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Being Curious: Interview with Meghan Hilton

Being Curious: Interview with Meghan Hilton

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has just released In Case You’re Curious: Questions About Sex from Young People with Answers from the Experts. The book compiles real questions from young people about sex and provides in-depth answers.  The moment I cracked it open I knew I needed to read fast, review the gorgeous thing, and get it back into the mail to my 11-year-old niece, pronto. 

So I’m pleased to interview one of the experts behind this project, Meghan Hilton. Meghan started as a health center assistant with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains in April 2017 before moving to the Responsible Sex Education Institute to become a full-time sex educator later that year. 

What does Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains do?
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Southern Nevada, and Wyoming, has been empowering individuals to make responsible choices for over 100 years. Since 1916, we have been committed to delivering the highest quality reproductive and sexual health care; teaching medically accurate, developmentally appropriate sexuality education; and working diligently to protect the right to access safe, legal abortion.

How did the hotline and book happen?
Through different paths and experiences, all of us found ourselves working for the Responsible Sex Education Institute (RSEI) with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. Some of us were here when, in 2009, medical students from the University of Colorado reached out about creating an anonymous text-line for young people’s sexual health questions. The program, our In Case You're Curious text-line or ICYC, was developed and while the medical students moved on, RSEI has kept the program not only running but growing. Others of us joined the team later, serving as the educators who answer the texts received from ICYC, a now well-established sexual health resource. 

Each of the authors also educates in classroom settings regularly. This link to direct education is one of the things that makes ICYC so special. We are constantly face to face with young people, hearing about their experiences and understanding where their questions come from. Our community engagement helps us provide the best answers possible and is the life force for ICYC. It’s this overall love of answering young people's questions and providing resources that led to us writing a book. We are so proud of our new book, and how it makes complex topics into digestible material suitable for a wide range of ages. Just like each of us who came to this project from different beginnings, we know that for our In Case You’re Curious program, this book is an exciting new starting point.

What makes you qualified to answer questions about sex?
All of us who wrote the ICYC book happen to have higher education background in social sciences. This helped us get in the door to being educators but our question answering skills really have come from implementing comprehensive sex education, researching evidence-based curriculum, marketing programs, and training other adults to educate youth about making healthy choices about sex and sexuality. 

How did you become a sex educator?
Even though we at In Case You’re Curious are all sex ed teachers, our paths to becoming sex educators were all different. When we were writing this book we actually had a lot of conversations about how each of us got into sex ed work. 

Molly Alderton fell into this world through an internship at a sexual assault resource center, where she learned to talk about gender stereotypes and how those contribute to sexual violence with young people. Julie LaBarr is from a small town in Texas with one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state. She received no sex education while in school and understood firsthand the importance of giving people the information they need. During Daniela Fellman’s cheer practice her freshman year of high school, someone had a question about birth control. Instead of dismissing the question, the coach brought out a basket filled with demonstrations of various birth control options. Her coach made it feel like such a normal topic to discuss, how could she not want to be an educator?

And then there is me! When I learned from my parents about sex and reproduction in the second grade, I was mortified. But that didn’t stop me from taking it upon myself to fill in all of my classmates during recess. So in a way, I have always felt like a sex educator, but I’m proud to say I now have better boundaries.

 What do you do besides answer questions for ICYC?
As the illustrator of the ICYC book I got the opportunity to mesh the thing I love doing most outside of work, art, with a project I’m passionate about at work, ICYC. Even though ICYC is a huge part of the work we do with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains it’s not all we do. Our education work often follows us out of the classrooms we teach in and carries into our bigger lives. Professionally, we also serve on coalitions and boards and train youth serving adults to be able to teach sex ed. Outside of the office Julie and I both love true crime podcasts. Molly, Julie and I all have dogs so that takes a lot of our free time. Whereas, Daniela is a mother of two young boys so she gets to answer sexual health questions even when she’s at home. But that’s one of the best parts of ICYC. Even though it’s a huge part of our work it makes space for parents to find the support they need to help the youth in their lives!

Tell us about the writing process and your collaboration.
The In Case You’re Curious/RSEI team cares deeply about facilitation skills, boundaries, and sexual health knowledge. Our roots are in direct education and the ability to reach classrooms of people and answer the questions that come up, no matter how shocking. This made our approach to writing unique because in truth, we aren’t writers, we are answerers. This means that a good deal of our process for writing the ICYC book was verbal. The authors met periodically in person or over video-chat and read each of the questions out loud. We then took turns answering them and combined our answers into the text that made the most sense. 

Having a strong singular voice was incredibly important to us. All of our ICYC text-line answers share this common voice even though there are multiple educators answering questions on each of our text-lines. This unified voice helps us to be as clear as possible and ensures consistency for our texters and readers. Having so many individuals all writing a book could have easily ended up with a narrative style that changes from page to page, but by consistently listening back to our words we were able to find our collective voice. A clear, accessible answer is the heart of every page of our book.

What do you love about writing?
Here’s the thing: we don’t just love writing. We love connecting people with information. Writing is a big part of how we accomplish that goal. ICYC is dedicated to answering questions from our text-line in 160 characters or less, we meet students where they are in the classrooms, we make visually appealing and concise posts on Instagram, we have tutorials on YouTube, and now we’ve written a book. What we love about writing is that it's one of the many ways we can connect those who are curious to sexual health information. And when the next great way to create connection around sexual health comes along, you can bet we will be exploring it and loving it, too.

What do you hope readers will gain from the book?
We hope readers take away an understanding that they aren’t alone in their curiosities and experiences, and that there are resources through ICYC and Planned Parenthood that can offer them answers and support. Growing up and exploring sexuality can be fun, funny, awkward, and all the feelings in between. Being curious and having questions is foundational to growing up. We are committed to being an on-going connection to trusted and high quality resources for people of all ages. Planned Parenthood is a leading expert in sex education and provides high-quality services that support healthy sexuality. We are trusted in communities throughout the country to provide full and accurate information to people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

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