Stop Perpetuating the Conservative Community Myth

Date: November 16th, 2015
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I love the work I do.  Really, I do!  I get to work with professionals and organizations across the country to implement best practices in adolescent sexual and reproductive health and wellness.  I have visited all sorts of communities—cities and towns that are racially and ethnically diverse, and some that are pretty homogenous.  Some places I have been are hot and dry, or hot and humid, or cold and windy, or cold and wet, or, depending on the hour of the day, there is a little bit of everything.  The bottom line is that I go anywhere there is a need!

Funny, though, when I arrive in some communities and talk about issues such as comprehensive sexuality education, condom demonstrations, or adapting programs to be more LGBTQ-friendly, I often hear, “Oh, no.  We can’t do that here.  We are a very conservative community.”

But how can that be true in so many communities across our country?  What data substantiate those statements?  If there are no data, then it must be perception.  Or worse, a myth that is perpetuated year after year, generation after generation.

That is one reason why we—me and my pal, Evidence—come wherever we are needed.  We explain why it is essential to conduct a needs assessment of your community and compare it to the findings of others who are studying the attitudes of Americans related to our work.

And, of course, be sure to find out what teens and young adults are experiencing when it comes to relationships, sexual behavior, substance use, and violence.  Yes, you should use national reports such as the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), but host focus groups with both teens and adults, so you have the real scoop on what’s happening in your back yard.

Okay, maybe you’ll find out that you do, in fact, live and/or work is the most conservative community in the United States…but I doubt it. I suspect you will find more support for your work than you expected; some of your results may even align with long-established findings, like parental support of sexuality education.  But you won’t know unless you take the time to do the assessment and focus groups to find out.

I’d love to know how you successfully stopping perpetuation of the “conservative community myth!”

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About the Author

Deborah Chilcoat, M.Ed., brings over 16 years of experience in adolescent sexual and reproductive health and an unyielding commitment to improving the health and well-being of young people to her current position as Senior Training and Technical Assistance Manager at Healthy Teen Network. Deb’s extensive experience in project management, capacity-building assistance, collaborative partnerships, as well as evidence-based and innovative approaches has served to meet the needs of diverse youth and communities across the United States.

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