Sexual health education continues to be important


Sexual health education continues to be important

By Brooke Pawling Stennett

A report released Oct. 23 in the online publication Pediatrics responded to recent studies revealing a significant need for improvement in the way pediatricians teach patients about sexual and reproductive health, despite suggested guidelines put in place by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the government and other medical organizations. 

The report provides multiple ways that pediatricians can ensure basic rights are supported for their patients, including being aware of positive office culture, providing a safe space for patients to open up, making offices more LGBTQ friendly and involving families in the discussion. 

Providing opportunities to have confidential discussions surrounding sexual and reproductive health is important in a pediatric office setting and can help young patients, according to the report. Navigating the task of achieving and maintaining healthy sexuality involves many components, including the physical, social and emotional changes adolescents and young adults experience. 

The fact that any pediatric office is lacking the aforementioned qualities is mindblowing. How can offices that are supposed to be helping young people not provide an open, safe space to have confidential discussions about their health? 

This is especially true for LGBTQ kids who are already lacking in the sexual health education department. There is limited diversity when sexual and reproductive health is taught in school. Often it is breezed over by teachers, and the only real option taught to young people is  abstinence. So the fact that young people aren’t getting opportunities to ask their pediatrician about sexual and reproductive health is a scary thought. 

The topic of “sex” has become entirely too taboo in our culture, even when the discussion surrounding it can benefit young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 230,000 babies in 2014 were born to teenage mothers. By incorporating more opportunities for young people to raise questions about sex, the number of unplanned, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted disease cases and HIV cases can decrease. 

Many parents are scared of allowing their children to ask questions about sexual and reproductive health, and sometimes rightfully so: Some are too young, which is why it’s important to start out with a one-on-one with the pediatrician and patient where the child can ask health questions and build trust. The report suggests incorporating confidentiality and alone time with a patient at about age 11. Building trust helps for the future, when both the parent and the young person are ready to talk about sexual and reproductive health. Everyone should always be comfortable and encourage each other to ask questions, and the report encourages pediatricians to involve parents  as much as possible. 

Parents have to understand that sexual and reproductive health is a necessity, and pediatricians should be utilized as a resource. These are licensed medical professionals who will give accurate, important information that is not just about sex. Pediatricians are also trained to recognize signs of abuse in family or romantic relationships. 

Pediatricians and offices are responsible for doing everything they can to make sure that their patients are comfortable, healthy and educated about their bodies. If these kids aren’t getting the proper education from their school, parents or pediatricians, how will they accurately learn?