Loving Youth Unconditionally

By Ena Suseth Valladares- CLRJ Director of Research 

Where is the love for our youth?

Today whether we partake in the love festivities or not, let us all reflect upon what it would mean to show true love for all our youth – particularly when it comes to supporting and respecting their sexuality.

Youth sexuality is not a crisis or a problem – the problem lies with adults who are uncomfortable with the idea that young people engage in partnered sexual activities and as a result of this, create systems that hinder youth’s healthy sexual development.  Whatever our perspectives may be on what young people should or should not be doing sexually, does not alter the fact that they are engaging in sexual activities and as such, we should be helping them understand themselves as sexual beings and assist them in making informed choices that allow them to have control over their sexuality.  It is unjust and counterproductive to deny youth the sexual and reproductive health information and resources they need and value, because of our inability to deal with their sexual development and our own sexual insecurities.

Let’s be real – many of us engaged in our first sexual activity as adolescents – and we certainly did not abstain from sex until we got married (if that option was even available to us).  Yet, we seem to unrealistically expect our youth to smother their natural curiosity about their sexuality.

For Latin@ youth in particular, efforts to address sexuality focus specifically on preventing Latinas from “bad” decision- making (aka: pregnancy).  By solely focusing on the choices that led to the pregnancy, without taking into consideration the external factors that may be leading to these choices, we fail to recognize that parenting for many Latin@ youth is one of the few possibilities available to them.  It is extremely shortsighted to tell our youth that poverty and/or limited educational attainment could be avoided by delaying teen sex or parenthood given that many Latin@s live in poverty prior to their pregnancies or becoming a parent.  Furthermore, access to higher education and the subsequent opportunities that result from attending college are very limited for many Latin@s who live in neighborhoods where the quality of K-12 education is subpar due to under-resourced districts.  By addressing youth sexuality from this perspective, our policies will turn attention to the multiple realities that surround youth’s lives, such as poverty, lack of quality education, lack of access to comprehensive sexual health education, lack of access to health care, punitive immigration policies, the school to prison pipeline, amongst other issues, as the primary indicators of negative health, educational and economic outcomes rather than individual behavior – thus resulting in resources needed to pursue dreams that are attainable and realistic.

Furthermore, focusing on pregnancy prevention alone, also paints a hetero-normative and hetero-sexist picture of Latin@ youth sexuality that excludes the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth.

Once we start showing more love for our youth, social norms will expand to include youth sexuality and their health needs from a perspective that acknowledges ALL young people’s rights to education, access, autonomy and opportunities  – whether they are sexually active or abstinent, young parents or not, or LGBTQQ.  Acknowledging that youth sexuality is a normal part of development and that some youth will become sexually active as adolescents compels us to think beyond preventing pregnancy.  As a result, we can finally focus on fostering a healthy sexuality through comprehensive sex education that includes exploration of sexual and gender identity, sexual orientation, healthy relationships, and provides meaningful pathways to delay parenthood for ALL youth.

As a reproductive justice organization, CLRJ recognizes that as a society we cannot truly love and value our youth if we continue to discuss their sexual and reproductive health in this current myopic manner. In the words of bell hooks, without justice there can be no love.  I invite you all to show more love for our youth and achieve the justice they greatly need and deserve.