Why Are We Needed?
There is no mandatory sex education in the Israeli school system and the level of awareness in the area of sexual and reproductive health in Israel is shockingly low. Parents and teachers often feel ill-equipped and uncomfortable discussing sexual topics, creating a void for teens in need of accurate information and guidance from adults they can trust. As such, many young people turn to unreliable, often dangerously skewed information from peers and the internet, and there is limited familiarity with principles of healthy sexuality such as gender equality, consent, healthy relationships, mutual respect and identifying dangerous situations, as well as sexual health issues such as the use of contraceptives and STIs. This can cause a sense of disempowerment with regards to sexuality, especially among teen girls and young women, as well as feelings of shame, guilt and an absence of choice that negatively impacts their self-image and wellbeing.
For those growing up in conservative communities, especially teen girls and young women, there is even less information and a higher chance of engaging in at-risk sexual behavior if they “rebel” and become sexually active. The culture of patriarchy and the social-cultural taboo against discussing sexual issues that typifies conservative communities leaves young people without basic knowledge, even of their own anatomy. For teens growing up in difficult home environments, the situation is compounded by insufficient parental support and supervision that can lead to a distressing level of at-risk sexual behavior. As a result, sexually active young women from conservative communities or broken homes are at higher risk of unplanned pregnancy, STIs and abusive relationships.
For teenagers, the pandemic years were extremely detrimental to their mental health, social development and for some, their safety, particularly during periods of isolation in which all educational and social activities were cancelled or moved online. Long days with little to do and even less supervision meant that many teens spent an excessive amount of time online, exposed to harmful online content such as pornography. At the peak of teenage sexual and emotional development, exposure to explicit, unrealistic sexual content warps perceptions of sexuality and can lead to dangerous behavior such as online or offline sexual harassment and even violence.
What Do We Do?
Lada’at facilitates workshops on healthy sexuality and sexual and reproductive health to schools for students, educational and psychosocial school staff, and parents. We work in 30 Jerusalem schools, including educational frameworks for youth-at-risk, currently with an average of 20 workshops per school each year, with each student attending 2–3 workshop sessions. The workshops provide teens with reliable information and tools for making healthy decisions about relationships and sexuality that are based on consent, equality and mutual respect, while encouraging them to think critically about gender norms, pornography and body image in media. Lada’at workshops, usually held separately for boys and girls, initiate a conversation with teens about their bodies at a pivotal time in their lives, when many are taking their first steps in sexual relationships, helping them learn to respect their intuition and bodies, make the decisions that are best for them and safeguard their sexual health by providing information on pregnancy, contraception and STIs.
Lada’at also reaches students indirectly by engaging their teachers and guidance counselors with the purpose of scaling up our impact by training those who are present in the daily lives of their students to provide the guidance they need. We do this by deepening their understanding of the physiological and emotional changes the students are undergoing with regard to sexual development and sexuality, as well as the challenges they face. We have learned from experience that educators often feel ill-equipped and uncomfortable in dealing with these issues, thus inadvertently creating a void for teens in need of guidance from adults they trust. The workshops focus on the educators themselves and their own approaches to discussing sexuality and relationships, while teaching methodologies for education on healthy sexuality, encouraging the use of sensitive and unbiased language, and providing tools for aiding teens in crisis.
Looking at sex education for a broad perspective, we believe that providing in-depth training for select educational professionals – ambassadors – has the potential to begin to ferment the systemic change of which we dream via a bottom-up approach in which the teachers and guidance counselors themselves serve as agents of change, school by school, until the school-based sex education model is adopted in the Jerusalem school system.
Interested in bringing Lada’at workshops to a school near you? Please feel free to contact us.