Sex Education, Young People & Self-Determination

We, as Native Peoples, do not have forums to talk about sex, sexuality, healthy relationships and reproductive justice issues, because these topics are taboo in most Native communities.

Before law school, I was a sexual health educator at Window Rock High School in the Navajo Nation. After becoming a sexual health educator, the most surprising thing to me was the influx of questions I received from my friends and family about sex. I would tell my friends about the lessons I went over with my students and the questions the students would ask. My students asked questions like – Can I get a disease by licking a vagina?In what ways do STIs damage your health?How many types of birth control are there?. My friends were so intrigued by the questions my students would ask and eagerly wanted to know the answers I gave my students.

So, was created to help Native Peoples begin forming conversations around sex, contraceptives, birth control, STIs, HIV/AIDS, healthy relationships, dating, love, and reproductive justice. Since the inaugural Miss Nikke post, a recurring question I’ve received on is – Why is there a need for sex education in Indian Country? Since I am Diné, I can only speak about my experience with Diné communities since that is where I am from, and it’s where I have worked. Nevertheless, as statistics show, many other Native communities are similar.

The program I worked with was started to combat teen pregnancy. Not only is the Navajo Nation combating teen pregnancies but child pregnancies as well. Yes, I said child pregnancies! Young Diné girls are getting pregnant as early as 10. When you think about childbearing in a historical and traditional perspective, young Diné women began bearing children at a young age, and it wasn’t looked down upon. Bearing children and providing for children was a means of survival, and Diné men had the responsibility of providing for his family or families. Traditionally, men and woman had a firm understanding of their roles. Young men and women received their “sex education” during puberty ceremonies where the families talked with young people about relationships, their changing bodies, and what their new roles of being an adult entailed.

Today, however, many young Diné do not participate in puberty ceremonies, and the puberty ceremony for Diné men has slowly disappeared. The dwindling of puberty ceremonies could be a reason for the high teen and child pregnancy rates. I, also, believe there are many other factors like taboos against talking about sex and sexuality. Many schools in Navajo attempt to integrate sex education, but parents, families and communities oppose it. This opposition leaves many students uneducated about their bodies and reproductive systems which leaves young people unable to make healthy and sound decisions for themselves.

The taboos against talking about sex and the lack of sex education in Navajo could be a factor in the rise of STIs like HIV/AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea. In the past decade, there has been a sudden increase of STIs in Navajo. HIV has risen by over 400 percent in the past 13 years. This sudden increase is troubling. Many Diné are not receiving adequate and thorough sex education which should include communication skills, decision-making, and goal-making. Decision-making is a crucial skill that is missing in schools. The use of alcohol and drugs increases risky behavior which leads a person to have multiple partners and/or unprotected sex. This risky behavior could lessen if youth development programs that include sex education are implemented into Navajo schools. Young Diné and young Natives should be given the opportunity to learn about their bodies, reproductive systems and life skills, so they can exercise self-determination to decide what is best for them.

♥ Miss Nikke