spoken to about sex education and actually worked with Planned Parenthood where I was trained for the information to teach other kids about it. And I still abstain from sex. I still am a virgin, and I'm very proud to say that. We just need the education.
CHIDEYA: Why are you a virgin?
Ms. RICHARDS: Why am I a virgin?
CHIDEYA: It's a - the question I knew would - might throw you, but it, you know, I assume that it's a conscious decision.
Ms. RICHARDS: It is.
CHIDEYA: Why are you still a virgin?
Ms. RICHARDS: I would have to say from all the things that I've learned, all the statistics that are out there. I mean, Uniondale is one of the most at-risk communities in Nassau County, and that scares me. And I'm not going to put myself out there and take that risk, especially if I know the kids who are sexually active are not being careful and taking that contraception that they, you know, are supposed to take.
CHIDEYA: We just heard a statistic that about half of high school kids have had sex. That means about half haven't.
Ms. RICHARDS: Yes.
CHIDEYA: What do you think is the difference in terms of people who make that choice? And do you view people who have gone and had it ahead and had sex as making a bad choice?
Ms. RICHARDS: I don't think someone who has had sex in high school is making a bad decision or they're a bad person or anything. I mean, there are so many reasons that I hear, oh well, it was just in the moment or you know, things happen, or you know, it was at a party, everyone's doing it. I mean, I hear that a lot, almost every single day, and I can understand that. But all I always say is, you know, if you're going to be, you know, mature enough to go in and have that sexual act and do it and, you know, you should be able to go to a store and buy the condoms that you need. I mean, males don't always have to carry the condoms, females can carry it also.
CHIDEYA: So, it sounds like responsibility is really what you're talking about.
Ms. RICHARDS: Yes.
CHIDEYA: Well, Jacquelyn, thank you so much.
Ms. RICHARDS: Thank you so much.
CHIDEYA: Jacquelyn Richards is a peer educator with Planned Parenthood. She recently graduated from high school in Long Island, New York, and will head off to the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York this August. Jacquelyn joined us from WRHU on the campus Hofstra University in Hampstead, New York. And next on News & Notes, the Associated Press versus the blogosphere. It's an epic fight between new media and old media. And we get the lowdown on the down low in the music and entertainment business.
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