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Sexual Health

Teen

Youth receive mixed-messages about sex and sexuality from parents, television, the internet, music, school, peers, and just about anyone or anything they come in contact with. A young person can barely leave their home without messages and reminders of how to dress, what to say, and how to relate to the world sexually. Youth are also surrounded by harmful homophobic messages that can promote an unsafe, unsupportive environment, particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQQI) individuals.

Sexual health is not just the absence of violence, coercion, and discrimination in sexuality and sexual relationships, but also the presence of sexual safety, respect, and pleasure. Youth must feel comfortable discussing and asking questions about sexuality, health, violence, substance use, and other issues that they may not feel comfortable discussing elsewhere.  By emphasizing self-respect and respect for partners, as well as positive protection methods like condoms and birth control, adults can discuss sex in a positive way with youth, and promote sexual health. Ignoring negative topics like rape, harassment, and STIs will not make these problems disappear. Youth need to have a realistic understanding of sex.

  • Half of high school students have had sex.
  • More than 80% of abstinence-only sexual education programs for youth contain false or misleading information about sexual health.
  • 1 in 3 teens do not receive formal instruction about contraceptive use.
  • Teens who do not use contraceptives have an 85% chance of getting pregnant within one year.

Being under the influence of alcohol or other substances can impair youths’ judgment, increasing the chances of having unprotected sex. Yet, 22% of sexually active high school students reported using alcohol or drugs during their most recent sexual encounter. This can also increase the risk of contracting STIs, as well as cause confusion, shame, and denial about the sexual encounter. As one youthworker at a BE SAFE training pointed out, “Why would you want to view such an intimate part of your life as a mistake?”

A safe environment free of stigma, judgment, and violence can promote sexual health as well as prevent negative health outcomes for youth. Homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism contribute to negative health outcomes for LGBTQQI youth, particularly suicide. Youth of color who identify as LGBTQ experience higher rates of homophobic violence than their peers. However, LGBTQ youth who do not experience this type of harassment report lower levels of suicidal thoughts and depression than their heterosexual counterparts.

Download the BE SAFE Sexual Health Fact Sheet to learn more.

Hotlines

AIDS Action Committee
HIV/STD's: 1-800-235-2311
Hepatitis: 1-888-443-4372
Information and referrals for HIV, hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Massachusetts. Interpreters available for many languages.

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
1-617-616-1616
1-800-682-9218
Trained health center staff and volunteers are available to discuss a wide range of issues related to birth control, pregnancy options, sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS and other aspects of reproductive health. Hotline available Monday-Friday 9am-8pm.

STD411:
800.235.2311
Provides information on sexually transmitted diseases and infections and offers service referrals in Massachusetts. Interpreters are available for many languages.

Services

  • Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
    1-800-230-7526
    Information and service provider for all sexual health related issues including STD/STI testing, pregnancy testing and counseling, emergency contraception, FREE condoms, FREE birth control for women under 18, abortion, comprehensive women’s and men’s reproductive health care.
  • Boston ABCD
    1-617-348-6000
    Multiple locations.
    Offers resources for family planning, STD testing and provides low-cost or no cost birth control methods, exams and laboratory testing.
  • AIDS Action Committee
    1-617-437-6200
    Mutliple locations. Info and referrals for HIV, hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Massachusetts. Interpreters are available for many languages.
  • BAGLY
    1-617-227-4313
    Drop in program for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth in the boston area. HIV and STI testing are available.

Learn More

  • Scarlateen - Inclusive, comprehensive, and smart sexuality information and help for teens and 20s.  Features include information about sexuality, sex, sexual health & relationships, advice and support.
  • Maria Talks - MA information and resources for teens on sex, birth control, emergency contraception, STI/STDs, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, sexual violence, and LGBTQ.
  • Bedsider - An online birth control support network for women 18-29 operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a private non-profit organization. Bedsider is not funded by pharmaceutical companies or the government. Bedsider is totally independent and provides honest and unbiased information. Their goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and to learn how to use it consistently and effectively.
  • Advocates for Youth - An array of information and tools for adults and young people who want to get more involved with sexuality and sexual health policy and education---lesson plans, initiatives, toolkits and more!

Posters and Materials

  • It's Your Sex Life - toolkit from the Get Yourself Tested (GYT) campaign includes posters, flyers, and statistics on STIs for teens.
  • Safe Space Kit - from GLSEN, posters and other materials to let LGBTQ youth know that this is a safe place for them.
  • Think B 4 You Speak-  Campaign to eradicate "that's so gay" and other homophobic language from youth spaces.  Posters and videos available for download. 
  • GLBT Youth Support Project- Cue cards and posters for youth serving organizations, youth, and adults on coming out issues, bullying prevention, and transgender issues.