Rose Stewart, nursing advisor for Family Planning New Zealand, talks to JETmag about taking charge, staying safe and getting informed.
For many young people, their local Family Planning clinic is where they’ll likely go for advice about staying safe – and most likely their first prescription for contraception and condoms.
Most clinics have drop-in times where no appointment is needed and sometimes it might be possible to have your appointment over the phone.
“Don’t worry,” says Rose, “we’ve heard it all before! You don’t need to be worried about sharing whatever’s on your mind”.
Family Planning staff are trained to know the confidentiality rights of young people and their parents inside out. The only time that Family Planning would consider involving parents without the consent of a young person would be if they thought there was danger to the client, or the client was a danger to others.
Rose and her staff are well aware that sexual health is something that some people find tough to talk about. Rose says that some young people find it easier to visit as a group, which is fine.
The main things that young people who are just discovering sexuality tend to be curious or anxious about are STIs (sexually transmissible infections) and pregnancy, says Rose. There are a lot of urban myths out there that people might have heard, but the Family Planning experts are there to dispel the half-truths.
We’re all normal
There’s one word that Rose keeps coming back to: normal.
“It’s very normal, of course, to become sexual during the teenage years. That’s just life, and people at that time in their lives are trying to work out who they are, and what life’s all about. A big part of our job is just reassuring people that what they’re experiencing is normal.
Not much has changed in the past 30 years, says Rose. STIs like gonorrhea, herpes, and chlamydia have been around forever, and so have people’s anxieties about them.
One thing that’s different is vaccination for human papillomavirus, or HPV. The virus itself isn’t new, but we now know that HPV plays a role in a number of cancers. Initially, only girls could receive the inoculation for HPV, but now boys can protect themselves as well.
When Rose is asked, “If you were only allowed 30 seconds to talk to young people about sex and sexual health, what would you say?” her answer is unequivocal.
“The message is, ‘Take charge of yourself’. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, and listen to yourself. Try not to be too much of a follower, if that goes against what you’re happy doing, and just keep yourself safe!