Co-Authored by Jenifer DeAtley, Director of U.S. Programs & Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Advisor, EngenderHealth
"I was 16 years old, a junior in high school, a star athlete and on the honor roll when I found out my girlfriend was pregnant," youth advocate Corey Jones of Austin, Texas, told us recently. "I wanted to tell people right away, but she was afraid. It took seven and a half months until she felt ready and saw a doctor."
Fear of talking about sex can translate into shame at any age, but particularly during the formative years, when young people are just starting to learn about themselves and their bodies.
Nearly half of the world's population is under the age of 25, yet the majority of young people lack access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services, including in the United States. This results in higher rates of teen pregnancy, leads to higher rates of unsafe abortions and maternal deaths and hinders the potential of young people around the world.
By avoiding the topic, or telling young people "just don't do it," as Corey was often told, we are missing a crucial opportunity to empower the next generation with the information and skills they need to make healthy choices.
The truth is that sex is not just about biology and reproduction. It's about building healthy and equitable relationships free of coercion and control. It's about challenging gender norms and instilling the rights and choice of youth to explore their sexuality without fear or shame. It's about putting youth in the driver's seat of their sexual lives, shame-free and sex-positive. The results not only lead to outcomes of reduced teen pregnancies, but increased self-confidence and efficacy to express their opinions, including whether and when to have sex.
From Tanzania to Texas, and beyond, we've learned that youth-friendly interventions include age-appropriate and inclusive information, as well as supportive and accessible services that extend beyond the clinic walls into the communities where young people live. The involvement of young people in the creation and delivery of those services -- such as peer-educators and Promotoras -- is not only valued, but essential. We must engage youth directly to help them challenge the norms and cultural expectations that impede their health and well-being.
September 26 marks World Contraception Day, which aims to improve awareness of all contraceptive methods to enable young people around the world to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.
The dozen nonprofit, governmental and scientific associations supporting World Contraception Day have called out four key priorities to be addressed: 1) make comprehensive sexual health education and information more widely available, 2) improve access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services and contraception, 3) address cultural taboos surrounding youth and sexuality and 4) address gender inequality.
Corey told us that he found adults "are just afraid to tell us the truth." It's time that we address the misconceptions about teenage sexuality and empower young people -- no matter where they live -- to exercise their own rights, including their right to make informed, autonomous decisions about their bodies and sexuality.
Please help spread the word about World Contraception Day and address misperceptions by joining the conversation #WCD2015 and learning more at http://www.your-life.com.