Tasha Elizarde, a Juneau-Douglas High School senior, told the world last week that she used to know nothing about sex.
“I didn’t even know a lot of stuff about health things, too. Like, I didn’t know about my period. That’s the one story that I always jump to because it was so big. I didn’t know about it until I got it and even when I got it, I ignored it at first until my mom kind of forced me to talk about it,” Elizarde said during an interview last week. “I really didn’t know anything until, like, actually this year. I didn’t know a lot of things.”
The 17-year-old wrote about her journey “from knowing nothing about sex to becoming a sex-ed activist” in a post she wrote for MTV News titled, “The Power of Understanding Your Body.”
She wrote that she’s not alone when it comes to being naïve about one’s body and she hoped to reach those teens through her writing.
“Less than a quarter of Alaskan schools taught the recommended HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention topics during the 2013–14 school year, beating all but three other states for lack of access to sex education,” Elizarde wrote in the post.
Elizarde credits her newfound self-awareness to Teen Council, a peer education program of Planned Parenthood. Every week, Elizarde meets with nine other teens and a Planned Parenthood educator to discuss various sexual health and relationship issues. She first joined Teen Council in May 2015.
“You could easily say that sex ed is important, but it’s completely different to say that it’s also empowering. It just gives us so much information about your body and through that, you are kind of able to accept yourself more and, in a way, knowing the information is almost like having another support system behind you,” Elizarde said.
She added: “Knowing yourself and knowing your body allows you to just progress farther in life.”
In the MTV News article, Elizarde wrote about her transformation from “the shy kid who sat as close to the classroom door as possible” to testifying in the Alaska State Capitol “for the first time against a legislative attack on sex education.”
She was speaking against Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy’s Senate Bill 89. Parts of that bill, in a transformed version, got attached to House Bill 156, which becomes law next month. The Juneau School District has already taken its first step in adhering to HB 156, presenting a list of sex ed educators to the school board for approval. Elizarde said the vetting of educators, their credentials and the curricula “really hinders access to sex ed in a lot of Alaskan communities. Our state really took a disappointing step in the wrong direction with this new law.”
This is Teen Council’s fourth full year in Juneau. Recently, Elizarde said the group talked about abstinence and decision-making.
“We had a discussion on how personal values affect what we think abstinence is and what we think sex is. I think a huge thing that I’ve carried with me through Teen Council and through every lesson … is the value of personal choice and what you believe in yourself is important,” she said.
The information she’s learned from Teen Council hasn’t just changed her life — she’s been able to help her friends and peers. In the MTV News post, she wrote about guiding a friend to the school’s teen health center “because she couldn’t afford birth control.”
“She knew I was connected to Teen Council and she would ask me random questions like, ‘What do you think about birth control?’ I was able to provide information to her about birth control and after a while she was asking me for ways that she can get birth control,” Elizarde elaborated during the interview.