Sexual health encompasses ‘sexual development and reproductive health, as well as the ability to develop and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships; appreciate one's own body; interact with both genders in respectful and appropriate ways; express affection, love and intimacy in ways consistent with one's own values’. The 2008 WHO Consensus Statement additionally noted that ‘responsible adolescent intimate relationships’ should be ‘consensual, non-exploitative, honest, pleasurable and protected against unintended pregnancy and STDs if any type of intercourse occurs’. Young people (YP) must, therefore, be able to access sexual health information and services that meet their needs.
For most YP, interest in sexual activity begins with puberty, and this is associated with increasingly sexualised behaviour, including exploration of themselves and others.
Most YP find this a confusing time, and so it is important that health professionals are able to offer advice regarding the wide range of sexual health issues, including sexuality, choice of partner, contraception, risk and management of sexually transmitted infections (STI) in a confident and approachable manner. YP have never had so much choice or information available to them, and this can be confusing for them. There is good evidence that YP who get information from their parents are likely to initiate sexual activity later than their peers who access information from their friends. However, there is also evidence that some YP would prefer to get sexual health information from health professionals. It is therefore imperative that all health professionals who see YP have an awareness of sexual health issues, and know where to signpost YP should they need more specialist sexual health advice and/or treatment.
Where appropriate, one-to-one sexual health advice should be provided to YP on how to prevent and get tested for STIs, and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Advice should also be given on all methods of reversible contraception, including long-acting reversible contraception, emergency contraception and other reproductive issues.
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