REAL STORIES

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    Ava | She/Her | 17 | Tiverton

    When I entered my sophomore year of high school, I was excited to finally be receiving “sex ed”. That may sound like a weird thing to be excited about, but I was curious to see how my teacher would approach such a vast world of information in just a few weeks.

    All we had time for was basic anatomy, an awkward YouTube series about the journey of sperm, a super-beginner lesson on gender, and some cringeworthy photos of STIs. In summary, it barely scraped the surface.

    I already thought sophomore year to be far too late for an introduction to sexual and reproductive health; I knew peers who were already having sexual encounters in middle school. I discovered I was queer in fifth grade and came out to my parents in sixth, but I too had been curious about sexuality since I first had access to the internet. That’s how I realized the importance of having accessible, accurate, and appropriate S&R health resources, especially for youth.

    When we aren’t provided with the right info at the right time, there’s plenty of room for danger… whether that be stumbling upon a sketchy website, developing hateful ideas about yourself or others, or not knowing how to protect yourself from unwanted experiences.
    In a time where imperative education seems to be weaponized by “leaders” who don’t represent the youth, access to such information must be advocated for and protected. That is why I am honored to have taken part in the development of this vital, expansive resource along with many other powerful members of Gen Z.

    Education provides kids with the ability to be their most healthy, authentic, and empowered selves– we must do all we can to preserve it.

    Jeselin | She/Her | 17 | Cranston

    Bringing up the word “sex” always scared me before I started working with Planned Parenthood. It’s not like I couldn’t fathom the thought or was against it. But every scenario I had ever encountered regarding the subject ended in something bad happening. Like movies and tv shows. They portray sex as the formula to tragedy, and if not imaginary characters, how about real ones.

    My mother is now 36 years old, she has three kids ages 19, 17, & 11. She works and attends college full time. My mother, like me, is living for the first time. During her teenage years was when she began experiencing sexual interactions, it wasn’t long after till she discovered she was pregnant with my brother. Soon after was me, and not much later my youngest brother.

    My mother always reminds us that no matter what we will always be her greatest blessings. But it’s hard to imagine what her life would have looked like if we never existed.

    Motherhood is a challenging journey no matter your age, race, ethnicity, or background. So you can imagine everything my mom went through raising me and my brothers. And I do. My mother has told me on two occasions that she doesn’t tell me everything that she went through growing up. Once was after an argument we had that led to me storming out of the house and going to spend a few days to live with my grandmother. And the second was during an argument that we had that again led me to leaving the house to go live with my grandmother.

    Now I have to admit I see a lot of what my mom goes through as her daughter. You see things growing up, some of which you can’t unsee. So it took a while for me to accept that there was even more, more trauma and abuse that she had to fight alone that I didn’t know about.

    To me all this tracked down to one thing; sex.

    We as people often get to make the choice to engage in sexual activities the older we get and sometimes the people we make these decisions with aren’t who we think they are. And if you’re anything like my mother you are given a tiny little blessing that is not only an extension of yourself but also this person who turns out to be someone you never knew.

    Therefore, sex to me was completely ruined. What if I choose the wrong person, or did something wrong that upset that person, or even worse ended up with a little baby of my own that I had no idea how to protect from this world?

    That was until my sophomore year. I began working with Planned Parenthood during the pandemic. A lot of people say that the Covid-19 pandemic was the worst thing that could have happened to them. Though completely understandable, my situation would lead me to believe the complete opposite. Having time alone with myself was an opportunity to discover who I want to be, and part of who I want to be is someone who is educated and uses that education to help our world.

    Planned Parenthoods S.T.A.R.S Program wasn’t just a place that like minded teens gathered to get honest sexual health education but a place that allowed one to grow as an individual. After my first meeting I immediately felt more comfortable saying words like “sex” and after my first year I felt confident enough to talk to my mom about all sexual health topics, not just teen pregnancy.

    “Sex” as a word has so much meaning and history, most of which for a long time was negative. But once you take the time to properly educate yourself or if you’re anything like me and were presented with a great privilege then all of a sudden that fear and negativity fades.

    Alex | They/Them | 14 | Rhode Island

    My identity had never been set in stone for me. When I was around ten, I had a crush on a girl. My parents had always been very accepting, but I was still worried. I told one of my closest friends, and they were very accepting. This prompted me to tell my mom. Like I thought, she was incredibly accepting. I used the label “bisexual” for myself, but it didn’t feel right. There was something missing.

    In seventh grade, one of my friends came out as non-binary. I was curious about this identity. What did it mean? They described it to me as “You don’t feel like a girl, but you don’t feel exactly like a boy either. You’re in the middle.” This seemed almost familiar to me, like that feeling was inside me this entire time. But I still felt like a girl, right? I started using the pronouns she/they.

    At the beginning of eighth grade, I joined the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) at my school, and became familiar with a new label, “pansexual.” It essentially means that you don’t judge your romantic partners based on looks or gender, you judge based on personality. This resonated with me very strongly. However, the part of that identity that spoke to me the most was the part about not choosing partners based on looks. The part about not choosing partners based on gender made me a bit unsure. Nevertheless, I felt this label was the best fit, so I adopted it.

    During the end of eighth grade, I did a deep dive on Google about identities. I finally discovered that maybe the identity I was searching for was “lesbian” all along. I had only had crushes on girls, never boys. I only thought girls were attractive, never boys. I confided in the same friend I first came out to a few years ago, and they helped me figure out that this was the identity that I was most comfortable with. I still felt like I identified with being pansexual though, and I asked myself the question “Why not both?” I identified with aspects of both, so I adopted both identities, and am very happy with both of them.

    The final puzzle piece of my identity fell into place during summer camp. I introduced myself using she/they pronouns, and I heard someone use ‘they’ not ‘she’. Something just clicked. That was what I was. Not she/they, but they/them. I felt so much more comfortable when people referred to me as a they. Now, I feel as if my identity is set in stone. I feel proud when people see the stickers on my water bottle with the pride flag. I feel comfortable introducing myself as non-binary. I feel as if I can be open about my sexuality to my friends, and they won’t judge me. I am very happy to be in this place.

    Michelle | She/Her | Rhode Island

    School Nurse Teacher
    Member:  Rhode Island Certified School Nurse Association | National Association of School Nurses

    As a nurse for over 40 years, with 20 years working in schools as a certified school nurse teacher, I’ve supported the health care needs of thousands of patients and students. In schools, I’ve tended to kids with asthma, migraines, allergies, head lice, skinned knees, chronic disease management for conditions such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and autoimmune disorders, and a whole host of emotional and behavioral issues that are part and parcel of a school day. All this is done with a lot of coordination with families, teachers, other clinical providers, and even state agencies. The job of school nurse-teachers is varied every day but each of us has a commitment to meeting all students’ health needs, with an understanding of typical growth and development in children and youth.

    Human sexuality is part of normal growth and development, but it is often a sensitive topic. It’s part of RI’s K-12 Health Education curriculum, but many schools only skim the surface of what is needed to be taught. Young people need to be able to get medically accurate sexual and reproductive health information – crucial knowledge that they have a need and right to know to protect themselves from infection and unintended pregnancy. And they should be able to get questions about their bodies and relationships and gender orientation answered accurately and honestly with no judgment.

    They also need knowledge of and access to clinical services, which isn’t equal for all students depending on where they live. Many of Rhode Island’s students live in places that don’t have clinics and appropriate health resources nearby. As a school nurse, I don’t do STI or pregnancy testing, which is outside the scope of my job. But I do want to be sure that any student who comes to me in need of such services is able to find where to go and get the support they need. Accurate and truthful information, not what’s often found on social media platforms, is a win for Rhode Island’s youth and a vision for so many of us who work with our youth every day.

    Caely | She/Her | Providence

    Sexual Health Educator | Sojourner House

    I had recently left the traditional classroom setting before entering my current position where I work with youth and sexual health. With the increasing access to digital information, it was challenging to see how much misinformation continues to spread and be absorbed in harmful ways. This new digital reality is intersecting with a political climate that is limiting access to valid & reliable information. Now more than ever, young people need consistent access to valid information.

    I am continuously surprised about how much students crave information from a “valid” source. Sexual health classes are never dull, and these students want to learn in a safe way. These questions range from the very silly to very serious. Frankly, I wish I had these classes when I was a youth. My own education was very limited to STI education & an enormous focus on preventing pregnancy – void of the realistic scenarios I might find myself in.

    ‌Many traditional classroom teachers feel ill-equipped to deliver this type of instruction. This could be due to personal discomfort, lack of knowledge in the content, or even fear of backlash. A goal of sexual health educators is to alleviate those discomforts and fears, but to primarily deliver important information.

    ‌I see sexual health as such a vital part of anyone’s life. It encompasses identity, love, self-awareness, biology, relationships, and even how we view the world. Without access to information, resources, and understanding I don’t see how a person can reach their fullest potential. EVERY body needs access!

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