Front Cover
 Resume en Francais
 Resumen en Espanol
 About the authors
 Back Cover

Group Title: QualityCalidadQualité series
Title: Gente joven = Young people
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088793/00001
 Material Information
Title: Gente joven = Young people a dialogue on sexuality with adolescents in Mexico
Series Title: QualityCalidadQualité series
Alternate Title: Dialogue on sexuality with adolescents in Mexico
Young people
Physical Description: 28 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Marques, Magaly
Publisher: The Population Council
Place of Publication: New York N.Y
Publication Date: c1993
Subject: Teenagers -- Sexual behavior -- Mexico   ( lcsh )
Sex instruction for teenagers -- Mexico   ( lcsh )
Sex Education -- Mexico   ( mesh )
Adolescent Health Services -- Mexico   ( mesh )
Adolescentes -- Conducta sexual -- México
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Mexico
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Language: English with one article in Spanish.
Statement of Responsibility: by Magaly Marques ; introduction by John M. Paxman ; afterword by Judith Bruce.
General Note: Caption title.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088793
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 37755303
lccn - 97139151
issn - 8734-0572 ;

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
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        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
    Resume en Francais
        Page 27
    Resumen en Espanol
        Page 28
    About the authors
        Page 29
    Back Cover
        Page 30
Full Text

& I,


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- L~4J


Quality/Calidad/QualitW, a publication of the Population Council, highlights
examples of family planning and reproductive health programs that are providing
unusually high quality care. This series is part of the Council's Robert H. Ebert
Program on Critical Issues in Reproductive Health and Population which, through
scientific and practical efforts, seeks to improve and expand the scope and quality of
reproductive health care. The philosophical foundation of the program, and of this
series, is that women and their partners have a fundamental right to respectful
treatment, information, choice and follow-up from reproductive health care pro-
viders. The pamphlets reflect one of the four main thrusts of the program: enhancing
the quality of family planning programs.
Projects are selected for documentation in the Quality/Calidad/Qualite series
by an Advisory Committee made up of individuals who have a broad range of
experience within the field of reproductive health and are committed to improving
the quality of services. These projects are making important strides in one or more of
the following ways: broadening the choice of contraceptive methods and technolo-
gies available; providing the information clients need to make informed choices and
better manage their own health care; strengthening the quality of client/provider
interaction and encouraging continued contact between providers and clients; mak-
ing innovative efforts to increase the management capacity and broaden the skills of
service providers at all levels; expanding the constellation of services and information
provided beyond those conventionally defined as "family planning;" and reaching
underserved and disadvantaged groups with reproductive health care services.
None of the projects documented in the series is being offered as a model for
replication. Rather, each is presented as an unusually creative example of values,
objectives and implementation. These are "learning experiences" that demonstrate
the self-critical attitude required to anticipate clients' needs and find affordable
means to meet them. This reflective posture is exemplified by a willingness to
respond to changes in clients' needs as well as to the broader social and economic
transformations affecting societies. Documenting the critical choices these programs
have made should help to reinforce, in practical terms, the belief that an individual's
satisfaction with reproductive health care services is strongly related to the achieve-
ment of broader health and population goals.

Publication of this edition of Quality/ Statements made and views expressed in
Calidad/Qualite is made possible by sup- this publication are solely the responsibil-
port provided by the Ford Foundation, the ity of the authors and not of any organi-
John D. and Catherine T MacArthur zation providing support for Quality/Cali-
Foundation and the Swedish International dad/Qualite.
Development Authority (SIDA).

Copyright The Population Council 1993

Number Five 1993

ISSN 0-8734-057-2

Gente Joven/Young People:

A Dialogue on Sexuality

with Adolescents in Mexico

by Magaly Marques
Introduction by John M. Paxman
Afterword by Judith Bruce

The subtitle of this issue, "A Dialogue on Sexuality with Adolescents in Mexico," is intended
to underscore the reality that most sex education programs for youth have been developed by
adults who have tended to ignore the reality of adolescence as it is perceived by young people
themselves. In fact, the way in which most societies deal with adolescent sexuality recalls Hans
Christian Andersen's beguiling fairy tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes:' The tale involves a self-
indulgent emperor and some crafty tailors. The tailors persuade the emperor and then his subjects
that his elegant new robes are made of a magic, invisible weave, when in fact he is attired in
nothing at all. The populace, denying what common sense and their eyes tell them, dutifully
participate in the deception until one small boy, seeing the truth as the ruler parades before them,
blurts out that "the emperor has no clothes!" Only then does everyone admit to what their eyes
have been telling them all along.
In the area of adolescent sexuality, we have similarly chosen to overlook a reality that
frightens us. For too long, parents, policymakers, program managers and even some young people
themselves have dealt with the subject in the same unrealistic way. They have tried to deny, among
other things, that the world over, a substantial proportion of teenagers, both married and unmar-
ried, are sexually active. Yet research reveals a different picture: there are currently more than one
billion young people between 10 and 19 years of age in the world today; the majority of females in
developing countries are having a child or an abortion before these years are over; and males tend
to start their sexual activity even earlier than females.
Yet even when we agree to see that adolescents are having sex, the questions before us are
formidable. Is it appropriate? What are the consequences? What factors shape early sexual and
contraceptive activity? And what kinds of programs are most effective in teaching young people
about human sexuality and contraception? These are but a few of the thought-provoking questions
that continue to challenge parents, families and communities, as well as health and education
professionals, in most societies.
Factors Influencing Adolescent Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use
In developing programs for adolescents, it is important to determine the characteristics of
adolescent sexual behavior and contraceptive use within a particular society. One of the most
critical factors to examine is the stage of economic and social development of that society
Traditionally, in most societies, adolescent female sexuality was the norm, but it was both
mandated and regulated by early marriage. The economic and social benefits of high fertility in
traditional rural societies led not only to early marriage but to frequent childbearing. In settings
where traditional systems remain strong, early marriage still serves as the agency for most adoles-
cent sexual activity, abortion is generally illegal, and desired family size remains relatively high.

As societies tend toward urbanization and modernization, expanded economic and educa-
tional opportunities and changes in women's roles result in delays in marriage and an increase in
the age of the mother at the time of her first birth. Ties to the extended family and adherence to
traditional cultural norms tend to erode and, at the same time, the use of contraception rises.
Adolescent sexual activity, no longer regulated primarily by marriage, therefore becomes more
sporadic; but at the same time, it becomes less controllable as the power of sanctions against
premarital sex diminish when applied later into adolescence.
Consequences of Adolescent Sexual Activity
Although we all hope our children will grow into adults with positive, comfortable and
responsible attitudes toward sexuality and intimacy, when and under what circumstances sexual
activity is appropriate is largely a question of values. But regardless of our own values, early sexual
activity often has critical consequences. While significant for young people of both sexes, these
consequences, both social and medical, tend to be much more serious for girls than for boys.
For example, when adolescent sexual activity results in pregnancy, disparate consequences
face males and females: boys are less likely to be ostracized as immoral, are not forced to leave
school, are less likely to suffer the shame and cost of seeking a clandestine abortion and often bear
little or no economic or social responsibility for childrearing. Therefore, from an early age, males
take less responsibility for contraception, sometimes even blocking use by their female partners. In
addition to these gender-based burdens, women suffer the physical risks of pregnancy and early
childbirth. Further, when children beget children, rates of illness and mortality are significantly
higher for both mothers and their infants than for most older mothers, especially where prenatal
care is lacking. Girls also face the risks of unsafe abortion and the consequences of sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs) which, in females, are more likely to go untreated, thus affecting their
future health and fertility.
In addition, the AIDS pandemic has added another-potentially lethal-dimension to early
sexual activity. Today nearly one-quarter of HIV-infected people worldwide are in their twenties,
leading to the conclusion that most contracted the HIV virus while still in their teens. Particularly
disturbing is the emerging trend in some countries with high-HIV-prevalence for men (many
undoubtedly HIV-positive) to seek younger and younger sexual partners in a misguided effort to
protect themselves from exposure to HIV without having to modify their sexual behavior. Help-
ing young people protect themselves against AIDS is, therefore, a new and particularly urgent

Elements of Effective Programs
Even when we agree that adolescents are sexual beings, that many are sexually active, and
that our job is to help them with knowledge and access to services, we are still left with a myriad of
questions about how best to accomplish the task. Just what do young women and men need to
know? When, where and by whom should young people be taught about human sexuality? Should
those who are sexually active, whether married or not, be provided with access to contraception to
prevent early, unintended pregnancy and childbearing as well as the transmission of STDs? Where,
how and by whom should this be done? Should parents be consulted before their daughters are
given contraceptives? And what about young men? What responsibilities should young people
themselves assume? Should those young women who experience unwanted pregnancy have access
to safe abortion?
Experience is beginning to reveal some elements that seem to be indicative of successful
efforts to work with adolescents. For example, successful programs provide young people with
sexuality-related information in a forthright manner that moves beyond mere facts, providing
teenagers with the basis for making intelligent, informed decisions. Many sex education efforts
tend to treat adolescents as if they are only sexual creatures. Rather, information needs to be
presented as part of the broader human experience and not as something merely biological,
clinical or unrelated to everyday life.

Successful programs also reach out to young people on their own turf-at schools, recrea-
tional centers, work sites and on the street. In many developing countries, less than one-tenth of all
adolescents go on to secondary school. This underscores the importance of reaching out-of-school
youth who are often the most elusive but also may have the greatest need.
One of the most contentious debates surrounding programs for adolescents concerns provi-
sion of contraceptive services. Young people find themselves caught between conflicting messages:
media images urge them to promote their sensuality while parents, educators and religious author-
ities tell them to "just say no!" Research has made it quite clear that young people become sexually
active well before they think of contraception-much to the chagrin of those who work in this
field! But neither pregnancy nor childbearing need be the price teenagers must pay for sexual
activity. Contraception is common sense, and access to information, methods and services is a
component of successful programs for young people. As United States Supreme Court Justice
Stevens wrote in a response to a legal case seeking to ban the sale and distribution of condoms to
young people, "It is as though to demonstrate their dislike for motorcycles, they have chosen to ban
the use of safety helmets!"
Another fundamental factor influencing sexual activity and contraceptive use that must be
addressed is gender. The cultural messages young men receive from the media, peers and some-
times even parents, tell them they ought to be sexually active. Young women, on the other hand,
tend to receive very mixed messages: female premarital sexual activity-and even desire-is
deemed immoral while, at the same time, the media and peers give girls powerful messages to be
sexually attractive. And young girls must not be seen as being "prepared" for intercourse as this
could stigmatize them as being promiscuous!
As a result, many teens (particularly girls) do not want to accept the fact that they are sexually
active, especially when the nature of their sexual activity may be sporadic. Further, they tend to
believe that using contraception will take the romance out of spontaneous sex: being prepared
makes you "fast"; whereas being "swept away" is not your fault. No wonder just making informa-
tion and services available to teenagers does not necessarily guarantee that contraceptives will
be used.
While adults, including parents, have an important role to play in developing programs for
adolescents, few would deny that young people speak their own language and have a unique view
of the world-one that can change drastically from one year to the next as they pass through this
intense and emotional period of their lives. Not surprisingly, programs based solely on adult
perceptions of sexuality, sometimes a generation or more removed from the reality of today's
teenagers, are often ineffective. Adolescents are the ones who are most at risk and they are the ones
who suffer the consequences. Program managers need to view young people not as a group for
whom something must be done but instead as part of the solution. Experience has shown that the
involvement of youth, not as mere recipients but as active participants, even as planners and
managers, is a key ingredient of success.
This issue of Quality/Calidad/Qualitg describes the experience of one adolescent sexuality
program, Gente Joven in Mexico. Gente Joven began-like the boy who saw the emperor-by
acknowledging reality: that the problems related to teenage sexuality will not go away simply by
denying their existence. Along the way Gente Joven learned, and is continuing to learn, many
lessons about how to build a successful program for adolescents. Here they share their experiences
with us. In the Afterword, we explore in greater depth one particular issue that Cente Joven has
identified as its next major challenge: re-examining their work with young people from a gender

Al !S

The Context
It is one thing to have ideas about offering
education and services on sexuality and repro-
ductive health to adolescents and another to
organize a program that can truly meet their
needs. Five main difficulties loom before any
organization attempting to develop a program
for young people:
Adolescents are different from adults
Girls are different from boys
Adolescent programs do not generate
Adults may oppose the program
Sex education programs are difficult to
evaluate and donors want to see quantita-
tive results

When Mexfam (the Mexican Family Plan-
ning Foundation), an affiliate of the Interna-
tional Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF),
began working with young people, the organiza-
tion embarked on a journey that has forced it to
confront each of these issues. In addition, it has
had to redefine the premises of its family plan-
ning program and reshape its activities in order
to respond to the needs of adolescents. Starting
with an improvised approach towards sex edu-
cation and contraceptive services, Mexfam has

gradually learned what kind of program works
with young people. Today, its Gente Joven
("Young People") program continues to evolve
in response to the program's direct experience
with young people.
Founded in 1965, Mexfam offers family
planning and primary health care services to
low-income populations of Mexico not being
reached by government programs. Mexfam also
serves as a training resource for other family
planning and related organizations. In 1986,
based on an analysis of demographic data and
survey results, Mexfam decided to create a pro-
gram for young people, within the context of its
overall services and activities, because:
Young people aged 10 to 19 account for
25% of Mexico's population';
The average age for initiating sexual activ-
ity is 15.7 for boys and 17.0 for girls';
No sex education was being offered in the
schools; and
A common complaint among young peo-
ple is the lack of communication between
teenagers and adults.
The data also showed a great many
unwanted pregnancies among adolescents
(59.7% of all pregnancies among adolescents in
Mexico') as well as an increase in cases of sexu-

- s

ally transmitted diseases. Since young people
constitute almost half of the population of Mex-
ico today, Mexfam realized the importance of
paying careful attention to this group that will
play a key role in defining the country's future.

Adolescents are Different from
The Gente Joven program was intended to
bring information on sex education and family
planning to young people living in the marginal
urban areas of Mexico. However, Mexfam soon
realized it could not automatically translate its
considerable experience in working with adults
into a special program for adolescents. It
quickly became apparent to Mexfam's staff that,
in order to establish an exchange of information
on sexuality-related matters, they needed to
break through young people's lack of trust in
adult counseling and the traditionally poor com-
munication patterns between young people and
adults. Today's parents often complain about
adolescents' "impossible" behavior, and adoles-
cents commonly bemoan their parents' lack of
understanding, while frustrated teachers report
that students have become increasingly skepti-
cal, showing little trust in their instructors.
In the beginning, Gente Joven employed a
strategy similar to one used by many other
agencies working with teenagers. Mexfam
opened three special centers for adolescents
(in Colima, Contreras and Mexico City) that
offered a variety of organized activities attrac-
tive to young people as well as talks on sex
education and family planning. Medical consul-
tations (including contraception) were also
available and specifically designed services and
activities were offered at each site in response
to individual community needs. Mexfam's strat-
egy was based on the hope that, after it gained
their trust, adolescents would show an interest
in learning about how to prevent unwanted
pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
From 1986 to 1988, a total of 13 adoles-
cent centers were established (some connected
to other Mexfam family planning centers, some
completely independent), and Mexfam's staff
and Gente Jocen promoters (voung people from
the community selected by the staff) worked on
motivating teenagers to visit the centers.

According to Mario Zarate, a 29-year-old psy-
chologist and Mexfam's coordinator for Cuaji-
malpa, a poor metropolitan area on the
outskirts of Mexico City: "The centers opened
their doors to the new generation. They sched-
uled activities of interest to young people and
created a welcoming atmosphere to make ado-
lescents feel comfortable." However, it soon
became apparent that the program was not
meeting its goals. For the limited number of
young people the centers reached, the initiative
proved useful, but the numbers were small and
the cost per teenager very high.
In 1988, Mexfam carried out its first evalu-
ation of the Gente Joven program. First, it
revealed that the program's activities benefitted
a limited number of adolescents, and those who
did come were already highly motivated, not
the ones most in need of information and ser-
vices. The evaluation also revealed that informa-
tion being passed along to young people was
not well organized but improvised according to
the circumstances. And lastly, it was clear that
in order to expand the program to reach more
adolescents, additional centers would be
needed and the cost of maintaining the physical
facilities (plus equipment, staff, etc.) would be
Perhaps the most remarkable outcome of
this first evaluation, however, was that it pre-
sented a realistic profile of Mexican adoles-
cents. The evaluation showed that the majority
of the adolescents who are sexually active have
sex only sporadically and, therefore, do not feel
the need to use contraceptive methods other
than barrier methods. This information was use-
ful because Mexfam's staff was still not clear
about whether contraceptives should be distrib-
uted to adolescents, let alone how it should be
done. Mexfam concluded that barrier methods
should definitely be offered to young people,
and those adolescents who have sex regularly
and wish to use other contraceptives could eas-
ily be referred to Mexfam's network of commu-
nity clinics. Another important finding was that
when adolescents are involved in a program,
they enjoy playing an active role. Therefore, it
seemed logical that young people would
become more involved if they felt they were a
part of the process.
The concept for the current Gente Joven
program originated with Gabriela Rodriguez,

Mexfam's Director of Technical Support. A psy-
chologist with 14 years' experience in sex edu-
cation, Gabriela came to Mexfam in 1984 from
CONAPO, the Mexican government's National
Council for Population, where she had designed
the educational component of the National Sex
Education Program. Within the context of
CONAPO's programs, "Family planning was
viewed as sex education and reproductive
health services, both of which were a little
removed from medical services and contracep-
tive distribution," says Gabriela. At Mexfam,
instead of working on materials for teachers,
physicians and technicians, Gabriela started
working directly with Mexfam's target audi-
ence: Mexico's poorest communities. For the
first time, she became involved with the deliv-
ery of family planning services.
Gabriela remembers that she was sur-
prised to see that at Mexfam, "Family planning
was placed more in a context of medical ser-
vices and contraceptive distribution and very
much addressed women who didn't want to
have more children:' Through her sex educa-
tion lens, she immediately observed that young
people were not benefitting much from existing
family planning programs. "That's how I
became interested in developing a strategy for
adolescents', says Gabriela. "To me, family plan-
ning is a whole set of sex education and repro-
ductive health services that go beyond medical
services." To be an effective family planning
program for young people, Gente Joven would
first need to address the issue of sexuality
straight on, seriously and candidly.
Gente Joven also benefits from the exper-
tise of Jos6 Aguilar, a physician and psychoana-
lyst with Mexfam who was actively involved in
developing the new strategy and is currently the
Program Coordinator. Jos6 Aguilar previously
worked for CORA (the nonprofit organization
Centro de Orientacion para Adolescentes, or
Adolescent Orientation Center), where he was
involved in the design of adolescent programs.
A multi-service program for young people in
Mexico City, CORA runs adolescent centers
offering health services, educational and train-
ing programs and a community contraceptive
distribution program.
Gabriela Rodriguez and Jos6 Aguilar
spent four months analyzing the results of the

first program evaluation, assessing the pros and
cons, and preparing a new approach to reaching
adolescents that would respond to these chal-
The first step had been to open centers for
young people offering activities in education
and cultural areas, theater, exercise and dance
classes, in addition to sex education and clini-
cal services. It was very beautiful, because
about 20 young people would go to the centers
every day; they helped with the work, played
ping-pong and knew all the topics related to
sexuality. But somehow the centers didn't
grow. For a year or so, the adolescents coming
to the centers were always the same ones. We
began to think about having them go to
schools with the program's coordinators to
promote discussion. But then we noticed that
these adolescents had stopped coming to the
centers. They weren't there because they no
longer had a reason to come-they had their
friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and they'd
rather be around those people than in the cen-
ters. [In this way we realized that] sex educa-
tion work doesn't require a center, so we
decided to bring the program to the young
The most important thing was to see,
approach and treat young people not as adults,
but as adolescents and to acknowledge the gen-
der differences between girls and boys. They
also sought to develop the most inexpensive
approach possible and to keep in mind the need
for qualitative and quantitative indicators that
could permit some evaluation of the program.
The first major change that the evaluation led to
was a decision to close down the adolescent

The Gente Joven Program Today
Today the Gente Joven program reaches
out to adolescents where they are-in schools
and colleges, at sports and recreational centers,
at work, on the streets and in other gathering
places. The program has shifted its perspective
from trying to make young people approach
Mexfam to taking the program to places where
adolescents get together-places of their
choice, that reflect who they are and what they

want to be. This new focus is based on an
understanding that adolescence is, as Gabriela
says, "the time in life when you define who you
want to be." Mexfam also recognized the need
to tailor different approaches to meet the needs
of specific groups of young people: students,
workers and those on the streets.
The Gentejoven program is carried out by
coordinators and promoters trained in the spe-
cial skills needed to communicate sex educa-
tion information to young people, with the
support of visual and print materials produced
specifically for the program. Whereas the coor-
dinators are Mexfam employees, the promoters
are volunteers. Currently Mexfam has 17 coor-
dinators exclusively dedicated to the Gente
Joven program. These coordinators not only
organize and conduct courses and seminars but
also supervise the entire program including
1,573 promoters as well as the participation of
248 of Mexfam's community doctors.
According to a Gente Joven operational
manual, the coordinators must be over 21 years
of age, have completed high school and have
demonstrated an interest in young people's
problems and issues related to sexuality, teen-
age pregnancy and communication within the
family. They must also exhibit an openness

toward diversity of sexual and reproductive
expressions of young people. The coordinators
should possess skills such as the ability to com-
municate with others, lead and direct group
discussions, empathize with young people and
the community, be creative, and show initiative
in attracting young people to Gente Joven activi-
ties. In addition to the 17 GenteJoven coordina-
tors, Mexfam's local coordinators (who
supervise all Mexfam's activities in a given com-
munity) also receive training so that they can
incorporate adolescents' needs into their other
Gente Joven promoters are all volunteers
between 16 and 20 years of age. They are high
school students who donate their time to the
program. Promoters are selected according to
the following profile: they must be able to estab-
lish good relations within a group, be enthusias-
tic and respectful, demonstrate interest in
helping their peers, have an interest in young
people's sexual and reproductive concerns,
show commitment and responsibility, have the
ability to work at the community level and
know how to interpret and communicate scien-
tific information correctly.
Promoters receive basic training in all the
topics offered to young people. In addition,

t DE




leaders are identified and selected from among
the promoters to participate in a more in-depth
training program. This second training is based
on the course "Planning Your Life" developed
by Mexfam and IMIFAP (Instituto Mexicano de
Investigaci6n en Familia y Poblaci6n)'. It is an
adaptation of the Life Planning Education Pro-
gram, developed by the Center for Population
Options to reflect the Mexican reality. It also
incorporates materials developed by Planned
Parenthood of Bergen County, New Jersey, the
Family Planning and Genetic Services of Texas
and techniques developed by Mexfam's Gente
Joven staff.
The complete training consists of 14 ses-
sions. Promoters who attend this course are
entrusted to provide both information and con-
doms to young people. Gente Joven promoters
also assist the coordinators when they present
their sex education talks; in this way they
receive on-the-job reinforcement of what they
learned during the training period.
Usually, the promoters have a demon-
strated interest in the topics covered by the pro-
gram and remain involved for a period of about
six months, after which most of them begin to
detach from the program to follow their own
paths-going to college, getting a full-time job
or becoming involved in another activity.

Communicating with Young People
Besides involving young people as pro-
moters, Gabriela Rodriguez and Jos6 Aguilar
recognized early on the need for special means
of communication that appeal to adolescents.
The communication techniques normally used
in Mexfam's family planning activities were not
necessarily the most appropriate ones for reach-
ing an adolescent audience.
At first, their concern was to ensure that
Gente Joven transmitted accurate and appropri-
ate information to young people. However, they
soon realized that the emphasis needed to shift
from "what" is communicated to "how" it is
communicated. Many communities throughout
Mexico lack information on sexuality, contra-
ceptive methods, sexually transmitted diseases,
etc. There is also a real gap between knowledge
and practice among young people. When asked
about a specific contraceptive method or safe
sex, many adolescents demonstrate adequate

knowledge on the subject but admit that they
do not practice what they know.
Some studies suggest that this gap must
be dealt with by addressing cultural variables
(e.g., gender roles, social, educational, political
and professional opportunities-especially for
women-and social pressures). As a report on
teenage pregnancy in Latin America and the
Caribbean notes, there are also "structural
obstacles to obtaining contraceptives, many of
which reflect the negative attitudes of parents
and educators towards sexuality in general and
among adolescents in particular. The intoler-
ance that adolescents sense from family plan-
ning providers, justified or not, in combination
with their own embarrassment and guilt, and
the fear that parents will become aware of their
behavior; are powerful factors that prevent many
adolescents from entering the world of modern
To change these attitudes, appropriate
information must be communicated using the
right vehicle. Traditional brochures and man-
uals on sexuality for young people tend to focus
on describing reproductive anatomy and biolog-
ical processes. But this seems to be an adult
approach to sexuality: overly intellectual, artifi-
cially out of context and lacking emotion. Young
people give a great deal of importance to the
emotional aspects of any situation and informa-
tion is more easily assimilated if it is placed in a
real life context, including the emotional
aspects involved.
The current Gente Joven program is the
result of an ongoing process of learning and
revision and a strong commitment to the needs
of Mexico's young people. More homogeneous
than the first, center-based approach, the Gente
Joven program is now offered throughout the
country by regional and local coordinators as a

means of reaching adolescents in their commu-
nities. In each region topics of specific local
interest are added to the basic module accord-
ing to an assessment of community needs.

Taking the Program to Schools
and Factories
The program is offered to students at jun-
ior and senior high schools and also colleges.
With the support of teachers and assistant pro-

fessors, sex education is provided in the class-
room. As part of an integrated approach to the
sensitive issues involved, teachers have access to
the Gente Joven materials beforehand. They are
encouraged to participate in the discussions as
well as to establish links between the course
and other classroom topics. Mexfam suggests
that schools offer the program as a ten-hour
course presented as two-hour sessions on five
consecutive days. Because each module feeds
into the next, presenting the course in one
week is more effective than spacing it out over
several weeks. The sessions are conducted by a
Mexfam coordinator or promoter with the sup-
port of teachers interested in building a better
relationship with their students.
The school principal believes Mexfam's
courses are very important for the students'
education. At the end of the school year, the
course is offered for third and fourth grade (13
and 14 year old) students. Sexuality is an
important part of young people's lives. With
Mexfam's course they begin to realize that it is
not the most important part of their lives but
only one aspect and they learn to manage
their sexuality from this perspective.
Alicia Segura
Junior High School Teacher
Cuajimalpa, Mexico

Using a similar approach to that used in
schools, the GenteJoven program is also offered
to working adolescents. Discussions on sexual-
ity and family planning are provided in factories
and the emphasis is on discussion. Gente Joven
does not limit its approach to providing infor-
mation and distributing contraceptives, but
instead it aims at promoting debate and analy-
sis, and at stimulating young people to make
their own decisions with respect to their sexual-
ity. Mexfam coordinators approach factory man-
agers with the suggestion that they offer family
planning information to their employees. Since
most industrial plants have a medical doctor on
site, a link is established through the company's
doctor who lets workers know when a family
planning talk will take place, usually during
work hours. In preparation for each talk, Mex-
fam's coordinators analyze the profile of the
workers at that particular company. Whenever
the average age of the workers is between 15
and 20 years of age, the course offered is either
the same Gente Joven modules presented at
schools (but using more appropriate examples)
or, if time is limited, a condensed version of the
original course.

...to Young People on the Streets

In Mexico, street gangs are an urban phe-
nomenon found primarily in the capital, Mexico
City. As in other large cities, Mexico's street
gangs are a result of poverty combined with the
increasing violence urban environments tend to
breed. Gang members are normally teenagers
who neither attend school nor work. They
spend most of their time on the streets and are
frequently involved in illegal activities as well as
conflicts with the local police.
According to Gabriela Rodriguez, it is
important to work with street gangs because "a
large number of adolescents in Mexico have the
youth gang member profile: they are school
dropouts who are also out of the job market.
This target group requires a distinct, more
direct strategy" Using its young coordinators
and promoters, Mexfam was able to make con-
tact with gang members who became links
between Mexfam and young people on the
streets. In approaching street gangs Mexfam
found that, surprisingly, their members were
both male and female. While not the majority,
the young female gang members are a signifi-
cant group.
The "Youth Gang" component of the
Gente Joven program took shape in January
1991, when Mexfam signed an agreement with a

Mexico City-based organization called the Pop-
ular Youth Council. The Popular Youth Council
was created in the mid 1980s, when 30 gangs
came together in an effort to develop joint activ-
ities. The Council has two objectives: 1) to
bring an end to conflicts with the police, and 2)
to carry out educational work that could benefit
the community. With the help of private dona-
tions, the Council's founders were able to build
and furnish a headquarters. An elected board
composed of young people directs the Council.
The activities offered by the Council range from
provision of legal counsel, organization of a lit-
eracy campaign and improvement of the envi-
ronment through community aid to karate,
soccer and basketball. The Council organizes
theater festivals, painting exhibitions, murals in
the streets and rock 'n' roll parties or tocadas. It
also offers courses in silk screening, nursing and
Most street gang members in Mexico are
opposed to the formal systems of education and
work and are highly critical of the way society is
organized. They resent the values imposed on
them by formal authorities and tradition. How-
ever, although the street gangs involved with
the Popular Youth Council fit this profile, they
have shown interest in developing their own
"culture" and sharing their values with the com-
munity. They also view their association with

the Council as a way to escape from illegal
activities, and thus to avoid conflicts with the
police, without compromising their values.
When the leaders of the Popular Youth
Council started working with teenagers they
became aware of the alarming lack of informa-
tion-as well as the misinformation-young
people had about sexuality, sexually transmitted
diseases, contraceptives and reproductive
health. "The young boys and girls who visit our
center don't have any information about sexual-
ity," explains Andr6s Castellano, a leader of the
To reach out to Mexican youth and
respond to the tremendous need for sexuality
and contraception information and services,
Mexfam started its campaign to work with gang
members and gain their confidence. "The hard-
est thing was to convince them that we were
different, that we only wanted to help them,
and that we didn't want anything from them,"
says Carmen Leyte, Mexfam coordinator of the
Chavos Banda, or youth gang project.
As part of the agreement with the Popular
Youth Council, Mexfam incorporated a commu-
nity program into the Council's activities. Cre-
ated and designed for young people, the youth
gang course is a revised version of the one Mex-
fam offers to schools and factories. Together
with young people, Mexfam organizes work-
shops and training sessions that provide Coun-
cil activists with the necessary tools to
incorporate sexuality and reproductive health
information into their cultural activities.
Working with street gangs has repre-
sented a major step in the GenteJoven program.
Gabriela Rodriguez says that "with street gangs
the strategy must be different. They are not in
the classroom, they are on the streets. Those
associated with the Council are involved with
music, organizing theater, having discussions,
and that is where the theme of sexuality comes
in." For instance, when the gang members orga-
nize theater on the streets, it is a collective crea-
tion. The entire group of actors, scriptwriters,
and so on, works together writing, rehearsing
and producing the plays. Gente Joven topics are
discussed with the theater group and frequently
included in the productions, which are
intended to generate discussion on the street
afterward among everyone-children, old peo-
ple, parents and adolescents. The program does

not tell young people what to do, rather it shows
them different possibilities for expressing their
sexuality. The program's messages acknowledge
the sexual motivation young people feel and
provide them with an understanding of the con-
sequences of sexual practice as well as the
means to avoid situations such as unwanted
pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
The results of the Youth Gang program
have exceeded the most optimistic expecta-
tions. In its first year, sex education was pro-
vided to more than 2,500 teenagers and 380
parents and 150 promoters were trained includ-
ing psychologists, social workers and teachers
who work with youth groups. In that same
period of time, Mexfam donated equipment to
establish the first clinic in the Council's head-
quarters. In the silk-screen course, students
designed T-shirts promoting the use of con-
doms, combining Mexfam's logo with the Coun-
cil's, and young artists painted murals with
messages related to reproductive health and

...on the Radio
Because of its impact and outreach,
Mexfam decided to use radio as a vehicle for
communicating Gente Joven's messages. They
created a program called Estrenando Cuerpo
(learning to use or getting used to one's own
body). It is a light, humorous radio series,
designed to offer sexual orientation to young
people between 11 and 21 years of age. The
series combines modern music-particularly
rock and disco-with information, commentary
and criteria for decision making in matters
related to: sexuality, family planning and health;
improving communication with those around
you; and the important role affection plays in all
human relationships, especially sexuality. The
programs also offer reliable information about
health, sexual life and human reproduction and
include other topics such as: the body, the sexu-
ality of the parents, sexual roles, homosexuality,
machismo, adolescent mothers, sadness and
depression, sexual myths, nutrition, imagina-
tion, platonic love, divorce, and fears. To date
100 different 25-minute programs have been
produced. Each sequence is a complete unit
that can be aired in any order; radio stations can
use the segments as many times as they wish.

Produced by Mexfam and Radio Educa-
ci6n, the official station of the Public Education
Ministry, Estrenando Cuerpo has been aired by
67 radio stations throughout the country and
the results, in terms of estimated audience, are
very encouraging. Estrenando Cuerpo received
the 1991 Global Media Award from the Popula-
tion Institute of Mexico as the best radio pro-
gram on this subject in the country.
The Sex Education Course
The first step in preparing the GenteJoven
program was the development of a training cur-
riculum on sex education to train Mexfam's field
coordinators. Under Gabriela's supervision, a
30-hour training course, supported by educa-
tional materials, was developed that defined the
minimum content necessary to enable the coor-
dinators to carry out the program.
The training course for coordinators
includes analysis and discussion on 16 themes:
Sex and Sexuality; Sexuality and the Family;
Sexuality and the Media; Sexuality and Values;
Sex Roles; Children's Sexuality; Puberty and
Adolescence; Young People's Sexuality;
Unwanted Teenage Pregnancy; Relationships;
Human Sexual Responses; Sexual Dysfunctions;
Sexual Variables; STDs/AIDS; Profile of a Sex
Educator, and the Gente Joven program itself.
The training course is designed to stimu-
late a revision of the individual's own point of
view through critical thinking. The first part of
the course is dedicated to analyzing the partici-
pants' own values and understanding regarding
sexuality, and in particular adolescent sexuality.
Therefore, information is offered within the con-
text of raising awareness about one's own sexual
perceptions and actions. In the first phase of the
course, participants are encouraged to analyze
how they feel and what they believe with
respect to sexuality. In the second part, they
learn how to distance themselves from their
own values in order to be able to understand
and respect a different perspective, in this case
the perspective of young people, and not to
impose their own views on adolescents.
The intended result is that coordinators
will be able to listen to adolescents, respect their
values, provide them with accurate information,
and help them make decisions according to their
own views and values. In Mexico, as in many

other countries, sexuality is frequently under-
stood as a basic animal instinct to be controlled
or as an immoral force to be repressed and kept
under tight reins-in either case, a negative
view. The Gente Joven program attempts to
present sexuality to adolescents as a positive
aspect of life. The program's first objective is to
communicate a message that clearly and con-
sistently states that sex can be enjoyed in a safe,
healthy and responsible way.
Opportunities are provided for coordina-
tors from different parts of the country to come
together at various times to exchange ideas,
problems and experiences. Twice a year all
coordinators and supervisors meet with Mex-
fam's central office senior staff and, at least once
a year, coordinators and supervisors receive
refresher training to improve their skills and
update their knowledge.
The next step in the development of the
GenteJoven program was to prepare a course on
sexuality to be offered to young people. Five
themes were selected based on research con-
ducted among young people designed to iden-
tify their major concerns. For example, the lack
of communication between adolescents and
their parents was a common complaint. Addi-
tionally, one study among adolescents in Mex-
ico City concluded that "sex education should
be even more broadly defined and requires an
important emphasis be placed on (the) family if
prevention (of unwanted pregnancy and sexu-
ally transmitted diseases) is to be effective.
Strategies should be designed to foster open
and clear communication between parents and
their children.'" For these reasons the five basic
topics of the program have become: Communi-
cation between Adolescents and Their Families;
Puberty and the Process of Human Life; Sexu-
ality and Youth; Sexually Transmitted Diseases
and Their Prevention; and Early Pregnancy and
Contraceptive Methods.

First Session Communication between the
Adolescents and Their Families. Basic concepts
are: communication (e.g. communicating within
the family as a continuous process of sending
and receiving messages); expressions used in
communication (such as sounds, silences, into-
nation of voice, crying, verbal and body lan-
guage); the family and how families differ with

respect to communication styles (e.g., the rigid
family, the overly protective family, the unstable
family, the family that avoids conflicts, the single
parent family), and ways to improve communi-
cation. Participants are encouraged to try to
improve their communication with their par-
ents and other family members, to clarify their
personal values and to obtain accurate informa-
tion on sexuality, human reproduction, preven-
tion of STDs and contraceptive methods.
Second Session Puberty and the Process of
Human Life. The facilitator offers a general
introduction about the changes the body
undergoes during life and explains male and
female anatomy in detail. Both the facilitator
and the Gente Joven materials use direct and
simple language, avoiding overly scientific
explanations about the reproductive organs and
their functions. Also during this session the
facilitator clarifies some of the most common
Mexican myths about puberty (such as that
young women should not bathe or exercise dur-
ing menstruation and that kissing can lead to
Third Session Sc.u\iliti, and Youth. This
session gives young people an opportunity to
discuss their feelings about sexuality as well as
cultural norms including the traditional roles of
girls and boys, women and men. The facilitator
explains the mechanisms of sexual excitement
and sexual relations. Other topics related to sex-
uality, including abstinence, masturbation, pros-
titution and pornography, are also discussed. At
the conclusion of this session the facilitator
introduces the image of a scale, suggesting to
the young people that they analyze pros and
cons of any situation before making a decision
and emphasizing that they have the power to
make choices in their lives.
Fourth Session Sexually Transmitted Dis-
eases. This session covers what STDs are, how
they are transmitted, the most common symp-
toms and the means for prevention and treat-
ment, as well as HIV/AIDS transmission and
Fifth Session Early Pregnancy and Contra-
ception. The facilitator touches on cultural
aspects related to teen pregnancy and contra-
ceptive use as well as some medical and statisti-
cal data. With the aid of films or videos, the

discussion normally encompasses the ways in
which unwanted pregnancies can change teen-
agers' lives and disrupt their studies and future
plans. Part of this session is dedicated to contra-
ceptive methods and the most common advan-
tages and disadvantages of each. The closing
session focuses on the importance of being well
prepared to make decisions according to one's
own values and to be aware that young people
have options in terms of their sexual behavior.

A manual for coordinators and promoters
presents techniques on how to expand on each
theme and how to deal with difficult or excep-
tional situations. Pamphlets have been devel-
oped on each topic and are distributed to the
young people. Audiovisual materials serve as
discussion aids. In the event of a power failure,
problems with equipment or in situations
where audiovisual materials cannot be used,
there is an optional group exercise for use with
each topic.
Each session begins with an introduction
by the facilitator and preliminary comments
about the video or other material to be dis-
cussed. The facilitator follows specific guide-
lines in conducting the discussions. At the close
of each session, the next day's topic is men-
tioned or, in the case of the last session, an
attempt is made to link that topic to the pre-
vious themes that have been covered. To pro-
mote discussion of sexuality and gender issues,
Gente Joven has developed a number of com-
munication materials (videos, films, brochures
and pamphlets) and techniques specifically
designed to reach young people.

The Videos
Video can be a very powerful medium for
transmitting complex messages. When used
within a specific curriculum and with teaching
guides, videos are even more effective because
the medium allows information to be placed in
a context, a life situation where emotion plays
an important role. Also, video is closer to the
culture of young people, more closely related to
television than to traditional school aids such as
books and other written materials. With finan-
cial support from the Japanese Organization for
International Cooperation in Family Planning
(JOICFP), Mexfam has developed a series of

films and videotapes used to trigger discussions
about sexuality. Produced locally, the materials
reflect both urban and rural settings in Mexico.
Also, since sexuality issues often carry an ele-
ment of embarrassment as a result of the moral
connotations attached to the subject, visual
images allow program facilitators to add another
element to the discussion, one that speaks for
itself, and this helps to stimulate discussion.
Of course, the visual and verbal language
used in these videos must be carefully chosen
to transmit the desired message. Mexfam has
emphasized language that is common among
young people yet not overly trendy. A video pro-
duction can be expensive and if language is not
considered carefully, the final product may be
applicable to only one community or social seg-
ment and can quickly become outdated. For
instance, a video targeted at marginal urban
adolescents might not appeal to rural youth.
Mexfam has found that a very successful solu-
tion to this problem is the use of silent cartoons.
One example is "La Paloma Azul" (The
Blue Dove), a silent cartoon produced for ado-
lescents aged 10 to 15 which portrays a group
activity led by an older girl and how one of the
boys develops a fantasized sexual relationship
with her. The story does not offer conclusions

nor does it point to consequences or future situ-
ations. The idea is to trigger the imagination
and prompt discussion. This initial ground
breaking serves as a basic structure for assimi-
lating the information provided by the program.
After viewing the video, the facilitator asks the
adolescents to imagine how the story would
continue, what they think would be likely to
happen in a similar situation, or how they would
prefer the situation to develop if it had hap-
pened to them.
A more recent video, also a silent cartoon,
"M6sica para Dos" (Music for Two), is targeted
to older adolescents 15 to 19. It describes the
difficult choices facing a young woman who
goes through disappointing experiences with
two young men until she finally chooses her
neighbor, a saxophone player who agrees to use
a condom, as a boyfriend. "Music for Two"
encompasses many issues relevant to young
people's lives such as relationships, rejection,
what is "cool" and what is not, stereotypes (one
young man rides a motorcycle) and values. In
addition, it creates an ideal ambiance for young
people to feel free to express their concerns and
doubts about sexuality. Thus, information can
be offered on matters adolescents often do not
feel secure about.

In a debate that followed the presentation
of "Music for Two" in a high school in the city of
Quer6taro, the facilitator asked the participating
young women and men what they understood
about the video. When the adolescents men-
tioned the process the girl had gone through to
decide which young man to become more
involved with, the facilitator then asked them to
explain why, in their opinion, the girl preferred
one young man over the others, what she did
not like about the other two, what they imag-
ined she was feeling and thinking, what they
believed was going on in her mind, whether
they agreed with her decision and, if not, why.
It takes a while for the young people to
feel free to express what they think and feel, but
slowly they start identifying themselves with the
situation portrayed in the video and the debate
heats up. Their fears and doubts come to the
surface. One of the boys supposes that the girl
in the video is concerned about catching a sexu-
ally transmitted disease, while one of the girls
say that it seems that the girl in the video is
looking for a caring man who is able to under-
stand the need to use a condom.
They have different opinions, sometimes
based on incomplete information that the facili-
tator has the opportunity to clarify. The use of
condoms, for instance, brings up a variety of
feelings among adolescents. Many still view
using or not using condoms as a sign of how
much the person cares or the level of commit-
ment in the relationship, and often the protec-
tion aspect of using condoms is trapped in a
pool of mixed feelings and attitudes with
respect to sexuality and affection.
As the debate continues, the adolescents
go beyond the video into imaginary situations
but without losing sight of the theme. They
begin to make reference to the story or context
of the video in terms of "if it happened to me
I.. The video, therefore, serves as a frame of
reference, a starting point as well as a common
ground they can return to in order to check
their own assumptions and interpretations.
Completing the silent cartoon trilogy, as
Mexfam calls it, is a new video, "Los Mejores
Deseos" (The Best Desires), that focuses on
communication between a man and a woman
involved in a relationship. The cartoon shows a
young couple, Sara and Gaspar, who do not have
enough money to have their own house and,

therefore, live with Sara's family. The story focus
on the difficulties arising from lack of privacy,
communication problems, Sara's and Gaspar's
wishes and fantasies and their economic strug-
gle within the cultural context of Mexico.
To date Mexfam has produced 16 films and
3 cartoon videotapes for the Gente Joven pro-
gram. In the next few years, they are planning to
slow down video production to concentrate on
marketing the existing ones and to invest more
time in developing new, innovative ways of using
the videos they have already produced.

Incorporating Young People's
For Gente Joven, producing a video or film
starts with a needs assessment in terms of the
topics to be explored, an analysis of the lan-
guage to be used and a decision on the specific
messages each video will contain. But even
more important is the process of integrating the
participation of young people into the produc-
tion. Prior to deciding on a final version of a
video or film, Mexfam shows the first edited
copy to a group of teenagers to get their com-
ments. Mexfam modifies that version and con-
tinues to seek input from adolescents until the
final product is acceptable to young people and
reflects their point of view.
An interesting example of this process is
El Ultimo Tren (The Last Train), a full color,
16 mm film about a lower middle class young
couple in a marginal urban area. In Mexfam's
original version, the young woman is waiting for
her boyfriend at a train station. They have made
plans to run away that day and start a new life.
She is pregnant and afraid to tell her parents, so
they have chosen this way out. At the end of the
film, they meet at the train station and leave
together. Mexfam felt this was a strong ending,
showing two teenagers (school dropouts) run-
ning away to have a baby without knowing the
dangers and difficulties they would find out in
the world.
From Mexfam's adult perspective, it
seemed enough to show that they had made a
wrong choice and that their lives would be seri-
ously endangered. However, when young peo-
ple were shown the film, they argued that the
"happy" ending was not realistic. When they

suggested a more realistic scenario (the young
woman waiting at the train station for the boy-
friend who does not come to meet her), Mex-
fam accepted their suggestion and changed the
ending. The Last Train now shows the boy-
friend's mother catching him as he packs his
things to run away. They have an argument
about it. Among other things, the mother tells
her son that the young woman is not right for
him, that she probably has already had sex with
other boys. She argues that he has his entire life
ahead of him. In the beginning, the boy is deter-
mined to go, but slowly he changes his mind. As
she keeps repeating that he will still meet a nice
girl, he is young, and so on, he decides against
going to the train station. The final version of
the film shows the girl waiting for hours alone
at the station and, finally, boarding a train by
The inclusion of these cultural norms and
other teenage viewpoints in GenteJoven materi-
als enriches the discussion and gives young peo-
ple the opportunity to think about their own
values and choices. For Mexfam, young people's
participation in the production of program
materials is essential to ensure that the right
message is being transmitted in the most under-
standable and useful wav.

Girls Are Different from Boys
The production of The Last Train was also
an opportunity for Mexfam to grapple directly
with gender roles and identity. As the program
has evolved, staff have been developing their
own understanding of how differences between
male/female needs, perceptions and power
affect sexual behavior and life planning.
Sexuality affects girls and boys and young
women and men differently. This is not only
because of different anatomies but also due to
cultural gender roles for males and females.
Gente Joven has realized that gender issues are
the major factor contributing to the gap
between knowledge and practice of contracep-
tion and safe sex.
For instance, when Cente Joven carried
out a study about AIDS prevention among ado-
lescents, the difference between the social roles
of girls and boys regarding condom use became
quite clear. Gabriela discusses the young peo-
ple's ambivalence: "The young women say that
if a young man uses a condom it is because he
likes a girl, he takes care of her, and he doesn't
want her to get pregnant. (AIDS is not a con-
cern.) But they also think it might mean that he
does not want to get involved, he only wants to
play around. Most girls hesitate to bring up con-

dom use straightforwardly because it would
indicate that they have too much sexual experi-
ence; it doesn't look good for them to be the
ones talking about condoms."
Today's adolescents are still, to a great
extent, torn between the conflicting stereotypes
of two kinds of women: the decent and the
indecent, the mother and the whore. The
doubts and fears they express show that they
have a hard time coping with the different pres-
sures they are under, the conflicting messages
they receive, and their own lack of understand-
ing of what sexuality is all about. And not only
do they feel they cannot discuss these matters
with adults, but they are also afraid of talking
about sexuality among themselves. As Gabriela
says, "It is troubling, and we came to realize
that, especially in terms of AIDS prevention, it
is important to address the gender issues under-
lying these communication problems. The
adolescents know all the AIDS preventive mea-
sures literally, but they are unable to act on
what they know because there are other varia-
bles, gender variables, involved in the problem."
Much of the inspiration and leadership for
addressing gender concerns has come from
young women in the community. One of the
most interesting projects has been a women's
theater group, Las Cucas ("Sweet Little
Things"), which emerged fi-om the Popular
Youth Council. Magdalena, a 22-year-old mem-
ber of Las Cucas, says that "in general topics
related to female sexuality are not thoroughly
discussed, so in our plays we want to focus on
themes such as female masturbation, rape,
pregnancy, and the way women are portrayed in
magazines." With Mexfam's help, Las Cucas put
together "Heaven or the Bed," a play describing
the story of a girl who has been asked by her
boyfriend to have sex with him and the different
responses that friends and parents give her
when she asks for advice. The play doesn't give
an answer to the question, but rather presents
many points of view so that the audience can
appreciate the range of social forces girls must
contend with in their sexual decision making.
Mexfam has also conducted focus group
research to learn more about how gender issues
shape values and decision making. For example,
a group of teenagers were divided into two
focus groups, one for young men and one for

young women, to evaluate Gente Joven's newest
video, "Los Mejores Deseos" (described above).
The groups were asked to analyze 1) the possi-
bility of supporting the individual development
of both the woman and the man in a relation-
ship; 2) the importance of collaboration in
housekeeping activities and economic responsi-
bilities; 3) the division of domestic chores, dis-
tribution of resources and power relations
between the man and the woman; and 4) the
importance of postponing the birth of the first
child until after the couple is well adjusted to
their life together.
The evaluation revealed that young
women and men react differently to issues such
as child care, work outside the home, use of
contraception, communication and develop-
ment of the individual. Most of the young men
accepted that women work, saying that "Gaspar
should allow Sara to help him," because they
believe that both are responsible for the coup-
le's financial situation. They seem to believe that
"if the man doesn't make enough money to sup-
port the two of them, then he should allow the
woman to work". Nevertheless, most of the
young men thought that when there are chil-
dren, the women should stay home and take
care of them. The young women, on the other
hand, felt that "men are afraid that women will
have male friends if they work" and "they don't
want women to make more money than they
do." The women also thought that, "like all
women, Sara wants to do more than housekeep-
ing, she wants to develop herself," a message
that was intended to be what Sara's "best
wishes" were all about. As for Gaspar's wishes
or fantasies, the young men seemed to agree
that "men always have the fantasy of going with
another woman:. With respect to communica-
tion, the men found it important that in the
video "Gaspar recognizes his mistakes and,
somehow, so does she." The young women
believed that "each one should have and state
his or her own opinions and let the other
express how he or she feels."
For Mexfam it was important to analyze
the reactions of the young women and men
because "cultural" issues have an impact on
attitudes toward sexuality and contraceptive
use. Young women and men seemed to agree on
most of the issues. For instance both groups

mentioned the importance of postponing the
birth of the first child and using contraceptives
"so that they could get to know each other and
enjoy their relationship before having children,
like Gaspar and Sara who use pills and could
also use condoms." However, communication
patterns and values related to gender roles may
interfere with how women and men deal with
sexuality. Mexfam believes that changing atti-
tudes about sexuality is a process that involves a
reevaluation of both gender roles and cultural
Awareness of the link between gender
roles and how adolescents view and express
their sexuality is a new concept being intro-
duced into Gente Joven's training and courses.
Today Gente Joven courses are presented to
mixed groups of 30 to 60 young women and
men. It was a conscious decision to address ado-
lescents in mixed groups instead of separating
boys from girls. As Gabriela says, "Our assess-
ment is that the communication between a
woman and a man is very poor: men talk to
men, women talk to women, but when we ask
them to talk to each other as couples, before
having sex or to talk about prevention, it is as if
you are demanding the impossible. For this rea-
son, we explicitly decided to encourage discus-
sion in mixed groups, because we feel it is
important that such topics be talked about
among men and women. We want to facilitate
communication in order to promote a better
dialogue. It may be that both boys and girls will
feel inhibited during the discussion, but at least
they will talk a bit more than they usually do. It
is a beginning:'
According to Gabriela, "A gender per-
spective is something new that we are begin-
ning to add to the program. We have just begun
to train ourselves in gender analysis, but we
already realize that we can and should intro-
duce a gender perspective into the program in a
systematic way"

Adults May Oppose Sex Education
A common constraint that sex education
programs face is opposition from parents or
other adults. In the case of Gente Joven, such
opposition has not been a major obstacle. How-
ever, as Gabriela notes, "Of course there has
been some opposition to the program because

of the misbelief that sex education favors early
sexual activity or promiscuity among young
people. That is why Mexfam is giving increasing
emphasis to sensitizing adults, specially school
principals and parents. More schools are
accepting the program, but there are still some
that do not allow the Gente Joven program to
come in.:
In some communities, parents have asked
the coordinators if they can find out more about
the program as a means of understanding the
changes their children are experiencing during
adolescence, as well as to learn about contra-
ception and to improve their relationships with
their daughters and sons. For example, having
learned that their children were receiving sex
education information provided by Mexfam, a
group of parents in the community of Cuaji-
malpa requested more information about the
GenteJoven course. As a result, a Mexfam coor-
dinator organized a group of parents and
offered them the same sex education course
being given to their children. A group of about
12 parents met in the evening in one of the
family's homes, where they watched the same
videos and were given the same information
their teenage daughters and sons were receiv-
ing at school. They then had an opportunity to
discuss the themes among themselves, with the
support of the Mexfam coordinator. This experi-
ence gave them a sense of their children's con-
cerns and helped them to find ways to be
supportive. Most of the parents were concerned
about adolescent pregnancy because they could
identify cases of early pregnancy in their neigh-
borhoods. The negative consequences of teen
pregnancy, particularly for girls (interruption of
school, early responsibility for the care of chil-
dren, often a second pregnancy and the end of
professional opportunities) were a serious issue
for them.
Mexfam does not ask permission from
parents to offer the Gente Joven program to
young people because it believes this would
only delay the process. Experience thus far has
shown that the vast majority of the parents do
not oppose the program; instead they feel a
great relief in knowing that their children are
receiving information on sexuality, a topic they
admit is difficult for them to discuss with their
own daughters or sons.

Distribution of Contraceptives
A particularly sensitive issue for many
adults is providing unmarried teenagers with
access to contraceptives. It is a common belief
that making contraceptives available to teen-
agers will stimulate promiscuity. Parents prefer
to believe that adolescents will not think about
or engage in sex if left on their own, but will
immediately respond if they are given informa-
tion about sex or, even worse, are exposed to
contraceptives. Around the world, there is a
tendency for adults to blame sex education pro-
grams for teenage sex and pregnancies instead
of accepting the fact that teenagers naturally are
interested in sex and that by providing them
with knowledge, sex education actually helps
them to make informed choices. Mexfam con-
sidered the possibility of such a negative reac-
tion to the Gente Joven program in Mexico, but
the staff was convinced that the program would
help teens and thus overcome any possible
Gente Joven promoters, therefore, distrib-
ute condoms to adolescents over 16 years of age
in schools, factories, recreation and cultural
centers, gymnasiums and other gathering
places. The promoters give condoms to adoles-
cents under age 16 only when they request
them directly. Only condoms are distributed

directly by program staff to adolescents because
this is a method free from side effects and con-
traindications and can also protect young peo-
ple from sexually transmitted diseases. Mexfam
promoters always carry condoms with them,
thus serving not only as support people with
whom young people can talk but also as a
source of contraceptives for adolescents intend-
ing to have sex.
Initially spermicidal foaming tablets were
also distributed, but problems arose because
the expiration date of these contraceptives had
to be closely monitored. This placed an added
supervisory burden on coordinators. Since
foaming tablets, as well as other contraceptives,
were available from Mexfam's community clin-
ics, the program chose to be on the safe side
and have promoters distribute only condoms.
Recently, however, Mexfam has been exploring
a new approach to distribution of contracep-
tives to teenagers that combines condoms and
spermicidal tablets in an attractive package thus
promoting the combined use of both barrier
methods for dual protection. As yet Mexfam has
not been able to evaluate the impact of this new
approach among teens.
When adolescents approach the pro-
moters requesting other types of contraceptives
and indicate that they have sex regularly, the

promoters refer them to Mexfam's community
clinics where they can choose a contraceptive
appropriate for their age, health conditions, life-
style, and preferences. Mexfam has provided
special training to its network of community
doctors (recent graduates of medical school
who Mexfam helps to start up practices in mar-
ginal or rural areas) in how to meet the special
needs of young women and men. In addition to
contraception, at the community clinics teen-
agers can also have a checkup, receive counsel-
ing about any of their reproductive health
problems, as well as get answers to any ques-
tions they may have. Young people, therefore,
are able to receive information on contraceptive
methods and sexually transmitted diseases,
choose a safe way to prevent unwanted preg-
nancy, learn about how to have safe sex, and
receive medical follow-up appropriate for their
age within their own community and at a rea-
sonable cost.
Programs for Adolescents Do Not
Generate Income
A major problem in sustaining adolescent
programs is the lack of financial resources avail-
able to the target audience. Most teenagers do
not have an income of their own to pay for sex
education and contraceptives. And, considering
Mexfam's overall target population, the problem
becomes even more delicate because Mexfam
is trying to reach out to low-income people.
Therefore, since its inception, the Gente Joven
program has been funded largely by interna-
tional donors. Current donors include: The
International Foundation, The Moriah Fund,
The David and Lucille Packard Foundation,
The Public Welfare Foundation, The Japanese
Organization for International Cooperation in
Family Planning, The Bergstrom Foundation
and the IPPF's Western Hemisphere Region
office. Despite such impressive donor support,
Mexfam is aware of the importance of the pro-
gram generating at least a minimum of cost
recovery. In 1992, the Gente Joven budget was
around US$ 300,000 with cost recovery of
approximately US$ 6,000. Costs are being
recovered by the sale of pamphlets (US$ 0.15 to
0.25 each) and educational materials to other
organizations. Mexfam also charges for training
and refresher courses offered to professionals

(psychologists, physicians, social workers) who
pay between US $15 and $30 per course.
Mexfam's overall goals for the 1990s
include greater focus on both quality and self-
sufficiency. However, it is not realistic to expect
that the Gente Joven program will be able to
generate significant revenue. Therefore, Gente
Joven's goal is to maximize its reach through
more efficient use of existing resources.
Sex Education Programs Are
Difficult to Evaluate
Most sex education programs focus more
on giving information than on providing specific
services so it is difficult to evaluate their effec-
tiveness. Further, their long-term goals of chang-
ing attitudes and behavior concerning sexuality
are almost impossible to measure using cur-
rently available indicators. However, Mexfam
has paid attention to the need to document and
evaluate Gente Joven's activities and there is
every indication that the program is having an
impact on students. For example, Ricardo
Calvillo, Mexfam's coordinator for the area of
Tlanetlaupantle, reports that "in schools where
the number of pregnancies was very alarming,
the number of pregnancies dropped after
Mexfam's arrival with a ten-hour course about two
and a half years ago: in 1991 only one pregnancy
occurred in the school [in Tlanetlaupantle]."
Given that most of the Gente Joven strat-
egy is educational, Mexfam emphasizes the
qualitative aspects of the program in its evalua-
tions. However, in quantitative terms, Mexfam's
evaluation department reports that in 1992
alone, the GenteJoven program reached 22,864
adolescents aged 10-19 through the ten-hour
sex education courses and Gente Joven staff
responded to requests from other schools to
give talks on sexuality, thus reaching another
82,548 teenagers. The GenteJoven program has
also reached professionals and parents through
talks and courses. In 1992, about 2,756 profes-
sionals (including psychologists, social workers
and educators) and 1,742 parents attended
Gente Joven courses and talks. Today the Gente
Joven program is offered in 52 cities throughout
The response of other organizations in the
field also reflects an appreciation of Mexfam's
contribution. Professionals working with sex

education programs in other Latin American
countries have participated in Mexfam's training
courses and have requested Gente Joven materi-
als for use in their own programs. Staff from the
IPPF/WHR affiliates in Nicaragua, Colombia
and Guatemala have also been trained to use
the Gente Joven program. Further, the AIDS
prevention program of the IPPF/WHR affiliate
in Puerto Rico, as well as several other organiza-
tions, are currently using some of Gente Joven's
audiovisuals and videos. The adolescent pro-
gram of the IPPF affiliate in Colombia is also
adapting the Gente Joven strategy to meet the
needs of that country's adolescents.

New Audiences, New Priorities
Over the years, Mexfam has expanded its
services, diversified its programs, and improved
the quality of care it provides to the population.
In this regard, the Gente Joven program has
been an important stimulus for the organiza-
tion. For example, responding to the needs of
young people for contraceptives without jeop-
ardizing their health resulted in Mexfam's
adopting a more user-oriented approach within
their adult contraceptive distribution strategy as
well. This translated into paying more attention
both to the information given to clients and to
the training given to service providers. Incorpo-
rating the Gente Joven program into Mexfam's
network of services and activities also produced
an awareness of the diverse contraceptive needs
of other groups of users who should be given
more attention (e.g., men, unmarried women in
relationships). Mexfam's director, Alfonso L6pez
sums up: "We want to continue in the direc-
tions that have demonstrated good results, and
we plan to concentrate additional effort on the
rural programs and programs directed at men.
We also plan to give increased importance to
quality and improving the status of women."
Toward this end, Mexfam is now evaluat-
ing all its programs from a gender perspective
and is designing special materials and projects
specifically targeted to the rural areas. After six
years of hard work trying to respond to the
needs of young Mexicans, Jos6 Aguilar agrees
that "Gente Joven must continually be chang-
ing, incorporating new ideas, and reevaluating
the program content to ensure that information
prepared five or six years ago is still appropriate.

We also need to strengthen the program in the
rural areas and include a gender perspective in
our work with young people." Gabriela
Rodriguez will soon undertake an analysis of
the Gente Joven materials from a gender point
of view and introduce "gender analysis"' into
the training curriculum.
Another sensitive issue related to the
Gente Joven curriculum is child abuse and sex-
ual abuse. Although the issue has not been
addressed as yet, Mexfam has acknowledged
the extent of the problem in Mexico and a proj-
ect has been designed (pending funding) to
train Mexfam's service providers on how to
ensure that appropriate care is provided to vic-
tims of violence and sexual abuse. Mexfam may
also consider ways in which this topic can be
introduced in the Gente Joven program.
Also among Mexfam's future plans for
Gente Joven is expansion of the program to
reach even younger children. Experience indi-
cates that the earlier a child receives sex educa-
tion information in a relaxed and friendly
manner, the easier it is for her/him to develop
positive and healthy attitudes toward sexuality.
Meanwhile, Gabriela Rodriguez is already
thinking about yet another challenge Gente
Joven must face: delegating more responsibility
for the program to adolescents. "In the future,"
she says, "we should take a giant step and give
much more responsibility to young people.
While they might not possess the techniques
needed to produce a video or write program
materials, they certainly have the messages. The
young people want responsibility in sex educa-
tion. An important step would be to offer them
training so they can train other adolescents. We
are still a little paternalistic." One way of doing
this would be to explore techniques and strate-
gies that appeal to out-of-school teens and to
make less use of formal sex education courses
developed for classrooms. Gabriela believes that
in the near future emphasis should be placed
on the ways teenagers express themselves, par-
ticularly the forms of communication used by
out-of-school adolescents such as the "theater
of the street" and rock songs.
Another lesson that has been learned is
about promoters. The role of promoters found
in most family planning programs (distributing
contraceptives and providing information about

family planning service sites) is not suitable for
an adolescent program that aims at increasing
youth participation and focuses on a more com-
plex concept of education. When trying to get
the message across to teenagers, the important
thing is to be sure that the information is pre-
sented in a way that is relevant and meaningful
to young people. Information on sexuality needs
to be invested with values and emotions adoles-
cents can relate to and placed within the con-
text of their world. To be able to present the
material in this manner requires a significant
amount of training and tends to improve with
For this reason, Mexfam has begun to
reduce the number of promoters used in the
program and to enhance the role that the coor-
dinators play, especially with regard to training
teachers and health and community workers.
GenteJoven promoters are now being employed
primarily to work in street theater, serving as
facilitators for theater groups to insure that
sexuality and reproductive health messages are
included in their plays. As Mexfam's GenteJoven
program develops and learns from its own expe-
rience, other changes are likely occur as part of

a process that enriches the program and ena-
bles it to respond more effectively to the coun-
try's needs.
Gente Joven is far from being a "perfect"
program for teens or a model that can be repli-
cated everywhere. Rather it involves a constant
effort to reach out to a particularly sensitive,
needy, and often difficult-to-reach segment of
the population. Being attentive to the Mexican
reality, Gente Joven is in the process of finding
ways to make adolescents not only more knowl-
edgeable about but also more comfortable with
their bodies and their sexuality, and to empower
them to make informed decisions about sexual
behavior, contraception, and disease prevention.
The Gente Joven staff admits that there is
still a lot to be learned both from professionals
with experience in the field and from the young
people themselves. The program seeks to main-
tain an open structure that is ever ready to
incorporate new information, new methodolo-
gies, and different approaches. Mistakes are
accepted as part of the risk of developing a
dynamic program: the important thing is to
remain open and aware that there are always
ways to do better.



With its focus on listening to young peo-
ple, Gente Joven has paid careful attention to
how the needs of adolescents are different from
those of adults. However, after seven years of
experience and reflection, staff members have
deepening their awareness that "adolescents"
are not a homogeneous group. While Gente
Joven has already differentiated between the
realities of in-school and out-of-school youth, it
is currently poised to recast the program to
reflect the reality that adolescent boys and girls
are affected by profoundly different messages,
experiences, perceptions, risks and needs
regarding their identity and their sexuality. This
Afterword seeks to clarify some of the key theo-
retical and practical issues that confront pro-
grams like Gente Joven when they begin to
re-examine their approach to adolescent sexual-
ity from the perspective of gender.
Who Has a Sense of Control?
From an early age, boys receive messages
that give them a sense of control over them-
selves and over others, whereas girls are social-
ized into abdicating control. By the time they
reach their teens, adolescents' views of what a
girl and boy "ought to be" are nearly fully estab-
lished. In one educational experiment con-
ducted in the U.S., boys were asked to answer
the question, "You suddenly find yourself a girl.
What would your life be like?" Some boys
became depressed and many were unable to
come up with an answer. The girls, on the other
hand, when fantasizing about suddenly being
reincarnated as a male, described the great
adventures and accomplishments they could
look forward to-activities they felt were denied
to them because they were girls.
When girls grow up, the tension over how
women are "controlled" carries over to work as
well. From listening to young people, Gente
Joven has learned that young women want to
enter the work force in order to "develop them-
selves:' However, they are aware that men often
impede or disapprove of women working
because "Men are afraid that if women work
they will have male friends." At an early age,
women learn that they must cope with male
suspicions; that the men in their lives often per-
ceive any wider association with other men as

Certainly, girls' negative, constrained view
of life affects the degree to which they can exer-
cise free will and equality in matters of sexual-
ity. Girls often internalize the idea that they
should not have any control over what happens
to them sexually. Accordingly, in Latin America,
a girl's first sexual contact is typically with a
male partner two to three years older than she
is. This male age advantage means that most
girls abdicate the possibility of negotiating their
sexual experiences directly and, not surpris-
ingly, have little control over the decision
whether or not to use contraceptive methods.
Often, a girl fears even bringing the issue up: if
she appears to be too familiar with and eager to
use contraceptives, the boy may conclude that
she is "too experienced." Programs like Gente
Joven can be more sensitive to gender differ-
ences between girls and boys by asking ques-
tions such as: Can we really define adolescence
as a "time in your life when you decide who you
want to be"? Do boys and girls respond differ-
ently to courses such as "Planning Your Life"?
What do gender power dynamics imply about
the nature of young girls' sexual activity? Does
the socialization of girls into passivity also put
them at risk of STDs, AIDS and physical vio-
lence? If so, should adolescent programs con-
front these issues?
Parents, too, are generally far more con-
trolling of the behavior of girls than boys, partic-
ularly with respect to sexuality and fertility.
They generally hold different norms and keep
tighter reins on their daughters than on their
sons. While many techniques and approaches
to parent-child communication are effective
regardless of gender, Gente Joven might want to
re-examine its efforts to empower adolescents
in their negotiations with parents from a gender
perspective. Does fostering open and clear
communication "between parents and their
children" have a different meaning for daugh-
ters than it does for sons? Is it reasonable to
provide materials for adults intended to help
them deal with their adolescent children with-
out regard to the children's gender?
Who Has Responsibility?
Men and women also have different
responsibilities regarding childrearing and fam-
ily maintenance, and it is not clear that boys and

girls are being presented with a realistic picture
of what their lives may actually be like. For
example, how many girls assume that with mar-
riage will come childbearing and that with
childbearing will come consistent economic
support from their husband? How many young
Mexican women realize that a significant pro-
portion of their lives are likely to be spent work-
ing to support themselves and their families?
Are they aware of the risks they run of marital
separation? How many young men really under-
stand and are comfortable with what is
expected of them as "fathers" and providers for
a family? When most public and religious insti-
tutions and the media still cling to a model of a
"traditional family" (one that may, in fact, never
have existed for most people), and with families
in all societies experiencing increasing levels
of social and economic stress, "Life Planning"
courses need to make young people aware
of the reality of who is going to pay for the
Center Joven is learning a great deal about
how to portray reality without losing its critical
consciousness and vision of change. The staff
listened when kids told them that their original
romantic and "gender-blind" ending to the film
El Ultimo Tren-in which the boy stayed with
his pregnant girlfriend to face an uncertain
future-was wishful thinking. In the video,
"Music for Two," a high school girl must figure
out which boy she prefers to be with. It is cer-
tainly true that in most societies girls are still
discouraged from fantasizing about an indepen-
dent identity. However, in addition to empower-
ing young women to make a choice of partners
that is in their own interest, shouldn't they also
be presented with the option of "choosing" to
delay sexual activity-not being told that they
shouldn't have sex-if they don't feel ready to
make such a commitment? Many young people
may value support for a decision not to be sexu-
ally active in a world where peer pressure and
the media are telling them they should be, just
as others who are sexually active need support
to make intelligent decisions about their sexual
behavior. We need to be careful not to reinforce
the notion that "success" for a woman equals
finding a nice man. Programs like Gente Joven
need to ask themselves, at various points in
their evolution, "Is this the moment to push

ourselves and our clients past comfortable fan-
tasies of what love and life are all about or is it a
moment to validate those fantasies?"
The answers are not always easy. For
example, Gente Joven has bravely moved across
the "information only" boundary into providing
both information and services. Yet the choice of
offering only condoms may have sent a mixed
message. For practical reasons (the problem of
expiration dates), the program had stopped dis-
tributing foaming tablets but continued to offer
condoms. This decision reflected good inten-
tions: insuring quality control and promoting
male responsibility. But at the same time, it
meant that no methods were being provided
that were under the control of young women.
The availability of foaming tablets for girls,
even if only limited numbers use them, sends a
strong message to girls that they have a right to
protect themselves, to take the initiative and to
touch their genitals. Girls' confidence in their
ability to use barrier methods can also lay the
groundwork for their future use of another gen-
eration of female-controlled methods-such as
the anti-HIV microbicides now under develop-
ment. GenteJoven is now exploring the possibil-
ity of offering a new, combination package
containing both condoms and spermicides
through their program.

Who Are We Silencing?
There is a final, and uncomfortable,
dimension of girls' (and some boys') sexuality
that remains unexplored by almost all adoles-
cent fertility programs around the world-
sexual abuse and incest. For the millions of
young people who have been sexually abused, a
defense of their "right" to be sexually active
may not only have a hollow ring but also can
feel like an active denial of their own experi-
ence and their pain. These young people have
already been denied a sense of autonomy; ado-
lescent programs must insure that they do not
reinforce these adolescents' silence and deepen
their shame and confusion by denying their
reality. Programs need to develop mechanisms
that allow the victims of sexual abuse an oppor-
tunity to acknowledge those experiences and
validate their feelings.
While programs themselves may lack the
skills and resources to deal directly with these

issues, moral support and a system of referrals
could go a long way toward helping these young
people develop a sense of autonomy and control
over their bodies. Such an approach may also
help prevent many early adolescent pregnan-
cies. In one U.S. study of teenage mothers, two-
thirds of those interviewed had a history of
sexual abuse, which frequently took place at the
hands of a close male family member. Such fig-
ures are not uncommon in many societies.
Are adolescent fertility programs ready to
acknowledge that sexual abuse, particularly
incest, is a powerful predictor of early sexual
activity and pregnancy? Are programs prepared
to discuss girls' feelings of being "at risk" physi-
cally or emotionally in relation to males with
whom they feel some intimacy, including within
their own families? For women in general, but
especially for girls, making connections for
them outside the family, with other girls, in
school or through community organizations,
can provide them with a "safe haven" and help
them to overcome their pain and begin to build
a new sense of self-esteem.
In recognizing the urgency of addressing
gender issues in a meaningful way, Gente Jocen
is moving toward a more effective but radical
program strategy. Understanding and grappling

with the power dynamics between males and
females requires courage and clarity. Before
challenging the inequities of these dynamics,
we must make them explicit. The honest treat-
ment of male/female intimate experiences will
help make it possible for young women and
men to live more meaningful, pleasurable, and
productive lives.


'This data was confirmed by the 1991 INEGI, Censo
General de Poblaci6n v Vivienda, Mexico.
'The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Today's Adolescents,
Tomorrow's Parents: A Portrait of the Americas, 1990.
'The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1990.
4Pick de Weiss, et al., Planeando Tl Vida, Limusa,
Mexico, 1991.
'Lucille C. Atkin, "El Embarazo en la Adolescencia en
America Latina y el Caribe: Causas y Consequencias
Psicosociales." In Conferencia Internacional sobre Fecun-
didad en Adolescentes en America Latina y el Caribe.
The Pathfinder Fund/The Population Council, Novem-
ber, 1989.
'Pick de Weiss, et al., "Sex, Contraception, and Preg-
nancy Among Adolescents in Mexico City," in Studies in
Family Planning, v. 22, n. 2, 1991.
This analysis of the distinctions between the sexes per-
mits the understanding of the different social roles that
men and women are encouraged to adopt. Gender roles
are a social construct and are different from biological
sexual distinctions.

For more information about the Gente Joven program or their materials, please contact
Gabriela Rodriguez, Mexfam, Calle Juarez 208, Tlalpan, Mexico 14000 D.E Mexico, Telephone
(525) 573-7070; FAX (525) 573-2318.

^ bw --- "' "

~,., ..


Resume en Francais

Le sous-titre de cette question, "Dialogue avec
les adolescents mexicains sur la sexuality>, a comme
intention de mettre en evidence le fait que la plupart
des programmes d'6ducation sexuelle pour les jeunes
ont 6t6 6labores par des adults enclins a ignorer la
r6alit6 de l'adolescence telle qu'elle est pergue par
les jeunes. Toute organisation s'efforcant d'l6aborer
un programme a I'intention des jeunes se heurtent a
cinq difficulties principles : 1) les adolescents sont
diff6rents des adults; 2) les filles sont diff6rentes des
garqons; 3) les programmes a l'intention des adoles-
cents ne g6nbrent pas de revenues; 4) il se pourrait
que des adults s'opposent au programme; et 5) les
programmes d'6ducation sexuelle sont difficiles a
6valuer et les organismes donateurs veulent des
r6sultats quantitatifs.
MEXFAM (Fondation mexicaine pour la plani-
fication familiale), soci6t6 affili6e de 1'IPPF, a amorc6
l'elaboration d'un programme a l'intention des
jeunes en 1986, en se basant sur une analyse de
donn6es d6mographiques et de r6sultats d'enqu&te
rev6lant ce qui suit : plus de 25 pour-cent de la
population mexicaine 6tait ag6e de 10 a 19 ans; I'ac-
tivit6 sexuelle commengait, en moyenne, a 15,7 ans
pour les garcons et h 17 ans pour les filles; les 6coles
n'offraient aucune education sexuelle; et les jeunes
gens se plaignaient communement du manque de
communication avec les adults.
Apres avoir tent6 une experience avec un pro-
gramme a partir d'un centre, programme qui atteig-
nait relativement peu d'adolescents et don't les coits
d'exploitation etaient 6lev6s, MEXFAM a r66value la
situation et 6labor6 I'approche actuelle de Gente
Joven qui rejoint les adolescents dans leur milieu -
dans les 6coles et les colleges, dans les centres spor-
tifs et les centres de loisirs, au travail, dans la rue et
dans d'autres endroits de rassemblement. Le pro-
gramme a change d'optique : au lieu de tenter de
convaincre les jeunes de se joindre a MEXFAM, on
va les rejoindre dans leur milieu.
Le programme Gente Joven est mis en oeuvre
par des coordonnateurs (les membres du personnel
de MEXFAM) et des organisateurs (des jeunes
benevoles) possedant les techniques necessaires pour
communiquer l'informnation sur l'6ducation sexuelle
aux jeunes gens, avec l'appui de materiel visuel et
d'imprim6s 6labor6s explicitement pour le pro-
gramme. En plus d'impliquer des jeunes gens en tant
qu'organisateurs, le personnel de Gente Joven s'est
rendu compete que les techniques de communication
nonnalement utilis6es dans les activities de planifica-
tion familiale de MEXFAM n'etaient pas n6cessaire-
ment les plus appropri-es aux adolescents. On a
plutot mis l'accent sur la facon don't on devait fire
passer le message au lieu de sur ce qui devait etre
communique. Pour sensibiliser les jeunes et influ-
encer leurs attitudes et leur comportement, I'infor-
mation doit etre communique a l'aide de l'outil
approprie. Les brochures et les manuels traditionnels
sur la sexuality ont tendance a mettre l'accent sur les
descriptions de I'appareil reproducteur et les proces-

sus biologiques. Or, aux yeux des adolescents, cette
optique r6pond davantage aux attentes des adults
qu'a leurs propres attentes. Les jeunes accordent
beaucoup d'importance aux aspects 6motionnels
d'une situation et assimilent I'information plus facile-
ment lorsqu'elle est mise en context dans la vie
reelle et pr6sentee avec les aspects 6motionnels s'y
rattachant. C'est en tenant compete de cette id6e
qu'avec l'apport direct des adolescents, GenteJoven a
l6abore une serie de films et de videos pour pr6-
senter des concepts et stimuler la discussion sur des
sujets d6licats.
Le programme Gente Joven est actuellement
offert aux 6leves des 6coles secondaires et aux 6tu-
diants des colleges dans un course de dix heures pr6-
sent6 g6neralement en segments de deux heures
chaque jour durant une semaine. Des versions modi-
files du course sont offertes aux jeunes ayant quitt6
1'lcole et travaillant dans les manufactures, ainsi
qu'aux membres des bandes de rues.
Au course de leur experience de travail avec les
jeunes, le personnel de Gente Joven s'est rendu
compete que les filles et les garqons reqoivent des
messages tres diff6rents de leur famille, de 1'ecole et
des m6dias sur la faqon don't ils peuvent exprimer
leur sexuality. Ces perspectives diff6rentes ont une
influence sur les decisions qu'ils prennent ou ne
r6ussissent pas a prendre, en ce qui a trait a leur
activity sexuelle, peu imported ]'exactitude de l'infor-
mation qu'ils ont en leur possession. Aujourd'hui,
Gente Joven est en train de r6examiner son pro-
gramme en tenant compete du sexe de l'adolescent
afin de repondre de facon plus efficace a toutes ces
Une question tres delicate pour un grand nom-
bre d'adultes est celle de fournir aux adolescents non
mari6s l'acces aux contraceptifs. Souvent, les parents
craignent que cet aces facile aux contraceptifs n'en-
courage la promiscuity, au lieu d'accepter le fait que
les adolescents sont naturellement interess6s au sexe
et qu'en leur fournissant les connaissances appro-
pri6es, I'education sexuelle les aide en fait a faire des
choix eclairs. MEXFAM a consider la possibility de
ce genre de reaction negative mais 6tait convaincu
que le programme aidaient les jeunes et que, par
consequent, il triompherait de toute opposition even-
tuelle. Les organisateurs de Gente Joven ont done
distribute des condoms sur demand aux adolescents
de 16 ans et plus dans les 6coles, les manufactures,
les centres culturels et les centres de loisirs, les gym-
nases et les autres endroits de rassemblement.
Quoique le a l'intention des adolescents don'tt le but est davan-
tage de provoquer un changement d'attitude que de
fournir des services specifiques) soit difficile a 6va-
luer sur le plan quantitatif, on pent souligner que
22 864 adolescents ont particip6 au course formel de
Gente Joven en 1992 et que 82 548 jeunes ont 6t6
sensibilis6s au moyen de causeries et d'autres activi-
tes compl6mentaires. Aujourd'hui, le programme
Gente Joven est offert dans 52 villes du Mexique.

Resumen en Espaiol

La mayoria de los programs de educaci6n sex-
ual para j6venes han sido elaborados por adults que
desconocen o no comprenden las percepciones y los
puntos de vista de los adolescents de hoy. El sub-
titulo de este nimero, "Un dialogo sobre el sexo con
adolescents mexicanos", subraya la necesidad de
corregir este error. Cualquier organizaci6n que bus-
que elaborar un program para j6venes deberd tener
en cuenta las siguientes realidades: 1) los adoles-
centes no son como los adults; 2) las muchachas no
son como los muchachos; 3) los programs para ado-
lescentes no sirven para general ingresos econ6mi-
cos; 4) los adults suelen oponerse a este tipo de
program; y 5) result dificil evaluar un program de
educaci6n sexual, aunque las entidades que han
donado fondos quieran ver resultados concretos.
Mexfam (Fundaci6n Mexicana de Planificaci6n
Familiar, afiliada al IPPF) empez6 a elaborar un pro-
grama para gente joven en 1986, en base a un andlisis
de datos demogrificos y los resultados de various
levantamientos. Estos studios indicaban que mais
del 25% de la poblaci6n mexicana tiene entire 10 y
19 afios de edad; que la actividad sexual comienza,
en promedio, a los 15,7 afios de edad para los varones
y a los 17 para las mujeres; que las escuelas no ofre-
cfan ningun tipo de educaci6n sexual; y que los
j6venes tipicamente se quejaban de la falta de com-
unicaci6n entire ellos y los adults. Los datos tambi6n
pusieron de relieve la existencia de muchisimos
embarazos no deseados entire adolescents y un
important aumento en la frecuencia de las enferme-
dades de transmisi6n sexual.
Inicialmente Mexfam experiment con various
programs basados en centros en los que se trataba
de congregar adolescents para realizar actividades
educativas. Este mitodo alcanz6 a muy pocos adoles-
centes y result ser muy caro. Tras una evaluaci6n,
Mexfam decidi6 cambiar el enfoque y elaborar un
program que trataria de alcanzar a los adolescents
en los sitios donde se encuentran naturalmente: las
escuelas y universidades, los centros deportivos y
recreativos, el trabajo, las calls de barrio y otros
sitios populares. En vez de tratar de traer adoles-
centes a Mexfam, el nuevo program, denominado
Gente Joven, adopt la estrategia opuesta, dirigi6n-
dose hacia los sitios donde 6stos se encuentran.
CenteJoven funciona a trav6s de coordinadores
(personal de Mexfam) y promotores adolescentss
voluntarios) que han sido capacitados para poder
comunicar informaci6n sobre sexo y reproducci6n a
otros j6venes, empleando materials graficos y folle-
tos producidos especialmente para el program. Ade-
mas de involucrar a j6venes como promotores, el
personal de Gente Joven reconoci6 que las t6cnicas
de comunicaci6n normalmente utilizadas en las
activades de planificaci6n familiar de Mexfam pro-
bablemente no serian apropiadas para adolescents.
En consequencia, se busc6 ponerle menos 6nfasis al
contenido de la informaci6n y mas al modo en que se
la comunicaba. Se reconoci6 que para alcanzar a los
j6venes de boy, la informaci6n se debe presentar por

medio del canal mais adecuado. Los folletos v
manuales tradicionales sobre sexualidad tienden a
limitarse a descripciones de anatomia reproductive y
process biol6gicos, un enfoque tipicamente adultt"
desde la perspective de los adolescents. Para los
j6venes, la dimension afectiva v emotional de cual-
quier problema es casi siempre la mais important; en
consecuencia, es much mis probable que asimilen
informaci6n que ha sido contextualizada en situa-
ciones "de vida real", con todos los matices sociales v
emotivos pertinentes. Con este fin, Gente Joven ha
solicitado las contribuciones de adolescents en la
elaboraci6n de una series de peliculas y videos que
sirven para presentar concepts y estimular discu-
siones sobre temas delicados.
Hoy el program Gente Joven se present ante
estudiantes de s6ptimo grado escolar en adelante,
tipicamente en cinco sesiones de dos horas cada una.
Una version modificada del program se utiliza con
j6venes que no cursan studios, que trabajan, o que
son miembros de pandillas callejeras.
A trav6s de su experiencia con el program, el
personal de Gente Joen ha aprendido que los
varones y las mujeres reciben mensajes muv distintos
sobre el modo en que deben expresar su sexualidad.
Las ideas contrarias que los muchachos v las mucha-
chas reciben de sus families, en la escuela v en los
medios de comunicaci6n popular aftectan y deter-
minan sus decisions respect al sexo, no obstante la
informaci6n objetiva que posean sobre el tema. Los
dirigentes de Cente Joven actualmente se estdin dedi-
cando a evaluar todo el program desde una perspec-
tiva de g6nero, con el prop6sito de responder mejor a
estas diferencias.
Uno de los temas mais controversiales desde el
punto de vista de muchos adults es el acceso de los
adolescents a los m6todos anticonceptivos. Muchos
padres teen que la disponibilidad de dichos m6to-
dos promueva demasiada libertad en las relaciones
sexuales de los j6venes. Dichos padres se olvidan que
la educaci6n sexual, al proveer informaci6n concrete
e imparcial, en efecto ayuda a que los adolescents
tomen decisions objetivas sore su vida sexual. Los
dirigentes de Mexfam tuvieron en cuenta la posibili-
dad de una reacci6n negative por parte de los padres
de j6venes expuestos al program, pero a la vez esta-
ban seguros que los aspects positives del program
superarian la oposici6n. Por lo dicho, los promotores
de Gente Joven reparten condones a pedido entire
adolescents mayors de 16 aiios en escuelas, fiibri-
cas, centros recreativos y culturales, gimnacios y
otros sitios populares.
Aunque result dificil evaluar el "6xito" de los
programs para adolescents, ya que 6stos buscan
cambiar actitudes en vez de proveer servicios concre-
tos, es possible reconocer que 22.864 adolescents
participaron en el curso formal de Gente Joven en
1992, mientras que 82.548 fueron alcanzados a trav6s
de presentaciones informales y otras actividades de
promoci6n. En la actualidad el program opera en 52
ciudades a lo largo de Mexico.

About the Authors
Magaly Marques is a Program Officer of the International Planned Parenthood
Federation, Western Hemisphere Region, with experience as a program advisor for
family planning programs in the region and a particular interest in gender issues and
women's reproductive health and rights.

John M. Paxman, J.D. is Adjunct Professor of Health Services, Boston University
School of Public Health and Director, Keene Associates, Lexington, Massachusetts,
with extensive experience in the area of adolescent programs in different regions of
the world. Judith Bruce is a Senior Associate of the Population Council particularly
concerned with issues of women's roles and status and quality of care.

Quality/Calidad/Qualite Advisory Committee

Ian Askew
Karen Beattie
George Brown
Judith Bruce
Ethel Churchill
Adrienne Germain
Joan Haffey
Margaret Hempel
Ann Leonard
Margaret McEvoy
Nancy Newton


John Paxman
Geeta Rao Gupta
Debbie Rogow
Jill Sheffield
Cynthia Steele Verme
Lindsay Stewart
Kerstin Trone
Nahid Toubia
Gilberte Vansintejan
Beverly Winikoff
Margot Zimmerman

Ann Leonard
Village Type & Graphics
Graphic Impressions

We invite your comments and your ideas for projects which might be included in
future editions of Quality/Calidad/QualitW. If you would like to be included on our
mailing list, please write to Ann Leonard, Quality/Calidad/Qualite, The Population
Council, One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10017, U.S.A.

i / iy l / ai bj/A 7A

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