Religious Groups Work to Translate Sex-Education Message

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 16, 2007

When the Rev. Evelyn Perez describes the strong feelings sex generates to the Latino teens in her church sex-education classes, she uses the metaphors of their cultures.

Sex, she tells those whose families come from Mexico, "is like eating a jalapeño -- it is hot!" For her Puerto Rican students, she relates it to the weather in their families' homeland: "You know how hot it gets."

The students, ages 13 to 17, understand instantly, she said.

The conversations are part of the transformation of a faith-based sex-education curriculum designed for black youths. "Keeping It Real," written a decade ago, uses biblical wisdom to help teens sort through sexuality with trained facilitators.

The Latino version, "¡Manteniéndolo Real!" was presented last week at the annual National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality.

The summit, started 11 years ago by the Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, a minister at Fellowship Baptist Church in the District and executive director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, was aimed at getting black churches to speak up about issues of health and sexuality, including teen pregnancy, the spread of HIV/AIDS and anti-gay violence.

It has expanded to Latino churches, whose members face many of the same issues, Veazey said. But reception has been slow, he added, because leaders of more conservative Latino churches, many of which are Catholic or Pentecostal, are reluctant to adopt the coalition's programs because of its embrace of abortion rights and gay rights.

More than 500 black and Latino churchgoers from across the country gathered at Howard University's School of Divinity in Northeast Washington for the three-day conference, which was sponsored by the District-based coalition.

Leaders said the program, aimed at reducing teen pregnancy and risky sexual activity, is desperately needed among Latino adolescents.

Latinas have the highest teen birth rate of major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, according to figures released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2005, the birth rate per 1,000 Latino teens was 48 -- three times as high as for non-Hispanic white teens and a third higher than black teens' birth rates.

The trend is similar in the sexual activity rate. Although the percentage of high school students who report having sexual intercourse has plummeted for non-Hispanic white youths and for black youths in the past 15 years, it has held steady for Hispanic youths, according to the report.

Nationally, 1,400 teens, including 400 Latinos, have taken the course this year. Although several black churches in the District offer the class, no Latino churches in the area do, coalition leaders said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company