Sexuality education and access to Youth Friendly Services – a way
to sexual and reproductive health
RFSU, RFSU Clinic, Stockholm, Sweden
In Sweden, sexuality education became compulsory in schools 50 years ago (1955).
The right to sexuality education enables young people to make informed decisions
about their reproductive life. Education and knowledge form one part of
prevention, but another equally important part is access to services. Youth
Friendly Services have been started all over Sweden. Every clinic is different
and is adapted to the prevailing needs of its surrounding community. Today,
there are more than 200 youth clinics in Sweden, many of which have facilities
of their own (especially in urban areas).
No single approach to adolescent
sexuality and its consequences is appropriate for all teenagers of all ages, in
all circumstances, and in every community. Nevertheless, it is clear that all
adolescents are in need of certain interventions if they are to avoid the
negative consequences of sexuality.
Counsellors in Youth Friendly Services must
gain the confidence of young people if their work is to be successful. As well
as an understanding of adolescent psychology and the difficulties young people
go through, counsellors must have knowledge of medical matters.
purpose of Youth Friendly Services was to prevent teenage pregnancies and
abortions by providing information about sexuality and contraception. But it
soon became clear that adolescents had other needs. Even in the early 1980s,
before the AIDS epidemic, prevention strategies to avoid the spread of STDs were
Today, contraceptive/ STD counselling and services are closely
linked. Girls are still the main visitors to Youth Friendly Services, but boys
are attending in ever greater numbers, especially since special clinical hours
with male staff have been arranged. Work in the latter arena has been documented
in the pamphlet “Sexual and reproductive health for young men – some
clinical experiences from Sweden”.
Youth clinics have a good reputation
among young people in Sweden. People working in youth clinics are bound by
confidentiality rules, which undoubtedly contribute to young people daring to go
there. As a general rule, it can be said that Youth Friendly Services have two
sides: individual consultation in privacy, examination and treatment; and
various more public activities, such as lectures and group discussions. Some of
the purposes of outward-directed work are to give young people still at school
further education in the fields of sexuality and interpersonal relationships,
and to make youth clinics more visible so that young people know where to turn
when the need arises. It is clear that most young women and men become sexually
active during their adolescence. Society has to face that fact, and there will
be unwanted pregnancies even in countries where contraceptives are easily
available. If we want to save young women from the consequences of unsafe,
possibly fatal, abortions, we need to make them safe and affordable. Openness
and safety increase opportunities for enjoyment and a rich sexual life.
existence of Sexuality education and Youth Friendly Services reflects society’s
acknowledgement of its responsibility to give information and services to young
people in the sexuality arena. Sexual and reproductive rights must cover the
adolescent as well as the grown-up. Sexuality education and Youth Friendly
Services can be seen as a first step towards sexual health.