Student-made Film Argues for Sex Ed in Boston Public Schools
"Our video and our campaign isn't pro-sex, it's pro-sex ed," said one organizer. The film debuts this afternoon at the Connolly Branch library.
Sex in the School is a student film made by area high schoolers. It asks "Does ignorance of sexuality keep teens safe?"
The answer, according to the film, is a resounding no. The film's thesis is that rising rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are a direct effect of the lack of sexual education programs.
"We saw that there was no sex ed implemented in the Boston Public school system, and the little that kids were getting wasn't to the same caliber as the one we were giving our people who we teach workshops to," said Merilin Castillo, a junior at Milton Academy, who is a member of the Health Careers Ambassadors Program.
Castillo also helps teach a comprehensive sex ed program at South JP Health Center. In addition to basic sex ed, the program offers information on healthy relationships and dispels some myths about condoms.
A professionally-made video project couldn't really come together without some adult help. The Hyde Square Task Force is a non-profit youth development organization. The teen minds behind the video found support and the tools to put their project together with help from Task Force staff. To that end, the teens hired a local video company, Intercultural Productions, to help with the technical aspects of the film.
"This video was totally made by the teen girls," said Katie Kelly-Hankin, who coordinates the ambassadors program. "We [HSTF] say 'we have the organizing tools, what's important to you, what do you want to do?' And that's where we stop talking, and they start talking."
The video kicks off a campaign with a list of demands for sex ed programs in schools. For example, the group requests that condoms be made available to students through school nurses. The teens feel this will be beneficial, despite their ready availability at drug stores.
Castillo explained, "Well, first of all, in CVS, they have them behind a bin and it's locked. So you have to go through the shameful process of asking someone if I can please have a condom. If there are people around, if there's anyone that you know around, it's very awkward to have to be like 'hey, can you open this so I can buy a condom?'"
"When things are hard to get, it's easier just to not get them," said teen Samantha Brea. "That's how teenagers sort of look at it. Like, if it's going to be going through that shameful process, then I might as well not use it."
Brea, a senior at Snowden International High School and part of the Youth Community Organizers group said they have a City Council hearing slated for "some time in January."
While calling for more robust sex ed, the film presents abstinence as an equally viable option to sex. One scene notes that it is the only 100 percent guarantee to prevent chlamydia, and it follows that all STIs cannot be transmitted without sex.
"We're not forcing them to take a condom, it's just there if you need it. You're not going to come to school and be thrown a condom in your face," Brea said.
The video never once confuses sex ed with teen sex, making sure to separate the two concepts out. While one is a choice, the former — they feel — shouldn't be. Sex is always a touchy subject. The producers of Sex in the School seek to handle it maturely and with an appropriate sense of humor.
"We're also not saying 'have sex.' Our video and our campaign isn't pro-sex, it's pro-sex ed," Castillo said. "Just being educated, so that if you choose to make the decision, at least you're making right decisions. It might be that you don't choose, to, and that's fine."
Even before its premier, Sex in the School received criticism from a local website, which cast doubt on the idea that teens could make such a film on their own.
Kelly-Hankin commented that she was "most incensed by the suggestion, the implication that our youth don't think for themselves. I found that really offensive... There's all this skepticism about what youth are capable of. If they're doing something really big and exciting, it must be an adult pulling the strings behind the curtains somewhere."
The film premiers at the Connolly Branch Library today at 4PM. City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, a supporter of the project, plans to attend as part of a panel following the film.