Through the Years: Exciting Times for Sexual and Reproductive Health!

Alexandra Eisler

I was 13, talking to my mother’s best friend about birth control, when I first realized times have changed, in terms of reproductive rights. She said when she was a teenager, single women couldn’t get birth control. Until that moment, I thought birth control had been around since the Dark Ages, and I was floored. She said it wasn’t until 1972 that unmarried women could purchase contraceptives in Massachusetts.

I grew up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when Salt-N-Pepa told us to talk about sex and “push it real good.” It was a time when Magic Johnson showed HIV wasn’t the end of the world, and not only was contraception available, but sex ed was a “thing” that happened in schools—for better or worse. (Sigh.) Things weren’t perfect, but we had a lot more information than my mother’s generation.

Fast forward to 2009. I was working as a public policy consultant at a branding meeting for my employer, and a board member talked about working in HIV prevention in the early 1980s. She said they did their best to fight HIV in an epidemic rife with stigma, myths, and fear. She said that despite their best efforts, few people knew how HIV worked at the time. She said she looks back and is grateful for evidence-based programs—we know lots about preventing the spread of HIV.

I think about the work I am privileged to be a part of and the substantial body of evidence from which we can draw. The teen pregnancy rate is at its lowest since 1972, and the birth rate continues to decline. Whoa! I think about how far the sexual health field has come in what really is a short time, and I feel proud to be part of it.

All of that to say, this is an exciting time for our work! We are standing in a new frontier: I imagine Lewis and Clark setting out to explore the West. Huge gains have been made, but never before have there been so many resources: so much knowledge about what works…so many talented people on the frontlines. Yet there’s a lot of work left to do.

Sometimes it feels like we’re taking shots in the dark trying to find the right answers, to make an impact and satisfy everyone, but it’s happening—we’re making a difference. We can’t continue making these gains without widespread support, both locally and nationally. So we have to keep sharing, supporting, and learning together.

Sometimes the “right answers” seem just out of reach, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call this a winnable battle for a reason. We’re experiencing a massive push to support youth with tools and programming that work; this hasn’t been seen before. Every day we learn more about what helps the communities we live in, and I want to express my appreciation to all the wonderful folks who continue to fight for the futures of young people in this country!

What excites you about where the field is, today, in terms of adolescent sexual and reproductive health?

Alexandra Eisler is the Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network

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