‘Parents Have an Opportunity to Make a Difference Here’.
‘Parents Have an Opportunity to Make a Difference Here’
Katie Haupt (SPH’22), an implementation and quality improvement specialist at The Baker Center for Children and Families, recently co-authored a study in the Journal of LGBT Youth about the sexual health topics that adolescent sexual minority males discuss with parents. .
Those who had sex education classes likely remember the experience, whether it was putting a condom on a banana or watching a graphic childbirth documentary. For most people, these are nothing more than cringeworthy memories, but for alum Katie Haupt (SPH’22) those moments made her think seriously about how sex ed could be better.
“I’ve always been really interested in reproductive health and sex education because I grew up in Catholic school and I just saw how detrimental it can be to get misinformation,” says Haupt. As an MPH student, she was a Maternal and Child Health (MCH) research fellow, a sexual assault prevention educator with BU’s Sexual Assault & Prevention Center (SARP), a workshop coordinator for SPH’s chapter of the menstrual equity student group the Period Project, and a community programs and advocacy intern with the menstrual equity nonprofit Love Your Menses.
“I wanted to make the most of the grad school experience.” says Haupt, who also worked as a quantitative methods tutor and peer writing coach with the Office for Graduate Student Life. She only recently wrapped up her longest standing commitment from her time as a student, her MCH research fellowship under Kimberly Nelson, assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences (CHS).
The research study Haupt designed and conducted during her fellowship, “Differences in the sexual health information parents/guardians give their adolescent sexual minority sons by outness,” was published in the Journal of LGBT Youth in February. The study, Haupt’s first, first-author publication, was co-authored by Claire Stout, a former research assistant in the CHS department; Journey Simmons, a current research assistant in the CHS department; and Nelson.
The team analyzed data from an online sexual health intervention pilot Nelson conducted in 2020 as the culmination of her National Institute of Mental Health early-career development grant. The intervention enrolled 154 gay, bisexual, questioning, and other sexual-minority boys between the ages of 14 and 17 and covered safer sex, porn literacy, self-esteem, and healthy relationships. Nelson also surveyed the participants about their behavior, past experiences, knowledge, attitudes, and mental wellbeing.
“There’s a lot of information available on how states and schools handle sex education, but less about the influence of parents,” says Haupt, who used a literature search to develop a research question given the available data. She decided to investigate what sexual health topics adolescent sexual minority males (ASMM) reported discussing with a parent/guardian and whether these topics differed by outness about sexual attraction to other males.
Numerous leading public health and medical professional organizations support comprehensive sex education. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, instruction should include, at a minimum, a focus on delaying sex, using birth control methods, and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Coverage of these topics is linked with healthier sexual behaviors in adolescents. Yet not all states require sex education and content varies widely school-to-school. Only about half of adolescents received formal sex education before age 18.
“Parents have an opportunity to make a difference here and can provide this information,” says Haupt. Their contributions could prove especially beneficial for ASMM who are at elevated risk for STIs. Unfortunately, the results of Haupt’s research indicated a substantial proportion of ASMM do not receive any sexual health information from their parents/guardians.
“Specifically, 39% of youth in the current study reported receiving no information from a parent/guardian,” write the study authors, “which is concerning given 77% of participants reported engaging in partnered sexual behaviors.”
In the future, it would be interesting to get the perspectives of the parents, says Haupt. She thinks this could help identify implementation barriers like, what would help parents feel more comfortable having these conversations?
Haupt is interested in doing more research in the future, but right now her focus is on turning research into practice. As an implementation and quality improvement specialist at The Baker Center for Children and Families, a Boston nonprofit providing behavioral health services, she helps agencies adopt evidenced-based therapies and other interventions. She uses many of the skills she gained as a student at SPH, including conducting needs assessments, implementing programs, analyzing data, building dashboards, and assembling advocacy toolkits. She is particularly excited to be helping a hospital in Brooklyn build a model of care for pregnant women who screen positive for anxiety and/or depression. Her team plans to submit an abstract on the work to the APHA.
“I get to do a little bit of everything, and that’s something that I enjoy.” says Haupt. During her undergrad at the University of California, Davis, where she studied psychology and human development, Haupt volunteered at a women’s shelter and considered going into to social work. Ultimately, she decided public health was a better fit. “I like that in public health you can make a difference on a systems level.”
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