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Accessing Sexual Health Care for Minors
Accessing Sexual Health Care for Minors
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Accessing Sexual Health Care for Minors
This video explains how adolescents are able to access sexual health care and the different types of services that may be available to them. Also discussed is where youth can obtain sexual health, such as at a school-based health clinic, hospital, health department, or Planned Parenthood to name a few. Importantly, this video addresses a young person’s right to confidentiality and provides examples of the questions a person may want to ask their physician regarding the confidentiality of their care and treatment. 

Youth

It’s important to take care of your physical health. This includes your body and, by extension, your sexual health. Sexual health covers a wide range of areas, including managing hygiene, caring for reproductive organs as well as protecting yourself from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Depending on where you live, you may be able to get health care that caters to you as a young person, including—in some places—school-based sexual health services. At youth-friendly health care centers, you should be able to find thoughtful, knowledgeable and caring individuals, who can help you access birth control, STD testing, emergency contraception and counseling on sexuality, relationships and more. If you do not have sexual health services in your school, you may also be able to find them at your nearest hospital, community health clinic or Planned Parenthood health center.

 

Access to sexual health care services can be a challenge in states where services are limited or require high levels of parental involvement. Find out what regulations exist in your area as well as what policies apply to young people seeking health services. You have the right to ask questions of a health care center to find out what services they provide, whether you can access them without parental permission, and whether your visit and records will be kept confidential. You may also have concerns about the cost of services. While many community health centers provide low-to no-cost services, it is important to ask in advance, particularly if you want to use insurance, since your parents may be notified if you use their insurance to cover the cost of services.

 

Even in the most restrictive areas, there may still be resources you can access that help with certain sexual health issues. Apps that assist with period tracking, birth control reminders, or finding accessible health care centers may be useful, as well as information lines, like the CDC National HIV/AIDS Hotline. It may be uncomfortable to seek out services as a young person, but enlisting the help of an adult you trust can help keep you from stressing out.

If I’m not sexually active, why should I care about sexual health?

Sexual health is more than pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention. It’s also keeping up with reproductive health and hygiene, as well as any other routine checkups you might need. For example, the HPV vaccine is recommended for all young people ages 9 through 14, regardless of whether or not they have had sex. Paying attention to your sexual health now is the perfect way to be prepared for anything in the future that might need more attention as you get older.

What if there is no youth-centered health care facility in my area?

It can be difficult to find support for sexual health in areas that have limited resources or that have generally sex-negative attitudes. When this happens, finding even one trusted adult who can help you could make all the difference, as can taking advantage of free information resources that exist online or that can be downloaded to your phone. Between apps, websites and hotlines, you can find answers to many of the most basic sexual health questions you might have, and even ones you might not have even known you had.

Parents

Sexual health is an important part of a child’s overall health. Beyond pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention, it’s important for young people to start early in paying attention to their bodies and their functioning. Sexual health covers a wide range of areas, including managing hygiene, caring for reproductive organs and protecting one’s self from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Parents can assist in this process by normalizing sexual health as part of general functioning and wellness, and helping their child gain access to sexual health resources as needed.

 

In many circumstances, young people may be able to find sexual health services that cater specifically to them—like school-based sexual health clinics, as one example. In those offices there are thoughtful, knowledgeable and caring staff who can help with accessing birth control, STD testing and emergency contraception. Outside of schools there might be youth-focused facilities at your nearest hospital, community health clinic or Planned Parenthood health center. On the other hand, youth access to sexual health care can be a challenge in states where services are limited. In those cases, having additional support from a parent or guardian can be crucial in helping young people overcome age-related barriers. Be sure to find out what regulations exist in your area, as well as what policies apply to the facility your child wants to visit.

 

It can be difficult for parents to support their children’s sexual health, particularly since it involves their growing agency and independence. That said, young people have the right to pursue health care confidentially, including the right to ask questions about what services they provide, whether they can be accessed without parental permission, and whether their visit and records will be kept confidential. Young people may also choose to utilize apps that can also assist with sexual health concerns, including period tracking, birth control reminders or finding accessible health care centers. If that is the case, parents can be supportive by honoring their children’s privacy, while remaining accessible as a support when needed.

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

 

When parents and caregivers engage in loving and supportive conversations with children about their sexual and reproductive health, it allows children to address their needs in ways that avoid feelings of shame and self-judgment. Bringing up sexual health as a topic even before any issues surface can be a useful way to let your child know that you are available for any questions or concerns they may have.

 

Below are some ways to start conversations on accessing sexual health services:

Normalize sexual and reproductive health-seeking

Visiting a health care center can be an uncomfortable process for a young person, especially when they are going for the first time or are around by people who may shame them for seeking these services. Even before a visit is necessary, normalize sexual health management by having a conversation about what it might entail: how long an office visit might take, what procedures might take place, what questions might be good to ask, and what resources might be available for them to ask for. Encourage your children to consider how they might feel going to a health care professional for sexual health services, and address any questions or concerns your child might have.

Honor the young people’s agency and privacy

It is never ideal for a young person to have to covertly pursue sexual health services. Young people benefit from the support of a parent, caregiver or other trusted adult. Parents and other adults who are restrictive or have shamed a young person for having questions about sexuality run the risk of having their children secretly seek these services as a way to avoid parental disapproval. Young people have the right to ask questions and to receive answers without the input of their parents. Work to honor and respect young people’s agency by making it plain that while you encourage them to maintain open lines of communication with you it is okay for them to establish privacy boundaries as they feel they might need them.

Focus on wellness versus morality

There are many reasons a young person might need sexual health resources, regardless of whether they are sexually active. In the same way you would not forego health measures for other parts of the body, it’s important not to neglect sexual health concerns that may crop up. Various cancers, fibroids and poly-cystic ovarian syndrome are just a few medical challenges that can occur in adolescence without any sexual activity having taken place. Consider advocating for the early pursuit of sexual health services as a way to encourage good self-monitoring habits for any issue that may surface over time.

Educators

Health and sexuality educators can play a key role in helping young people not just think about their sexual health, but find resources to effectively maintaining their sexual and reproductive health. Sexual health covers a wide range of areas, including maintaining hygiene, caring for reproductive organs and protecting one’s self from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You will undoubtedly have young people who have questions not only about sexuality topics, but about the resources and services that are available to them. Knowing what’s available is an optimal way to help connect young people to services and resources they may not realize they need.

 

In some circumstances, you may teach in a school setting that offers direct services to students. In that case, it may be helpful to become acquainted with the staff in those offices, so that you can speak from knowledge about who they are and whether they are youth-affirming in the services they provide. Outside of schools there might be youth-focused facilities at your nearest hospital, community health center or Planned Parenthood health center. While you may not become intimately familiar with these facilities, even having just a list of locations might be very helpful to a student who determines they need more support.

 

It can be difficult for parents to support their children’s sexual health, particularly since it involves their growing agency and independence. That said, young people have the right to pursue health care confidentially, including the right to ask questions about what services a health care center provides, whether these services can be accessed without parental permission, and whether visits and records will be kept confidential. As an educator, you may be able to share available resources for young people with parents, while encouraging parents to be supportive of their children’s privacy, agency and health needs.

Discussion Questions

After watching the video with your class, process it using the following discussion questions:
  • What are three types of services a person could get at a sexual health visit?
  • Where are three different locations a young person could go if they had sexual health needs?
  • What is one question a young person might want to ask about a health center before visiting it for sexual health services?
  • Why might it be important to pursue sexual health services, even if someone isn’t sexually active?
  • If a person doesn’t have access to a health center for sexual and reproductive health care, what are some other resources that the video says they can utilize?
  • What is one way the ideas from this video could be used in a person’s real life?

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