Sex mis-education: What young people ask their sexual health nurse
A nurse at a university health centre, Susan* has learnt not to judge the students who appear in her office.
Occasionally, however, she will lean forward, raise her eyebrows, and ask: “Really?”
While she’s often surprised by young people’s lack of knowledge, she’s understanding.
“Our youth have underdeveloped brains yet we are asking them to decide careers, manage money, live away from home for the first time, deal with drugs, sex, alcohol, stress, loneliness, university work load … no wonder they let their hair down.
“Plus they don’t understand consequences. They don’t. That’s why we need to teach good old fashioned communication skills, like talking.”
er day-to-day job involves “a lot of sexual health appointments and smear tests”. It also involves answering a lot of questions. And asking them.
I’m here for the Emergency Contraceptive Pill
Student: “I’m here for the ECP.”
Student: “I got drunk last night and I think I had sex.”
Susan: “Do you know who you had sex with?”
Student: “Not really”, or, “I woke up beside a guy in bed”, or, “I feel like I’ve had sex but I can’t remember it”.
At this point Susan is wondering if the young woman was drugged, if she passed out, if she gave consent. Susan keeps asking questions. Of course she will give the student the ECP.
Sometimes, Susan will use a diagram to explain basic female anatomy to her patients.
“You tell more than one woman they’ve got three holes. I show them pictures. I explain what a cervix is. There are a lot of things they just don’t get.”
Student: “I think I have chlamydia.”
Susan: “Why do you think that? Are you sexually active?”
Student: “Yes. I’m in a relationship.”
Susan: “How long have you been in a relationship for? And are they your first partner?”
Student: “About 18 months, and yes, she’s my first partner, and I’m her first partner.”
Susan: “Are you using contraception?”
Student: “She’s on the pill.”
Susan: “What makes you think you have chlamydia? Is it because you don’t trust her?”
Student: “Oh no, we’ve just never used condoms. At school we were told if you don’t use condoms you get chlamydia.”
Susan feels for the guy – obviously he had a hard-line health teacher.
I want an STI check
One of the main reasons young men visit a sexual health nurse is for STI checks.
“They might be starting a new relationships and want the all-clear, or their ex-partner has said they’ve got chlamydia, or they’ve had unprotected sex, or they’ve been in a relationship for a while and they want to stop using condoms …”
Student: “I want an STI check.”
Susan: “Why’s that?”
Student: “Because I had sex the other night and we didn’t use condoms.”
Susan: “Why didn’t you use condoms?”
Student: “Because she’s on the pill.”
Susan: “What’s that got to do with anything?”
Susan: “Why aren’t you using condoms?”
Student: “I don’t need them.”
Susan: “Obviously you do if you think you’ve got an STI.”
If it becomes clear he’s been mistreating a woman, Susan doesn’t hesitate to ask: “How would you like if that was being done to your sister?”
That really gets them, she says. “They can get quite aggressive but most just sit back and go, ‘woah’.”
Peer pressure is often to blame, she says. “That’s the biggest thing kids have got to rise above.”
Many parents ring the clinic to try to get the goss on their kids – details which the centre is prohibited from releasing. A better strategy, Susan says, is to stay in touch with your kids and discuss “the ups and downs”.
“It’s got a lot to do with your parents … being taught about respect and morals and staying safe and that sort of thing.
“Maybe as parents we do have a lot to answer for, in that our kids are being sent out into the world unprepared.”
*To protect the nurse’s identity and that of her patients we have used a pseudonym.