What sexual and reproductive health services might young people need?
Young people are diverse and so too are their sexual and reproductive health needs. Young people may require information on and access to modern contraception, emergency contraception, menstruation, HIV and STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing and treatment, gynaecology, pregnancy testing and services, safe abortion, counselling, gender-based violence and harmful practices counselling and referral among others.
Services must respect a young person's privacy, confidentiality and obtain informed consent. Services should also be tailored to the specific needs of young women and girls, and LGBTIQ+ young people.
Why do young people have difficulty accessing sexual and reproductive health services?
Young people face a number of obstacles accessing sexual and reproductive health services. These barriers relate to availability and accessibility as well as the quality of the services provided. For example, laws and policies may limit young people’s access to services and contraceptives, and health centres may only address the needs of married women.
Entrenched social norms and gender inequality around young people and girls’ sexuality mean young people's behaviours are controlled and they may be stigmatised for being sexually active. Due to their age, young people's ability to make decisions or express an opinion may not be respected. All these make it difficult, and often prevent young people from accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
How are we working to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services?
Plan International is working in alliance with civil society organisations and governments to improve and expand sexual health services that respond to the needs of young clients. This includes training service providers, condom distribution, increasing awareness of services among young people, reaching young people with information on their sexual and reproductive health and rights through innovative methods; such as mobile apps.
Plan International also works with parents, caregivers and the community to support an enabling environment for young people to realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights. This includes encouraging dialogue and supporting families and communities to provide positive guidance to young people about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including accessing services.
Plan International listens to adolescents and works with them to tailor youth-friendly health services to the local context. We provide comprehensive sexuality education to young people, in and out of schools, to help build their knowledge, skills, and confidence, including to access services.
What benefit does this make to young people's lives?
When children and young people are informed about sexual and reproductive health and rights they are equipped with the knowledge, confidence and skills to make autonomous and healthy decisions about their sexuality, bodies and relationships. When they receive positive support from parents, caregivers, teachers and community leaders, they can grow up ready for consensual and pleasurable experiences, free from shame and pain related to sexuality. This includes accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
This is vital because research shows that only a minority of sexually active adolescent women who have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) seek care in a health facility. Compared with older women, adolescents also tend to take longer to recognise their pregnancies and are more likely to have unsafe abortions. Pregnancy and childbirth continue to be a leading cause of death for adolescent girls aged 15-19.