“I just couldn’t face it. I felt patronised, humiliated even” - an all too common reason given by young people for not actively engaging with sexual health services.
We’ve all heard the horror stories, the myths and the shame associated with visiting your local sexual health centre.
It seems strange that a visit like this does not carry the same praise and encouragement that regularly checking one’s breasts might. Why?
It’s a taboo that is often made light of in social settings but is not often discussed in a frank open forum.
Rarely do people have a say about what they genuinely want and expect from such a service.
Do they want immediate access at their GP practice? Free condoms galore? Or a clinic located out of the public sight? But what is it that they really want?
The answer to this question is what three medical students are currently attempting to establish.
Whilst working alongside Sheena Amos Youth Trust (SAYiT), a Sheffield based young people’s charity which aims to improve sexual health and wellbeing, they have developed a survey to capture an insight into this.
Ellie said: “The response so far has been overwhelming but it’s still worrying that even as student doctors, sexual health is often shied away from, which is exactly why it’s so important to tackle the stigma surrounding it.”
Besides the common reasons for not engaging with a sexual health service, there are many other things which can deter people such as the location of the clinic, the availability of appointments or the clinic opening times.
Will said: “Once inside sometimes very small changes, like being identified by a number rather than a patient’s name, can make a world of difference to how someone visiting a clinic can feel.”
Beth said: “Young people’s perceptions can often lead them to believe that they are not affected by such issues but around one in five young people screened in Yorkshire and the Humber have chlamydia.”
Ultimately, the holy grail lies in the provision of good sex education that then enables young people to access the information and facilities they need to make informed choices. Choices which we then need to respect and not judge.
From 2019, the government is making sex and relationships education (SRE) in England compulsory.
Obviously, such a curriculum needs to be age appropriate but one might hope that there will be an emphasis on what constitutes a healthy relationship - both in heterosexual relationships and same sex relationships.
The need for educating youngsters more effectively about online safety is essential - discussing issues which directly affect them such as sexting, online pornography and sexual harassment, for instance.
Will said: “In short, we need to be talking about sex. But not only this; we need to be talking about sex in a positive light.”
If you’d like to participate in this survey you can find a link to it on SAYiT’s Facebook page.