Best Practices for providing Sex Education to Latin@ communities

The Latin@* population has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the United States. Through studies such as, “The Role of Parents and Partners in pregnancy Behaviors of Young Latinas,” it is becoming clear that comprehensive sex education is simply not enough to reduce the number of live births (Gilliam, 2007). This community relies heavily on cultural customs when passing sexuality information form one generation to the next. Unfortunately these cultural values are not based on scientific evidence which leads to young Latin@ receiving mixed messages on many things with in the sexuality spectrum from their families (Biggs, Ralph, Minnis, Arons, Marchi, Lehrer & Brindis, 2010). These high birth rates affect the community in many ways. Research shows that young Latin@ parents have lower educational attainment, lack financial independence with higher rates of poverty (Gilliam, 2007). Not only are these youngsters not receiving the information they need often times their families neglect discussing the topic of sexuality all together (Guilamo-Ramos, Dittus, Jaccard, Goldberg, Casillas & Bouris, 2006). Ultimately, for birth rates to decrease within the Latin@ community there most be sex education programs that are culturally competent for Latin@ youth to begin to benefit from it.

latinaA lot of the studies being conducted currently are trying to bring attention to the ever growing disparity of teen pregnancy in the Latin@ community. Multiple studies show the pattern of mothers educating their daughters through a cultural lens based on religious and traditional Mexican values (Guilamo-Ramos, Dittus, Jaccard, Goldberg, Casillas & Bouris, 2006 & Biggs, Ralph, Minnis, Arons, Marchi, Lehrer & Brindis, 2010). These values state that sexual intercourse outside a marriage is shameful and should be avoided. Mothers would also use “scare tactics” to try and convey the message of avoiding pregnancy. These “scare tactics” would include shaming other girls who had become pregnant by calling them “whores” and discussing how they had brought shame to their family. These studies also found that some mothers did try and talk to their daughters openly about sex and sexuality, but this was the rarest form of information transmission. Some mothers would use their own experiences as an educational tool. They would talk to their daughters about how they had struggled early on in life because of their pregnancies. Another major discovery that came out of these studies is the lack of contraception education. Of the information that Latin@s are receiving, very little of it has to do with contraceptive methods (Biggs, Ralph, Minnis, Arons, Marchi, Lehrer & Brindis, 2010). The major reason for this has to do with the role that religion plays within this community, the vast majority of the Latin@ community adhere to Roman Catholic traditions. Within Roman Catholicism the purpose of sexual intercourse, after marriage, is procreation, meaning “every act of intercourse must remain open to conception” (Srikanhan & Reid, 2008).

The other side of these studies focused on how young Latina daughters acquired information about sex and sexuality. Many of the daughters discussed how they felt that their mothers did not want to talk about sexuality with them. Though many of the participants had tried, they talked about being unable to engage their mothers in conversation. The participants also discussed how they could not approach their mothers for information on contraception. When they were able to engage their mothers in conversations about contraception they were met with ‘horror stories’ that their mothers had ‘heard’ about birth control instead of factual information. Finally, the participants of these studies discussed how they felt that their parents were not actively involved in their lives. Which was a major cause for their lack of communication when it came to having open conversations on sexuality (Gilliam, 2007 & Guilamo-Ramos, Dittus, Jaccard, Goldberg, Casillas & Bouris, 2006 & Biggs, Ralph, Minnis, Arons, Marchi, Lehrer & Brindis, 2010).

Understanding that sexuality is a multi-layered discussion is only further complicated when cultural competence is thrown in the mix. But as discussed above, cultural competent based sex education programs are crucial when trying to service specific communities.

Culture influences every level of development for a person which means that an educator trying to provide sex education to these communities must have a deep understanding of the culture they are stepping into in order to provide them with the best resources. Some of the concepts that have varying definitions depending on cultural context are gender roles, religion and sexuality. Best practice for aiding a cultural community could be to try and understand their definition of these concepts (Jones & Bartlett, 2014).

If a sex educator becomes culturally competent of their communities needs they would be cable to provide them with incredible support. “Sexuality educators need to recognize and accept different cultural viewpoints, while at the same time represent the current societal perspective of the setting and society in which their programs are conducted” (Bruess & Schroeder, 2013).

A sex educator interested in doing work with culturally based communities might want to become familiar with the cultural dimension of sexuality for that specific community. The cultural dimension of sexuality is the sum of the cultural influences that affects our thoughts and actions, both historical & contemporary” (Bruess & Schroeder, 2013). A best practice for the educator wanting to do work with the Mexican community mentioned in the study might want to familiarize themselves with their cultural dimension of sexuality. This way they can build a curriculum that targets the communities biggest obstacles.

For this community to really benefit from a sex education intervention and educator would have to take the following approach. They would not only have to speak to the Latin@ youth in their element (and in their language), such as in a school setting or at an after school program but the educator would then have to bring the parents and educate them as well. Keeping all the information consistent. As mentioned above, the Latin@ community is communal. If an educator really wants to educate this community they need to do it at both levels, with the youth and with the parents. If the educator only targets the youth, the youth will then go home and have their new information rejected by the family, making the new information obsolete. For an educator to run a successful culturally competent sex education intervention they must inform both the youth and the parents.

*In Spanish Latinos refers the male identified and Latinas refers to female identified persons. Instead of writing Latinos and Latinas to refer to both, an “@” is added at the end of Latin@s to refer to both groups at the same time.



Biggs, M. A., Ralph, L., Minnis, A. M., Arons, A., Marchi, K. S., Lehrer, J. A., & … Brindis, C. D. (2010). Factors Associated with Delayed Childbearing: From the  Voices of Expectant Latina Adults and Teens in California. Hispanic Journal Of    Behavioral Sciences, 32(1), 77-103.

Bruesss, C., & Schroeder, E. (2013) Sexuality Education: Theory and Practice. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Gilliam, M. L. (2007). The Role of Parents and Partners in the Pregnancy Behaviors of Young Latinas. Hispanic Journal Of Behavioral Sciences, 29(1), 50-67.

Guilamo-Ramos, V., Dittus, P., Jaccard, J., Goldberg, V., Casillas, E., & Bouris, A.  (2006). The Content and Process of Mother-Adolescent Communication about Sex in Latino Families. Social Work Research, 30(3), 169-181.

Srikanthan, A., Reid, Robert. (2008). Religious and Cultural Influences on Contraception.  Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility & Department of  Obstetrics and Gynecology