Sex education, adult retail stores, HIV stigma
IU sexual health research to be presented at public health conference
EDITORS: Research from the Sexual Health Research Working Group, based at Indiana University Bloomington, will be presented at the annual meeting of the Indiana Public Health Association, which will be held May 18-20 at the Indiana Memorial Union on the IU Bloomington campus. The conference will include presentations by public health professionals from across the state. Below are descriptions of three recent SHRWG studies that will be presented during the meeting. For more information on these topics, contact Michael Reece at 812-855-0068 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the conference, contact Millicent Fleming-Moran at 812-855-8361 or email@example.com or visit http://www.inpha.org/agenda2005.htm.
Sex education teachers in Indiana schools face challenging student questions. In a recent study of teachers, nurses and counselors in Indiana middle and high schools, school personnel reported varying degrees of comfort answering the complex and challenging sexuality-related questions raised by students. "Young students are asking serious questions about pregnancy, relationships and even sexual assault," said IU researcher Michael Reece. "While the formal curriculum covers some of these topics in the classroom, it doesn't always specify what to do when you get asked a question from an individual student about something you might not have talked about in class." School health workers reported that students would often approach them outside of class with concerns about complex sexual issues. "School personnel reported varying degrees of personal comfort in fielding some of these questions," Reece said. "There do not appear to be any established protocols for how to handle many of these questions, so some teachers were really not comfortable having these conversations with students." Reece said that some topics may not be appropriate for school health educators to address, but a referral system should be implemented so that school personnel know where to refer students who have questions that they feel unprepared to answer.
Adult retail shops hold potential for public health education. Recent studies indicate that adult retail outlets could serve as effective venues for sexual health education. Indiana University researchers found that employees and managers of adult retail shops were often asked questions related to sexuality and sexual health by their customers. Most of these businesses also sold condoms and lubricants that could be used to protect against STDs and unintended pregnancy. "With customers coming in and asking questions about different products, these stores are in a position to help promote health and safer sex practices," said IU researcher Michael Reece. "Adult retail is a multi-billion dollar industry. If we could capitalize on these 'teachable moments' that are presented by the industry's consumers, we could share public health information with tens of millions of Americans." Many of the store managers and owners in the study were enthusiastic about the potential for partnering with public health. "They loved the idea," Reece said. "A number of people told me they had always seen themselves as resources for public health. If we as public health professionals can team that enthusiasm with solid training and preparation, we have the potential to build creative community-oriented interventions."
Health care providers face stigmas associated with HIV. A new nationwide study shows that one in four public health personnel who work with people living with HIV say they face "significant stigma" associated with their choice of profession. "This situation has crucial implications for the future of the workforce and the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, not only in America but globally," said IU researcher Michael Reece. "People who are well trained and desperately needed may be unwilling to go into the workforce because of the stigma associated with working with HIV." Health care workers in the study reported that the personal struggles they faced due to stigma contributed to lower job satisfaction as well as difficulties in social relationships. "Workers in this field struggle with some of the same stigmas that impact people living with HIV," Reece said. "They reported feeling that people make incorrect assumptions about their lives and that they have to justify why they choose to work with HIV. We need to understand quickly how to minimize these problems if we are going to have a workforce prepared to bring this epidemic under control."