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Young People Use Films to Advocate for Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Two new films about sexuality education, The Education of Shelby Knox and Toothpaste, have generated a flurry of media attention and have proved to be excellent advocacy tools.

The Education of Shelby Knox is an award-winning documentary that follows the story of Shelby Knox, a high school student in Lubbock, TX, who joins the local youth council and becomes a leader in advocating for improved sexuality education in her area schools. The film profiles her political awakening, as she goes from attending a True Love Waits virginity pledge ceremony with her parents to working with a group of gay and lesbian students at her school who were attempting to form a gay-straight alliance.

Toothpaste is a film created by Kristal Villarreal, Laura Coria, Gladys Sanchez, and Amanda Rameriz, students at Mission High School in the Rio Grande Valley, TX. The students created the film after winning an annual contest hosted by Scenarios USA, an organization that pairs student screenwriters with Hollywood directors to make films about sexuality. According to the organization’s website, its aim is "to inspire teens to make healthier and safer decisions by offering them a creative approach to thinking through and discussing their lives, their choices, and their future."1 The 16-minute educational film profiles the story of two teen girls considering whether to have sex with their boyfriends. The film promotes the use of condoms, referred to as "toothpaste" in local slang.

Both Shelby Knox and the students who created Toothpaste were largely inspired by the high incidence of teen pregnancy and unprotected sexual activity taking place in their hometowns. Shelby says in the film, "maybe twice a week I see a girl walking down the hall pregnant… It’s part of normal life at my school."2 Similarly, the creators of Toothpaste said at least six of their classmates were pregnant-including the valedictorian of their class, who was having her second child. In fact, as part of their research for the film, they learned that their community has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state and one of the highest in the nation.

These young people hope their films provide evidence of the need for comprehensive sexuality education. The young women who wrote Toothpaste, all of whom are now attending college, said they would like to see Texas include information on contraception in its sex education policy. Rameriz explained, "hopefully, the state will also realize the law they have-it’s not working."3 They are pleased that their film provides an opportunity for discussion and is being shown in schools around the country. Shelby Knox is also pleased that her film is an advocacy tool and that she is quickly becoming a nationally recognized advocate for comprehensive sexuality education.

More information on Toothpaste.


  1. About Us, Scenarios USA, accessed 20 June 2005.
  2. "Film Charts Teen’s Political Conscience," Mail Tribune, 12 May 2005, accessed 7 June 2005.
  3. Lynn Brezosky, "Teens Hope Sex-Ed Film Sparks Change in Texas," The Journal Gazette (IN), 16 May 2005, accessed 7 June 2005.