Teens learn much about sexuality from their peers. But the information isn’t always accurate or even well-intended—unless the teens delivering the messages know the facts about sexuality and how to effectively communicate them.
That’s the idea behind a student group in Middle Tennessee known as PG-13 Players. “PG” stands for Peer Guided, the method used by the program to make sure teens receive accurate information about sexuality from sources with whom they feel comfortable—their peers.
“A lot of people feel uncomfortable with talking with their parents or their school counselors because with parents, it’s just awkward. And teachers, counselors, doctors– you really don’t know those people that well,” says Ana, a high school student in Nashville.
Another teen, Madde, explains it this way: “There are a lot of things that go unsaid, and there isn’t enough time to teach some things to kids in the classroom or you don’t feel comfortable teaching kids in a classroom, or a school won’t let you teach kids. “I tell my friends everything… So why shouldn’t I be the friend to tell them how to be safe?”
Madde is doing just that as a member of the PG-13 Players, all teen performers who deliver messages in the form of skits, portraying real-life situations and tackling tough issues about sexuality. The PG-13 Players write their own scripts and perform for audiences at high schools, churches, and community centers. Topics include sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy, healthy relationships, and other issues like assault and drug abuse.
“The original idea behind the players was to create something that started conversations. Not a ‘Here’s a morality play with what you should do and the answer within it’ but to start the conversation and to push people to think,” explains Lindsey Goodwin, Manager of Education for Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee, whose education outreach includes PG-13 Players.
But the teens can not properly educate their peers until after receiving their own education and training. Before becoming a PG-13 Player, students undergo an extensive summer program so that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to do successfully do the work—especially the challenge of answering audience questions while still in character, which happens at the end of each performance ends.
“When they start interacting with the character and the character pushes back or doesn’t change or doesn’t do what they expect the character to do, then the audience is like ‘Wait, what? Why aren’t you doing that? What are you thinking?’ And the audience starts doing the work that we hope they do in their own lives,” says Goodwin.
That is instant affirmation for some of the teen performers.
“You can see that little light in their eyes when they find out something and they think ‘Really? I never knew that.’ It helps them be safer and better protected, and it’s really a great feeling.”
Equally important are the results that do not result from the stage performances; that happen in school hallways or community hang-outs, explains Jalessa, another PG-13 Player.
“I recently had a friend [who] got pregnant, and she didn’t know what to do. I was trying to help her– like find places she could go for help, find some counseling, stuff like that…. Just not stopping here, but trying to go beyond that. I think I’ve become more important to my friends now. I can explain things and even help them further in their sexual decisions.”