Education plays key role in reducing teen pregnancies

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photoSergio Cisneros / OPB Ismael Garcia with Opciones Y Educacion provides information about OYE at a youth sexual health meeting.

Teen birthrates have declined nationwide according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

States with large Hispanic populations saw the greatest decline, and Oregon seems to be following this trend.

Carina Gomez Arechiga is a single mother living in Clackamas, Ore., with her 3 year-old son. She tells me how she first learned about sex from her mother.

"When I was 13, she told me, out of the nowhere, I was eating, and she's all like, 'You know, have you had sex?' And I was like 'no.' She's like, 'Well, if you have sex it's going to hurt a lot, and it's gonna' bleed, and you're gonna' be miserable.' And I was just like 'okay, that was really awkward conversation,' " Gomez Arechiga recalls.

We're sitting at a park bench. Gomez Arechiga is holding her baby boy. She had him when she was 19.

"I'm not trying to say that I regret having my son, but I know for a fact that like I wouldn't have gotten pregnant if I did know resources and how things go," she says.

Not having learned much about sex from her mom, Gomez Arichiga was left with having to search for answers outside her home by talking to her friends.

"When I was in school I had health. And they taught me about babies, but they didn't really teach me about like 'sex-sex.' Some people in the school were against talking about it because they didn't want their kids knowing or doing it."

Ismael Garcia knows lots of young Latinas in Gomez Arichiga's situation. He teaches sex education classes all throughout the Portland area. He focuses primarily on the Latino Community.

Garcia is leading a conversation about HIV with young Latinos. He's asking them what the virus is, and some of the young men don't know. Some say it's a sickness that makes you skinny.

"OYE stands for Opciones Y Educacion. So it's basically workshops meant for the community to educate or make sexuality a conversation that's easy to have, specifically in the Latino community," Garcia says.

Workshops can take place in schools, neighborhood centers, and other places around the community. Garcia is one of many OYE leaders who facilitate conversations about sexuality and sexual health within the Latino community.

Experts believe that several factors are driving down teen birth rates, including education.

Overall, the birth rate for Oregon teens dropped by 25 percent over a four-year period. And the latest figures indicate an approximate 40 percent decrease in Hispanic teen birth rates in Oregon. The findings are based on birth certificates for 2007 through 2011.

Jessica Duke is the Program Coordinator for Adolescent Sexual Health at the Oregon Public Health Division. She sees multiple reasons for this trend in Oregon.

"There's been a lot of new federal funding around teen pregnancy prevention. And working with statewide partners, we've been able to make sure that that federal teen pregnancy prevention funding is largely in the areas where we see the higher teen pregnancy, higher teen birthrates, and higher disparities amongst different groups," Duke says.

The state is looking at ways to strengthen its efforts, with a plan that is effective for young people regardless of their socioeconomic class or culture.

That's what OYE is trying to provide.

OYE sessions aren't strictly for teenagers. Many times parents and adults didn't have sex education when they were growing up. So these sessions welcome them to join the conversation.

"Many parents have had zero education. Zero dialogue with their family many years ago, but now they're seeing that their children are learning about certain topics at an early age. And so they want to know why? They want to know how to talk to them. So it's an opportunity they see benefiting them and their family," Garcia says.

Participation from Latinos in programs like OYE is growing each year in Portland and around the state. Parents want to know what they're kids are learning and how to have productive talks with them.

In Gomez Arichiga's case, her older sister explained sex to her and the risks of being sexually active. Her sister showed her where she could get contraceptives and what resources were available to answer her questions regarding sex.

"She gave me some condoms and the day-after pill. And then from there, I didn't want to do it anymore, but later on I did and used the condoms," she says.

Now Gomez Arichiga is involved with OYE. She wants to inform young Latinas about how to be sexually responsible.

"There was so much stuff that I didn't know that I know now and I wish I knew back then. You know, because maybe it would've been so totally different."

This summer, OYE will continue to host workshops throughout Portland. The organization plans to expand its programs throughout the state.