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Health Training Institute offers a holistic sex ed curriculum for youth-serving professionals

Only 18 U.S. states require sex education and HIV education program content to be medically accurate, the Guttmacher Institute recently reported. This is despite the fact that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings demonstrate clear connections between students’ access to accurate, informative sex education and their health and well-being. Now, the newly expanded Health Training Institute (HTI) at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC (PPMW) is poised to make high-quality, robust sex education more readily available — and not just in the DC region, but across the nation. 

Training the trainers

The purpose of the Health Training Institute is to “train the trainers,” says PPMW Health Training Manager Jenny Marten. Marten leads the Institute and has spearheaded its expansion. She explains that the program’s objective is to train youth-serving professionals on how to implement comprehensive sex education. 

Marten notes that the well-documented benefits of comprehensive sex education are far-reaching. They include traditional metrics, like decreased rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy. But they also include impacts like helping young people develop healthier relationships, reducing instances of sexual assault, improving academic performance, and dismantling negative gender stereotypes. 

“At the Health Training Institute we really do believe that comprehensive sex education can be a very powerful tool for social change,” Marten says. “We envision a society in which every person has access to medically accurate, culturally relevant, non-judgmental, and age-appropriate sex education, and we believe that such access ensures that every person has the opportunity to lead their healthiest, most well-informed life.” 

Six essential courses

Guided by this vision, the Health Training Institute offers six unique courses: 

  • Abortion and Stigma
  • Introduction to Birth Control Methods
  • Reproductive Justice
  • Answering Difficult Questions About Sex
  • Options Counseling
  • Reproductive Health Services at PPMW

All of these courses are thoughtfully crafted to meet national standards for sex education. They are offered virtually, with in-person options also available. 

Options Counseling is a new addition to the course line-up, and it builds youth-serving professionals’ skills to teach young people how to navigate their options in the event of an unintended pregnancy in a way that is non-judgemental, medically accurate, patient-centered, and holistic. 

Previously, these courses were offered exclusively to youth-serving professionals in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Now, they can be accessed from anywhere in the United States. 

This expansion will enable the HTI to reach a much larger audience that did not have prior access to this type of training. As a result, the training will impact more young people who need and deserve access to the kind of sex education outlined in the program’s vision — medically accurate, culturally relevant, non-judgemental, and age-appropriate. 

Given the staggering number of states in which comprehensive sex education is not required to be medically accurate, there is a clear need for this curriculum.

Health Training Manager Jenny Marten speaks at PPMW's Carol Whitehill Moses Center

Rising to the moment

For Marten, these changes and the broader HTI expansion come at a critical time. “In this post-Roe world that we’re living in, since the Dobbs decision in 2022, high-quality sex education is truly essential,” she reflects. 

In many states, particularly in the South, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has resulted in bans on health care that is essential to many patients, including abortion care. And those bans aren’t happening in isolation. 

Without accuracy requirements for sex education, abstinence-only sex education programs, crisis pregnancy centers, and other harmful initiatives spread misinformation and anti-sex attitudes, Marten explains. HTI training can be particularly helpful in equipping educators who may be in communities that are less supportive of comprehensive sex education with the skills to help youth lead healthy lives. 

A holistic, dynamic approach

To youth-serving professionals who may be considering an HTI course at this critical moment, Marten speaks to what sets the HTI apart. “Our courses really hinge on a deep understanding of human health as an interconnected system,” she notes. “We really go into power and agency and how that affects overall health, so it’s really holistic." 

In addition, HTI courses focus on critical thinking, helping participants confront their own internal biases and engaging them in a way that vastly exceeds the mere delivery of information. “This isn’t just going to be a lecture. It’s very interactive,” Marten explains. “Even the icebreakers cause you to pause and reflect on your own values.” 

These icebreakers, says Marten, include dialectic warm-ups that pose challenging questions to participants, such as “How many abortions is too many abortions?” and “How many pregnancies is too many pregnancies?” By answering these questions (either out loud or privately), participants examine their own values and assumptions. At the same time, their answers help Marten and her team teach dynamically, in a way that meets the unique needs of their audiences. 

Marten is deeply committed to sexual health education and can’t wait to connect with more educators across the country.

“Getting people access to that education is what I’m most excited about,” she says. “That somebody in Idaho, or somebody in Iowa, or somebody in Texas can pay $40 to attend one of these classes and have access to truly essential education — that’s important,” she says. “Education is power. Education opens your eyes.”

The Health Training Institute’s six courses are now open for enrollment. To learn more about them and sign up for courses, visit our HTI website.

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