It goes without saying that sex is a fundamental part of healthy relationships and life. As a society we are becoming more comfortable about talking about sex, about issues of consent and about how to look after our sexual health. However, there is still some work to be done.
In recent years, young people have contacted the Patient and Client Council concerned about their experience of accessing sexual health services - particularly following a sexual health crisis.
The things that were concerning them were in respect of how to get help in a crisis, access to information and advice on sexual health services, and issues to do with confidentiality in reception areas.
They also spoke about the embarrassment of queuing for genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinics and about how to get a timely appointment.
They were at pains to point out, however, that the services were excellent once they were able to access them.
This week we read in the local news about the publication of the Stand Together survey, which was a student-led survey.
The study was overseen by a board that included QUB academics and external organisations, such as the Public Health Agency, Nexus NI, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Rowan sexual assault referral centre.
Almost 170 students at Queen's University, Belfast (QUB) said they had been sexually assaulted.
A further 246 students said that they had been the victim of an attempted sexual assault.
Almost 3,100 students - 12.5% of the QUB student population - answered the survey on non-consensual sexual experiences.
In another UK survey by the Family Planning Association (FPA) the findings gave a great insight into the attitudes of young people.
For example, 26% said they had not been for a sexual health test because they were too embarrassed or were embarrassed about the possibility of other people finding out.
One fifth reported not going for a check-up as they were too scared to find out the result. Feeling worried or embarrassed is not uncommon, especially among younger age groups.
Other key findings from the FPA’s survey of sexually active 16-to-24-year-olds included:
In Northern Ireland the health service has improved open access to sexual health services that provide free contraception, testing and treatment. In addition, information and advice is now more widely available on the internet.
It is really important for healthcare providers to understand any of the barriers that young people may experience when it comes to practicing safe sex and engaging with sexual health services.
Having a better insight of these can help provide more information and education to allay concerns.
How good is the sexual health information that’s available? How accessible is it? How could it be improved?
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