Spotlight On: Nora Gelperin

nora gelperin

September 1, 2016

Colorado Youth Matter had a chance to catch up with Nora Gelperin, director of sexuality education and training at Advocates for Youth, on how she got into the field of youth sexual health, what sets Advocates for Youth's "Rights. Respect. Responsibility," or "The 3Rs," sex ed curriculum apart from other curricula, and how she views the current state of youth sexual health.

How did you get into the field of sexuality education?
I have always been fascinated with sexuality. Even in high school my senior project was surveying my classmates on their sexual behaviors and noting that the sex ed we got was not matching our needs. So I always knew I loved learning about, teaching about, and talking about sexuality; I just didn't realize until after college that there was a whole field of people just like me.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Helping people realize that sexuality is a normal, healthy part of being human. Whether it's a teacher who was never taught about anatomy, or a young person who learns that having a lot of sexual desire when growing up is absolutely normal, it's magical to help people understand their bodies, their relationships, and this complex aspect of ourselves called sexuality.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
It’s really challenging to constantly encounter the perception that sexuality education is so controversial, when the reality is we have 30 years of polling data that shows the overwhelming support for these topics. Unfortunately the media sustains that disconnect with salacious headlines and continually wanting to represent "both sides" of sexuality education. There is only one side to sexuality education (which more than 90% of parents want their kids to receive), and that is that young people have a right to sex ed k-12, and as a society we have a responsibility to teach it.

What theories or principles guide the 3Rs model?
The 3Rs Curriculum is evidence-informed and draws on research findings from multiple disciplines, including public health, sociology, biology, psychology, and education. The curriculum provides young people with the information and skills they need at each age and developmental level to grow into sexually healthy adults.

What sets the 3Rs curriculum apart from other curricula available to educators?
It is the only sex education curriculum that maps fully to the National Sexuality Education Standards K-12; it frames sexuality as a positive and healthy part of being human; and it’s available for free online!

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges to youth sexual health and education in the US today, and what strategies do you think will be the most effective in tackling these challenges?
Colorado has been leading the way with incredible decreases in unintended adolescent pregnancy rates, which is terrific, yet at the same time I worry this will mistakenly lead people to believe that adolescent sexual health can be "checked off the to-do list." We know that adolescent sexual health is so much more than the absence of unintended pregnancy, yet our programs and funding tend to focus narrowly on that specific outcome. I think young people themselves, using various social media and activist outlets, are best able to articulate all that they need from parents, caregivers, and professionals to access the information, tools and resources they need to achieve full sexual health and wellness.

What recent advancements in the field of sexual health education make you hopeful for the future of sex ed in the US?
When we hear from more and more groups of youth who are fighting for their right to receive honest, accurate sex ed in schools I feel hopeful for our future. Whether it's in Monroe County in Georgia, Omaha, Nebraska, or Las Vegas, young people are organizing to get rid of failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and advocating to receive medically accurate and complete sex ed. We, as a society, have a responsibility to give young people the information and tools they need to make sexually healthy decisions now and in the future.

Nora Gelperin is the Director of Sexuality Education and Training at Advocates for Youth. Nora is one of the national technical assistance providers on the Working to Institutionalize Sex Ed (WISE) initiative and has more than twenty years of experience providing professional development to school health and education professionals. Nora holds a Masters in School Health Education from Temple University and has been named a 2014 Fellow of the American School Health Association.

For more information on Advocates for Youth or the 3Rs curriculum, check out the Advocates for Youth website here.