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Youth Sexual Health: Common Biases to Unlearn

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Youth sexual health is more than talking about healthy sex. It’s about the overall well-being of young people. But talking about it that way can be hard because we all have biases. In the end, young people are the ones impacted when we don’t talk about it.

Including comprehensive sexual health in youth education has a great impact on their well-being. It’s as essential as teaching fundamental skills like reading and math.

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    What is youth sexual health?

    Youth sexual health encompasses many dimensions of a young person’s experiences, including

    • Anatomy
    • Physiology
    • Identity
    • Sexual orientation
    • Feelings
    • Thoughts
    • Healthy relationships

    It’s a multifaceted topic. Thus, it will take multiple conversations from different lenses to cover the subject. You can learn to have better conversations when you understand your biases. And the impact they have.

    Common bias about youth sexual health

    There are common biases that can negatively impact how you talk about youth sexual health. For this reason, holding onto biases can be harmful to young people, as their needs may not be met. Ultimately, unlearning the biases you hold is crucial as youth workers.

    Your role as a mentor, teacher, or designated safe person means that young people may have these conversations with you. Therefore, it’s important to take into consideration your role. As well as the perspective of the young person. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable having these conversations. But, don’t let that stop the conversations from happening.

    Common bias: It’s too early to talk about sexual health.

    • Learn: It’s never too early to talk about safe sexual health. Tailor your message based on what's age appropriate. Start by teaching youth the correct names of their body parts.

    Common bias: Talking about sexual health encourages sexual activity.

    • Learn: The more someone learns about sexual health, the less likely they are to be victimized by sexual violence. Also, it can improve inclusion, reducing stigmas targeting LGBTQ+ community. Lastly, it teaches young people about healthy relationship boundaries.

    Common bias: Having “the talk” once is enough.

    • Learn: Sexual health is a complex topic, about more than the act of sexual intercourse. Be prepared to have multiple conversations with a young person. These conversations can span the course of their life.

    Common bias: If a young person has questions that means they are sexually active.

    • Learn: It’s natural for a young person to have questions regarding sexual health. Don't jump to conclusions before understanding the context of the question.

    Moving your conversations in the right direction

    Navigating these conversations is rarely going to be easy. Instead, try focusing on the context of conversations while discussing sexual health in a broader sense. Be prepared for conversations to vary based on the age, race, trauma experienced, and history of the young person. Considering this, it’s okay to not have the answer. You will learn as you go.

    Addressing myths around youth sexual health starts with you. As you start to break down your own biases, conversations will get easier.

    Take the time to self-reflect as you are learning about youth sexual health.

    • What are the biases you carry?
    • Are there any aspects that you do not understand?
    • What are the aspects of the subject that you can’t prepare for?

    The list can go on. So, feel reassured that you are moving in the right direction.

    Continue your learning about youth sexual health through a trauma-informed lens by checking out YIPA’s training, Youth Sexual Health: Historical Context, Consent, and Meaning!

    About the author

    Gaonu Yang is the grantee member advocate of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Gaonu a question or share your feedback about this blog, email gaonu@yipa.org.

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