AMAZE and the Importance of Sex Education for Tweens
I grew up in a religious and conservative family, in the very religious and conservative country of Saudi Arabia. My parents never talked to me about sex education. At school, the topic of sex was unquestionably taboo and would never come up in discussions about health. I remember trying to piece together what exactly sex entailed when I was in the eighth grade. I had gathered little pieces of information from varying sources: movies, books intended for audiences older and more mature than I was, and of course, my friends. We would sit together on green plastic benches during lunch and put our heads together conspiringly, trying to pool together what we each knew about sex to come to a solid conclusion.
Eventually, thanks to being a voracious reader (and the help of the Internet), I figured out what exactly sex entails. But not all young boys and girls grow up in cultures in which talking about sex is a no-no. For example, about a month ago I was talking with my Saudi friend about why sex education is important. She told me that her brother, who is doing his residency at a public hospital, encountered a couple who had been unsuccessfully trying to have a baby for a year. Tests revealed that both partners were fertile, but discussion revealed that while the couple was having penetrative sexual intercourse, it was not the type that results in the making of a baby.
While this anecdote might seem funny, and the incident itself is probably a relatively rare occurrence (especially now that so many people have access to the Internet), it highlights the importance of making sex education accessible to everyone, especially those who live in cultures where sex is socially stigmatized. Furthermore, sex education needs to be taught especially to those who are in their early teens.
Some inventive folks have created a potential solution to this problem by creating “medically accurate and age-appropriate” online-based sex education that is accessible to and meant for pre-teens and young teenagers, ages 10 to 14. This resource, which is called AMAZE, recognizes that this age group is often neglected when it comes to providing quality sex education
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview Nicole Cushman, who is the director of AMAZE. She told me about how the AMAZE team has dedicated hours of research to try and figure out how to reach teens “where they are” online. A recent, comprehensive report asked teenagers from teen-advised sex education programs (such as Answer and Sex, etc) to rate a variety of sex education apps and resources in order to get a sense of what appealed to them. Many preferred YouTube videos, as they could be easily shared via social media. Cushman says that “involving [teenagers] in the creation" of the content makes it easier to gauge which digital forms of sex education will appeal the most to the target audience. And AMAZE does involve teenagers in the actual creation of these videos. One of their goals is to “lift up young artists,” and they often employ teenage artists to design the animations that give AMAZE videos their unique style.
AMAZE’s videos not only take on the nuts and bolts of this education, but also tackle more complex topics, like consent and sexual assault. This is important because a study shows that “1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hand of an adult.” AMAZE also makes sure that their content is inclusive: The characters in the videos are diverse, and represent many ethnicities and races. The videos are also steer away from being heteronormative and include content on gender expression and sexual orientation. While AMAZE videos mainly target an American audience, Cushman informed me that efforts are being made to spread the initiative to countries such as “Israel, Mexico, Colombia, and South Africa by partnering with local groups.” In order to do this, not only will videos have to be translated, but they also need to be altered so that they are culturally accurate.
AMAZE is not just a supplement to sex education at home or at school, but can also be used as a tool to help parents talk about these crucial topics with their children. It can also be accessed by young teenagers who want to understand aspects of sex education that are not being discussed at home, school, or in their communities on their own. At the end of the day, AMAZE is an initiative that is pushing for honest conversations about sex amongst young teenagers, so that they can grow up knowing how to take care of themselves, how to express themselves the way they want, and how to make sure that they can stay safe.
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