By Frances Solá-Santiago
January 31, 2018 04:35 PM

Latino youth today have an uphill battle when it comes to sexual health.

From language barriers and limited health care access to religious stigmas, sex education among Latino millennials is strongly affected by a set of political, cultural and economic factors that are out of their control.

Social strictures keep young people in the dark when it comes to taboo topics.

Organizations such as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) are working to remove some of the traditional obstacles that keep Latina millennials from living their best sex lives.

NLIRH looks to expose and upend the system that stigmatizes sex for women and to encourage Latinas to own their sexuality. “I’m actually moved by millennials and the way they reclaim pleasure and how conversations have shifted because of peer to peer spaces,” says Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH. “Everyone has to be part of this conversation, especially women, queer and trans people of color.”

These are some of the steps you can take to affirm your sexual power.

1. Get regular checkups.

Gonzalez-Rojas says many Latina millennials are susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases often due to simple ignorance, which increases the potential harm from common STDs such as HPV, which can lead to cervical, vulvar and penile cancer. Hispanic women show higher numbers of HPV-associated cancer, according to the CDC, with a 13.6 percent rate. Gonzalez-Rojas recommends regular checkups with a gynecologist, STD testing and protected sex (be it male and female condoms or dental dams). “With regular checkups, HPV is treatable,” she says. “No one should die from it.”

2. Take advantage of free resources. 

Gonzalez-Rojas admits not everyone has the same access to health care, so she advises taking advantage of free clinics, organizations like the NLIRH and technology. The expert says there is an abundance of information from credible sources online, such as the CDC, WebMD, Sex, Etc. Gonzalez-Rojas also recommends taking advantage of free text message services from free clinics to answer questions about appointments, health care coverage, clinic access and sexual health concerns. Gonzalez-Rojas adds that many of these services are also available in Spanish. 

3. Establish a sex-positive mentality.

Stigma is one of the main reasons why Latina millennials remain in the dark about sexuality and health. “The political and religious stigma that has surrounded sex and sexual health is literally dangerous,” says Gonzalez-Rojas. She adds that it’s key for young women to reject the traditions and beliefs that hold them back when it comes to enjoying a pleasurable sex life, such as patriarchal gender roles and ecclesiastical teachings. “Promoting abstinence-only is rooted in heteronormativity, in holding women down, and using religion as a tool to discriminate,” she says.

4. Foment peer advocacy.

Gonzalez-Rojas says the best way for young women to get comfortable with their sexuality is by both talking and listening to others like them. “Young people are some of the best advocates,” she says. “When young people are empowered to learn about their health and their body, they are excited to share those messages with their peers.” You can contribute to building a sex-positive community by hosting or attending workshops. Or less formally, simply have frequent sex conversations with your friends on anything from proper sex-toy use to awkward or traumatic sexual experiences.

5. Establish a contraception plan. 

If you are not ready to become a parent, it’s important to be clear on your birth-control strategy. Gonzalez-Rojas recommends using regular contraception, which includes pills, condoms, intrauterine devices and other methods. You contraceptive choice should match your lifestyle and health care access, which Planned Parenthood has made easy through this quiz.

6. Get real about a backup plan. 

The expert also emphasizes that there is a margin of error with many of these methods, so it’s good to have a backup plan that fits your beliefs — whatever you stance on abortion. While there is a stereotype that pro-choice beliefs are not common in the Latino community, Gonzalez-Rojas says it’s not necessarily true. She adds that most surveyed Latinos say they’d support a loved one who chooses to get an abortion. While some women can afford access to some of these procedures, Gonzalez-Rojas advises women to take advantage of free clinics, abortion funds and organizations like the NLIRH. “Organizations like us provide so many services from education to helping women find funds for an abortion to emotional support,” she says.

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