The road to healthy sexuality


Knowing when to start talking about sex and what to say is not a simple issue. From individual families to churches and schools, a debate swings between “too much too soon” and “too little too late.”

Emory’s Jane Fonda Center is working to get past the controversy by building programs that put an emphasis back on the core needs of young people from 6th grade on.

“Becoming sexual is evolutionary, involuntary, and inevitable,” says Melissa Kottke, the center’s director. “However, becoming a healthy sexual being is not. Today, we must start at a younger age than ever before to help young people make smooth transitions to adulthood.”

Using a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the Fonda Center is conceptualizing a new framework for thought and action regarding sex education, which includes ways to partner with youth. Center staff are planning regional meetings among professionals interested in sex education and a nationwide youth retreat. The impetus behind the planning is to lay a foundation among young people for respect and responsible action, says Kottke. “Early on young people must learn to respect their bodies as well as their rights and the rights of others to be free from pregnancy and infection.”

Another grant of up to $1 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is allowing the Fonda Center to teach youth how to develop healthy relationships and prevent intimate partner violence.

According to a 2007 Georgia Department of Human Resources report, one of every six high school students was hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend during the prior 12 months. The Fonda Center is offering a dating violence prevention program to 7th graders in the Atlanta Public Schools, supported by an RWJF national social marketing campaign and multiple partner agencies who are banding together to help teens mature safely and responsibly.—Rhonda Mullen

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Emory Medicine - Spring 2009