Let’s have an open discussion about our sexual health and where we get advice and support from…
I recently ran a poll asking people on Twitter where they would be most comfortable getting sexual health information from. 44% voted for the ‘internet’ as their first port of call, yet 32% said that they would rather go to their friends for information. Whilst it may seem natural for us to turn to our friends for advice and support, these results are slightly worrying, as friends are not the most reliable source of information when it comes to our sexual health.
Friends can be biased; they may end up comforting you rather than being brutally honest, and unknowingly place you in harm’s way, or even worse, let your secrets out when there’s a misunderstanding. Unless your friend is a doctor or a counsellor, I’m not sure that they have the knowledge required to offer advice on sexual issues.
That leaves us with 24% of people that decided that they would go to a sexual health clinic to get access to proper medical services. This means that the majority of us (76%) are left without the information we need concerning our sexual health. Why is this the case?
A youth friendly centre or sexual health clinic should be the first point of contact when seeking help on sexual issues. It’s heart-breaking to know that so few young people feel comfortable enough to actually use these services.
The reason why so many of us are reluctant to visit a sexual health centre is not as far-fetched as it may sound at first, as quite a number of us have had unpleasant experiences with medical providers.
For instance, take a look at how sixteen year old Mary was embarrassed and referred to as a ‘21st century child’ in MTV Shuga 4, just because she wanted to know what contraceptives were available to her. Unfortunately, Mary went to a regular clinic and not one designed for youth services, and was met by an unhelpful and dismissive nurse. She was subsequently referred to one by a nurse who witnessed her negative experience.
Also, can you recall how Zamo was shamed by a nurse for asking about a morning after-pill in MTV Shuga: Down South? Whilst MTV Shuga may be a drama series, these scenes reflect the reality that many of us face.
Unfortunately, Mary and Zamo’s experience can be quite common, especially when the centre is not used to embracing young people, but we can’t let that deter us. It’s time for young people to be bold enough to get the sexual health info they need, even if it’s means they come across resistance at first.
#REALTALK: SHOLA’S STORY
A few months ago, my friend – let’s call her Shola – found her way to a sexual health clinic to gather information about long term contraceptive options. Unknown to her, the medical provider was her step mother’s friend and she disregarded the first rule of being a counsellor – CONFIDENTIALITY. Shola returned home to a fully-fledged Yoruba family meeting. I’m sure you can imagine how this story ends.
Readers can relate to this 100%, as we hate to admit that a lot of young people these days are already having sex and we find it hard to discuss these issues openly. This may seem funny but it is a universal situation that needs immediate attention. Whether it is South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya or anywhere else in the world, information and services on sexual health are essential for young people to make the right decisions when it comes to their personal lives.
We should not let these negative experiences discourage us from seeking help from the right places. Most of us haven’t actually been to a sexual health clinic and we base our assumptions on hear-says. I know a number of people treated with kindness and respect that have really encouraging things to share about the health centres they’ve been to.
A 23 year old lady told me of how she used to be a sex worker and was on the edge of having an unsafe abortion, until she spoke to a medical provider. Somehow, she was convinced to continue her pregnancy and she says that it was one of the best decisions she has ever made. Her son will be 5 years old next month.
Having access to the proper information from medical providers helped her make the decision that was best for her. She could have lost her life or damaged vital organs if she had gone ahead with an unsafe abortion, but instead she received the information she needed to remain safe and healthy.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
So how can we make sure that more of us receive the help and support we need? Here are my thoughts…
Persevere: Unfortunately, the reality remains that there are health clinics out there that do not treat young people well. Their misguidance should not be the reason why YOU miss out on the services that you are entitled to by law. It may be an uncomfortable and hard experience, but perservering and going to these clinics and demanding the support you need is so important. Would you rather have a moment of awkwardness with a nurse and get what you need, or face up to the realities of a teenage pregnancy or STIs because you felt uncomfortable?
Speak Out: There are good clinics out there. That is a fact. It is our responsibility to make sure that when we come across these gems, we share it with the world. Tweet it, tell your friends, whatever you want to do, but make sure that when you have been to a clinic that treats young people the way they are supposed to, then give them the credit they deserve. Even if no one responds, you’ll be spreading the message and may even help someone out without knowing it.
Break the Silence: Too much of us are afraid to admit that we have been to a sexual health clinic. Whether it is getting tested, asking about long-term contraception, or picking up some condoms, we should all OWN our stories. Speaking up and taking ownership of our bodies and the steps we take to protect ourselves and others around us can help break down the stigma surrounding sexual health, and encourage more people to do the same.
It is important to know this: efforts have been made to ensure that there are services out there who want to help young people out.
The first step is taking that all-important, but sometimes scary, leap of faith. Do your research and find out what clinic best suits you!