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In order to ensure that people of all abilities have access to sexual health education, Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties’ (PPOSBC) Community Education and Outreach department created the Equal Voices program.

This curriculum was specifically crafted for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and is modified based on the learning level of each class which allows expert Health Educators to be able to meet the individual needs of the learners.

Spearheading this program, and helping to reach nearly 600 people with adaptive needs this year, is Health Educator Jordan Herrera

Jordan was originally inspired to pursue sex education as a career path from her Human Sexuality professor at California State University, Chico.

“The way she made me feel about sex education was so empowering,” she said. “Before her class, I felt so ashamed and confused about my sexual experiences. The relief I felt when taking her class was like a breath of fresh air, like storm clouds being cleared from my vision. She made learning so fun, interesting, and without judgment. I knew I wanted to be just like her, providing young people relief and empowerment over their own bodies and sexual experiences.”

And that’s exactly what she has done through her own education and outreach efforts, especially for those with IDD. 

When asked why she feels it is important to provide accessible sex education curriculum for youth with adaptive needs, she expressed that the IDD community is one that is often overlooked. There is a misconception these students are “not ready” or will “not understand” the curriculum, however, offering comprehensive sex ed to these students empowers them to make healthy choices, and can even be a protective factor from things like abuse and unplanned pregnancies.

“People with IDD often express interest in romantic relationships, sexual contact, and starting a family but are not given the tools needed to engage in healthy relationships. Folks with IDD still have sexual desires/interests and should be provided the same opportunity to access sex education as someone who does not have IDD,” Jordan said.

That’s why when the Community Education and Outreach department at PPOSBC created a task force to focus on providing education to students in the IDD community, Jordan jumped at the opportunity. She had previously worked as an Autism Specialist for the Department of Education and the Department of Health in Hawaii where she gained experience working with IDD students, so she felt she could share her experience and expertise. 

Since then, Jordan has worked with hundreds of youth and young adults with adaptive needs, providing them with the knowledge and skills to engage in healthy, safe relationships. 

One of her most memorable moments so far was an interaction she had with a participant in the Equal Voices Gender & Sexuality presentation. The participant expressed gratitude for being provided a safe and accepting place to discuss gender identity and sexual orientation since people in their class didn’t often talk about these topics nor understand them. 

“Knowing that I am giving the participants the same strength and knowledge that my former professor gave me is the most exciting part about what I do. I can see the ease in their facial expressions and drastic change in body language when they understand something they may have been confused about or learn something they did not know. It’s a great feeling to see a group of students open up, laugh, and ask questions,” she said.

The curriculum includes a focus on specific topics that are relevant to students with adaptive needs like good touch/bad touch and the difference between public and private spaces.

In addition to the Equal Voices curriculum which covers topics like healthy relationships and consent, puberty and anatomy, pregnancy and birth control, among others, the Community Education and Outreach department at PPOSBC offers a robust catalog of comprehensive sex education programs for youth and young adults. They also offer a number of  trainings and resources for parents and caregivers, and professionals that work with youth. 

Through these outreach efforts, the Community Education and Outreach department at PPOSBC provides evidence-based comprehensive sexual health education to roughly 80,000 students, young adults, caregivers, and professionals on an annual basis.

To learn more about available trainings and programs, or to schedule a session with an expert Health Educator, contact the Community Education and Outreach department at [email protected].

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