Opportunity Knocks: Important Information to Share During a Teachable Moment

Gina Desiderio

This blog post is the third part of a series (Part 1, Part 2) highlighting Healthy Teen Network’s resources on using teachable moments to reach youth, through our Opportunity Knocks resources, including a fact sheet and pre-packaged, fully designed presentation, ready for you to use.  The Opportunity Knocks series is based on Healthy Teen Network’s belief that: With accurate information and adequate support, young people can make healthy and responsible decisions about having sex and using contraception. Adults can be most effective by providing the information and support needed to promote responsible decision-making in youth and help ensure transition to adulthood is safe and healthy.

In order to make the most out of a teachable moment, here is some important information about sex you should know to share with youth

“It’s important to protect yourself.”

  • Many types of protection are available and can be low cost (contraception, condoms, etc.): a clinician can help a teen identify the right type.
  • Remember that all youth need information about protection, even abstinent youth.  You should still first convey the message that abstinence from vaginal, anal, and oral sex is the only 100% way to prevent pregnancy, STIs, and HIV, but it’s important for all youth to have this information.  Youth may currently be abstinent, but it’s important for them to be prepared for when they do engage in sex, which will happen at some point in their lives.  They may be thinking about or preparing to engage in sex.  Also, youth may be defining “abstinent” differently—they may not realize that engaging in oral sex, for example, still puts them at risk.
  • All youth—girls AND boys—need this information.   For example, often, girls are the focus of teen pregnancy, STI, and HIV prevention messages, but it’s obviously important that boys are engaged in the conversation and receive this information too.
  • It’s important to recognize that, for example, a young woman who identifies as a lesbian and lets the trusted adult know this will probably not be interested in hearing about contraception.  If you do provide information on contraception, she may feel as if you are not listening to her.  However, youth who may be questioning their sexual orientation may engage in sexual risk-taking behaviors.  For example, a girl may engage in sexual activity with a boy, but she may not protect herself.  Therefore, it’s important to tailor your approach and information provided to the individual.
  • Plan ahead: it is much easier for teens (or anyone, for that matter!) to think about protection ahead of time, and there are many more options before having sex.
  • Teens need to choose the contraceptive method that is right for them: methods that may not have worked for a friend or relative may work well for another teen.
  • Youth should talk to partners to make it easier to make decisions together.  For example, youth can use these techniques when talking to partners:
    • Say “no” to sexual risk-taking behaviors.
    • Explain why they want to make safer decisions (i.e., prevent pregnancy, STI, HIV).
    • Offer alternatives or strategies to show they still care about their partners and want to have a relationship with them.  Talking through feelings together can help grow a relationship and ease any tension.
  • An integrated message is best: discussion of both pregnancy prevention and reducing sexually transmitted infections is crucial.  Both partners should use protection (such as condoms and/or birth control) to increase protection against pregnancy and STIs.  However, it is not safe to use two condoms at a time.  This is sometimes referred to as double bagging and can actually increase the likelihood of the condom breaking

Emergency contraception (EC) is safe, highly effective, and available.

  • It’s the only existing way to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex[1].  EC is now available without a prescription for 17 year olds.  Healthy Teen Network has an Advocacy Resource Guide on Emergency Contraception, available online for free download.

It’s Confidential!

  • Youth can feel comfortable seeking medical advice about protection because confidentiality laws protect their privacy.  Youth have rights; confidentiality laws protect their privacy to access confidential health care services. It’s okay to talk about sex!  Healthy Teen Network has a series of resources on Confidential Access to Contraception, but here are some important points to remember:
  • Many young people indicate that they would not use the services of a family planning clinic if their parents had to be informed, but few say they would stop having sex.[2], [3]
  • A majority of young people share information about sensitive issues such as sexual activity with their parents and other adults in their lives,[4] but sometimes adolescents need or want confidential services.
  • When adolescents are discouraged from seeking health care because their care will not be confidential, the result can lead to adverse health outcomes and significant social and economic costs.[5], [6]
  • At least two recent studies have estimated the potential increase in pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—with the likelihood of significant increases in public financial costs—when adolescents are discouraged from seeking health care.[7]

It can be intimidating for adults to share this important information during a teachable moment.  However, there are some helpful hints and steps you can take to prepare yourself:

  • Know your own limitations and comfort level; it’s okay to refer a young person to another trusted adult if the conversation moves outside of your personal boundaries, but check in with the young person to make sure that someone did indeed answer all of his/her questions.
  • Use humor, when appropriate, as it can go a long way.
  • It is okay to say “I don’t know” and look up answers together; be sure to use a credible source of information.
  • Know other trusted allies and youth friendly professionals for referral.
  • Build a network of trusted adults in your community.
  • Make condoms readily available in your office/home.
  • Be prepared to talk about sex to all youth (e.g., LGBTQ youth, straight youth, abstinent youth, etc.).

What is other important information you always make sure to share during a teachable moment?

What are some other helpful hints or steps you take to prepare for teachable moments?

Gina Desiderio is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Healthy Teen Network.

[1] Emergency Contraception (2009). Office of Population Research, Princeton University. Retrieved online from: http://www.not-2-late.com

[2] Reddy, D.M., Fleming, R., & Swain, C. (2002). Effect of mandatory parental notification on adolescent girls’ use of sexual health care services. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(6), 710-714.

[3]Jones, R.K., Singh, S., & Purcell, A. (2005). Parent-child relations among minor females attending U.S. family planning clinics. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 37(4), 192-201.

[4] Jones, R.K., Singh, S., & Purcell, A. (2005). Parent-child relations among minor females attending U.S. family planning clinics. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 37(4), 192-201.

[5] Ford, C.A., & English, A. (2002). Limiting confidentiality of adolescent health services: What are the risks? The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(6), 752-753.

[6] English A. & Ford, C.A. (2004). The HIPAA privacy rule and adolescents: Legal questions and clinical challenges. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 36(2), 80-86.

[7] Franzini, L., Marks, E., Cromwell, P.F., Risser, J., McGill, L. Markham, C., Selwyn, B., & Shapiro, C. (2004). Projected economic costs due to health consequences of teenagers’ loss of confidentiality in obtaining reproductive health care services in Texas. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158(12), 1140-1146.

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