Borrowed without permission, (even though I asked, they never responded) from Cedar River Clinics’ CONNECT program newsletter Spring 2009. CRCC provides tools to address and help prevent STIs and unplanned pregnancies among young people and encourages them to embrace healthy practices, healthy choices and healthy futures.
Learn more about this unique program on the Web at www.CedarRiverClincs.org/Connect
The sun is out, the air is steamy, and for many teens, love is in the air. Let’s work together to get teens the information and support they need to help ensure that a summer romance has all of the good stuff without the unwanted consequences like pregnancies or infections.
Teens find themselves with a lot of time on their hands during the summer, especially with the recent lower rates of teen employment. They’ve got more privacy and space away from adults and may also have access to new social circles they don’t during the school year. Many feel disengaged, bored or lonely during the summer, some reasons studies have found can be common when teens choose to have partnered sex. Summer romances can become sexual relationships more quickly than they do during other seasons.
The Journal of Adolescent Health recently released a report showing results many of us feared during the tenure of abstinence-only sexual education: teen pregnancy rates, which had been declining since the early nineties, have inclined again. The study did not find that teens had sex any earlier or more frequently than before: it found it was teen use of contraception and safer sex which declined during the Bush years. An increase in teen HIV rates was also found.
Teens often don’t know where to get contraception, how to use it, how to negotiate use of birth control and safer sex — and sex altogether — with partners. Many also don’t know they have the right to access contraception and sexual health services without parental permission or notification, and can get both at low or no cost. Many teens becoming sexually active this summer will need awareness, information and support from adult allies.
– Honor romantic feelings a young person has: teens get many strong messages from adults that they cannot feel love, which isolates and discounts their experiences. A teen’s understanding of love will likely change throughout their lifetime, but their feelings now are not less real then they will be later. Rather than challenging their feelings, talk to teens about healthy and unhealthy dynamics in relationships, about how love alone isn’t all anyone needs for healthy sexual choices, and be clear that love is demonstrated with respectful and caring actions, not just with passionate words. Let them know you recognize how intense sexual and romantic feelings can be, but remind them that they still have control of and responsibility for how they act on those feelings.
– Young adult relationships have a different velocity than those of older adults. Teen relationships can tend to move very fast; feelings can become strong very quickly. With things moving so fast, teens can be caught unprepared. Talk with young people about how to press pause or put on the breaks with partners to discuss safer sex, birth control, limits and boundaries, wants and needs and just to check in and be sure sex is what’s truly wanted at the time. Remind them that if it feels too fast, it probably is, and that it’s always okay to slow things down.
– Be sure teens know where they can get condoms, contraception and emergency contraception, sexual health services and emotional support. Even if a teen says they don’t need it now, you can always give them the resources and let them know they may need them later, or may need them for a friend. Give teens a supportive message that not everyone knows how to use condoms or contraceptives properly: they can ask you for help or information if they need it. It can be tough for young people to admit ignorance about things they want to be the expert at.
– Try to understand a young person’s need for risk-taking, and help them learn to assess what kinds of risk are healthy and which put them at risk of real dangers, physically and emotionally. Remember that unwanted pregnancy or STIs aren’t the only risks out there: be sure to address their emotional and interpersonal risks as well. Avoid scaring them: talk about risk as something we make decisions about in all areas of life based on what we can or can’t handle and whether or not a given risk is essential and worthwhile.
Support and encourage teens in activities during the summer which nurture and explore their strengths, skills, interests and life goals: don’t leave them with nothing to do but be sexual. It’s important for them to know and experience that all the other parts of their lives are just as important and exciting as romantic and sexual relationships.