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Not Just Another Film Fest: Sex Ed Hits One Small N.C. Town

Not Just Another Film Fest: Sex Ed Hits One Small N.C. Town

A whole new kind of festival is hitting one small town in February, hoping to accomplish essentially what Robert Redford sought to do with Sundance: "to broaden … minds, engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect" – only, with sex instead.

The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina (APPCNC) is hosting its first-ever "Sex Ed Film Festival" Feb. 19 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Three relevant films handpicked by teens – "Saved," "The Education of Shelby Knox," and "The Gloucester 18" – will precede a platform of panel discussions moderated by teens, with local leaders and experts in the field probing the problems and difficulties impacting the youth today in regards to sex.

"[Sex] can be a tough thing to talk about," stated Elizabeth Finley, director of Strategic Communications at APPCNC. "The media promotes this sort of phenomenon of having one big monstrous scary talk about sex. But in reality what works best is for parents to start young [and] have conversations on an ongoing basis."

One of the more important aspects of the festival lies in the level of communication that will be facilitated between adults and teens themselves.

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"We found that teenagers really like to be involved in discussions about sex education," expressed Finley.

"They don't like the idea that adults are making all of these decisions and just handing it to them. They want to have their voices heard and be a part of the decisions that are made regarding their health, and their future, and their education."

Teens and parents and alike want to be having those conversations, contrary to what the media portrays, but just don't know how to get started.

"We want teenagers to have a stronger relationship with their families, community groups, schools, and churches. We're really about facilitating that into happening," added Finley.

Helping communities prevent adolescent pregnancy through advocacy, collaboration, and education, APPCNC aims to ensure every teen has the combined benefits of effective sexuality education, family and community support, and healthcare needed to avoid pregnancy and become a healthy adult.

"The big thing is to talk to a broader range of teenagers and parents about sex education, about what's been shown to be successful, about the difference between what they see portrayed on T.V. and movies in regards to teen pregnancy and teenagers having sex, and the reality of those issues," stated Finley.

North Carolina has the fourteenth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, according to APPCNC. Last year, 56 of every 1,000 teen girls, ages 15 to 19, became pregnant. Nearly 70 percent of the state's high school seniors have had sex and fewer than half of those students used a condom the last time they had intercourse.

Nationwide, teen pregnancy rates have dropped to their record lowest in the U.S., according to the National Center for Health Statistics, with the birth rate among girls aged 15 to 19 at 39.1 births per 1,000 teens – a six percent drop from 2008. But the U.S. still holds the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world.

Approaching all of its work from a public health perspective, the APPCNC looks at the most recent research and implements sex education programs that have proven to be most effective in curbing the rate of teen pregnancies.

Current evidence shows that comprehensive programs are reaching a broader range of teens. However, Finley noted that "abstinence-until-ready" programs are reporting increasingly good results.

"We'll support those [abstinence-only programs] as long as there's evidence behind them," said Finley.

And there has been increasing evidence that abstinence programs work.

The American Medical Association published last year the results of a landmark study, conducted by University of Pennsylvania professor John Jemmott III. The study found abstinence-only education to be more effective than any other form of sex education.

More than 600 African-American students from four public middle schools that serve low-income communities in a city in Northeastern United States were involved in the study. It found that only about a third of sixth- and seventh-grade students who completed the abstinence-only program had sex within the next two years. Meanwhile, nearly half of the students who took other sex education classes, including those that incorporated information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active within the same period.

With ongoing debates on effective sex education, Finley, nevertheless, commented, "Good sex education doesn't hand people values. It asks them to think about the values they've learned at church, at home, in their communities, and then put those values into practice."

The one-day film festival is being sponsored by Advocates for Youth, A/V Geeks and Teen Health Now. It will take place at the Varsity Theater, with tickets priced at $15 for adults, and $10 for students.

Following the festival, APPCNC will be holding a daylong training the next day for youth, parents, and youth-serving professionals to help them prepare for APPCNC's annual Adolescent Health Advocacy Day – where teens will speak to their legislators and talk about the policies that affect them on a broad range of health issues – and to help them at the local level.

"We are really hoping to use the event as a way to inspire young people and their parents to get involved in advocating for effective education and access to sexual health services," said Finley to Time magazine. "We think youth can be some of our strongest advocates for those things, and that the film festival is a great way to educate them and inspire them to act."

APPCNC is hoping "to inspire would-be activists more than at-risk teen moms" through the upcoming film festival, according to Time.

"It's important to have teenagers involved in communicating with their legislators, just like it is for them to communicate with their parents, schools, [and] church leaders," Finley said.

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