Working with youth sexual health in primary care

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We know that young people are vulnerable when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) as they experience rapid physical, emotional and social growth and change, often resulting in risk taking behaviours that reflect adolescent developmental processes of experimentation and exploration.

The SRH issues they face are broad and diverse, indicative of their social and biological development, and primary health care providers have a key role in supporting young people to navigate the physical, emotional and social changes that underpin their reproductive and sexual wellbeing.

In our work with young people and primary care, we have found some common themes which young people tell us about that can offer insight for general practice and other primary health providers to better engage adolescents and young people through principles of effective and appropriate communication. Some of these critical issues which limit or facilitate their engagement with their own sexual health and with sexual health providers include:

  • The need for youth friendly care
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Contraception awareness, access and support
  • Pregnancy prevention
  • Knowledge about sexually transmissible infections
  • Acceptance and understanding relating to the individual’s sex and gender diversity
  • Perceived and real cost of services
  • Specific issues related to Aboriginality and cultural diversity
  • Consent and respectful relationships
  • Awareness of services and referral pathways
  • Availability of R&SH information and knowing the support resources used by young people

The primary health care providers who are the points of contact for youth and are best placed to offer evidence-based approaches to meeting their sexual health needs include General Practitioners, nurses, counsellors, youth workers, Aboriginal Health Workers and allied health professionals working with young people. Providers should be using a service coordination guide (see Family Planning Victoria for an example) and creating local service maps, embedding opportunistic screening, conducting a youth-friendly audit, and building staff capacity in youth-friendly psychosocial tools such HEADSS to deliver evidence-based youth-friendly sexual health care.

Contact us if you would like to optimise your primary care services for young people or need support with service mapping and/or service coordination.