Thinking back to adolescence will bring a variety of feelings and memories for any adult. One of those memories might be that it was a difficult time, one complicated by all the changes we were facing, whether physical or emotional.
Indeed, adolescence brings many changes including the physical changes of puberty along with all the changes in emotions that it carries. During this time most youth will develop romantic and sexual attractions. They will begin to understand their sexuality and may begin to have sexual relationships.
Adolescence can certainly be a challenge for a young person, and perhaps their parents, too. Understanding what’s going on with their body is one part but add in the endless questions or doubts such as ‘should I have sex?’ ‘How do I protect myself?’ ‘What if I get pregnant?’ All of these are good questions and so many times, the feeling is that ‘this is only happening to me’.
Fortunately, there are places to turn to for high quality, non-judgemental information. Certainly, one source of good information is the internet (used appropriately) where sites like www.scarleteen.com and www.smartsexresource.com provide friendly, accurate information. Local Public Health offices in all communities can provide specific information about where to find health services for youth and many offer dedicated youth clinics. Contact your local Public Health office for specific information.
In addition to offering appropriate support and information for our youth, we should probably learn something about their lives and experiences. That’s where the McCreary Center Society’s most recent BC Adolescent Health Survey (2013 data) is most valuable. It asked questions relating to the sexual health of students aged 12 to 19 and compiled the information into a report called “Sexual Health of Youth in BC”. The report asked youth about specific behaviours and experiences such as condom and contraceptive use, potential risky behaviours such as having sex at an early age and mixing sex with alcohol or other substances.
The findings make intriguing reading and an invaluable resource for parents, educators and health care providers. For example, did you know that three-quarters of youth are not sexually active? Or that ‘having sex’ did not include oral sex for some youth? The survey also found that those who did have intercourse waited longer than previous years. Unsurprisingly, age related to whether youth were sexually active: 96% of 13-year-olds reported not engaging in either oral sex or intercourse, compared to 76% of 15-year-olds and 53% of 17-year-olds.
Young people can be supported to make safer sexual health decisions. Among the things we can do as parents or as adults in their lives is to help them to be connected to family, school and community. Having supportive networks and feeling good about themselves and their abilities means youth make better and healthier sexual choices, which influences their overall health.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.