New Federal Grant Boosts Sexual Health Education for Youth

Thursday, January 09, 2020

While the rate of teenage pregnancy is declining in Minnesota, the 2019 Minnesota Adolescent Sexual Health Report by the University of Minnesota shows higher rates of sexually transmitted infections in the state.

A $950,000 federal grant over three years from the Family and Youth Services Bureau aims to reduce those numbers and help youth delay pregnancy by empowering them with skills and knowledge through a sexual health and pregnancy prevention program called Seeing and Exploring Life’s Future (SELF), offered by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS).  

“The best thing LSS SELF does for our students is clearing up all the misinformation they have,” said John Kolnik, a health teacher at Community School of Excellence in Saint Paul. “It is clear from the questions they have that there is a lot of misinformation out there, whether it comes from media, older relatives or rumors from other peers. This class allows them to ask questions about anything, and receive truthful answers.”

Since 1985, LSS SELF has offered sexual health education for Metro Area youth that promotes healthy sexuality, good decision-making and positive relationships. The SELF program covers areas such as body autonomy, pregnancy prevention, consent, boundaries, safety and self-advocacy. Most recently, SELF offered a customized a sexual health and safety curriculum for youth with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Gigi’s Playhouse and the Down Syndrome Association are now multi-year partners, and the demand for these services continues to grow, resulting in growing partnerships with Autism Society of Minnesota and other disabilities-focused groups.

With this funding, SELF will hire additional educators to reach a greater number of youth, establish new youth groups and strengthen existing groups — in schools and in the community. There is no cost to participants.

Beyond schools, SELF educators said that the curriculum can also be customized to serve parents and caregivers, churches, youth groups, nonprofits and other community organizations.

“We know that sexuality is a topic that comes with a lot of different perspectives based on culture, values, worldview, and personal experiences,” said Heather Kamia, program director. “We want to honor the uniqueness of those experiences. The SELF team meets with community leaders to learn about their questions, concerns and important considerations so we can provide education that will make the most impact.”