There’s a popular meme going around the Internet at the moment that says “2020: Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?” Although this statement is trivial and lighthearted it reflects a deeper issue of our hearts at the moment. With news of social distancing and the spread of COVID-19, we are left wondering what else 2020 will bring. Amidst the uncertainty and potential anxiety that the spread of the virus brings, we want our community to know that Aspire is for them and champions their families.
Our Sexual Risk Avoidance and Relationship Education programming focuses on teaching students about Optimal Health. We believe having healthy students means more than just being physically healthy. Aspire teaches students and our community about being healthy physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and financially, otherwise known as our acronym PIESSF. It is the heart and mission of Aspire to inform our students how to maximize wellness in all of these different areas. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, our communities are becoming more and more aware of our health habits. Aspire seeks to help students make intentional and healthy choices that avoid risk. However, we also seek to come alongside students (and families) needing guidance on sexual health.Today on the blog, we want to educate you on one aspect of our physical health messaging: Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Infections (STIs).
It is especially important to teach our youth how to avoid STDs because there are over 20 million new cases of STDs each year in the U.S. and half of these infections are in our youth ages 15-24 (1). According to the Center for Disease Control, STDs “are diseases that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact” (1). These STDs are contracted by any type of vaginal, anal or oral sex with another person who has an STD (1). One common misconception is that you can only get an STD if you “go all the way” (have anal or vaginal sex) but that is false. There are types of STDs that can be spread by skin-to-skin contact and anyone who is sexually active can contract an STD.
In our classroom, we do an activity that simulates the spread of STDs using water, cups and safe-to-handle chemicals. In this activity, we give everyone a small cup filled with water. What our students don’t know is that we have “infected” two to three cups with a specific element. Our students pour some of their water into another person’s cup and then the other partner shares back. They repeat this exchange of their cup’s contents two more times. At the end of sharing their water (meant to symbolize multiple sexual encounters), we pour another chemical into each cup. Cups that are “infected” then turn a bright pink. It’s amazing to watch students have the “Aha” lightbulb moment as they look around a room with half of the cups infected. This is a great visual to show students how just one or two people who have an STD can spread their STD with sexual encounters.
After this activity, we share with our students that according to the CDC and our Real Essentials Curriculum, “the surest way to protect yourself against STDs is to not have sex. That means not having any vaginal, anal, or oral sex” (1). We teach our students waiting until a committed monogamous relationship like marriage is the best way to avoid contracting an STD.
Because we are aware that some of our students have made the decision to initiate sexual activity and may have already contracted an STI/STD, we are sensitive to where they are as well. It’s important to know that some STDs are symptomless in its early stages (1). If you have any questions or wish to be tested, there are many places in our community that offer confidential and free STD tests, including the Citrus County Florida Department of Health in Lecanto, the Pregnancy and Family Life Center in Inverness and other private physicians across the county. We teach our students the value of starting over and that they are empowered to “shake it up” and create a new picture of their lives.
Just like an STD, COVID-19 is spread through person-to-person contact. The CDC has informed the public that this virus is spread through human encounters. This includes people who are in close contact with another person infected with the virus and through respiratory droplets caused by sneezing or coughing (2). There have been great graphics that show how social isolation can slow the spread of this virus. Just like an STD, it’s important to know that one person who is infected can spread the virus through person-to-person contact.
Here at Aspire, we desire for all of our students, youth and their families to operate in a state of Optimal Health. We acknowledge that during this unprecedented time, worry and anxiety can rise. We hope that the information in this article educates you on the importance of prevention and how to prevent the spread of disease, including STDs and COVID-19. Even though our programs and the schools are cancelled at this moment, we are confident that this cancellation of school does not mean that our mission of equipping students in Citrus County is cancelled. Our team is currently hard at work with creating virtual programming for our students, parents and healthcare partners. As soon as we finalize our virtual content we will share with the community through our website and social media platforms. If you currently don’t follow along, take this opportunity to visit our website at www.aspirerelationshipcenter.org and our instagram at @Aspire352.
Overall, we know that love, relationships and connections are vital to our well-being and health and is something that COVID-19 can’t take away from us. Students and families, let us know how Aspire can help you during this time!