A Sister Reach survey of high school-aged Memphis teens last year found that 90 percent didn’t believe they’d been given all of the information they needed to be fully educated about their bodies and sexual choices.
That Sister Reach report — called “Our Voices and Experiences Matter” — said Shelby County Schools only allows Tennessee state-mandated abstinence-based education by parental opt-in. “No public school students in Memphis or Tennessee currently receive medically age-appropriate, comprehensive reproductive, and sexual health education as part of their curriculum,” the report says.
But a program by Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR) is aiming to pick up the slack left by public high schools in Shelby County. The Sexperts program trains college students to be peer educators in issues around sexual health.
“We do a lot of myth busting,” said Ashley Jones with PPGMR. “A lot of people think they know, but once we get into the content, they realize how much they don’t know about basic anatomy. When it comes to reproductive anatomy, everybody is pretty much on the same playing field. The adults don’t know too much more than the middle schoolers or college students.”
The classes train college students on sexual health, reproductive anatomy, pregnancy prevention, gender and orientation, consent, abstinence, safe sex, STDs, and campus organizing.
Once the training is over, the graduates get a Sexpert tee-shirt to wear around campus. They’re also authorized to start host sexual education events around campus.
“We had some kids do an Easter egg hunt, and they put little condoms inside the Easter eggs, or they may do an info night at their dorm or sit at info tables at a health fair,” Jones said. “We serve as a resource for them so we can provide them with condoms, brochures, information, whatever they may need to make the event successful.”
Jones estimated are there are around 75 local sexperts spread across most college campuses with a high concentration at Rhodes College (where they have their own Sexpert chapter) and the University of Memphis.
Kelsie Richardson is an intern at PPGMR and a Sexpert at the U of M. She transferred from Christian Brother University (CBU), where she says she wasn’t even allowed to wear her Sexpert tee (“CBU is a conservative Catholic college so I couldn’t have any ties — not publicly — with PPGMR.”).
But since she’s been at the U of M, she’s helped host the largest Sexpert training the U of M campus has seen with about 50 students.
Richardson said college students might think they know everything about sex, but she said students are often surprised by what they learn.
“I thought I knew everything. I was 20 years old, and then I got in there and barely knew anything, like different issues about consent,” Richardson said. “I’d heard of consent, but I’d never heard the nitty-gritty of it. I think if more people knew those things, it would cut down on sexual assault issues.”