Sex ed programs that share information about clinical services reduce perceived barriers to care

a hallway with a bulletin board that reads "what do you like about your birth control?"
Providing accurate information to adolescents about local sexual and reproductive health services can increase awareness, reduce misconceptions, and may help them use the services. Increasing knowledge about access to these services is a critical component of improving adolescent sexual health. One potential way to do this is through sexual health education in school or other settings.

A new study from the Institute for Health Policy Studies examines whether sex ed programs that provide information about local services can help reduce perceived barriers to care.

The researchers surveyed young people in California before and after completing a sexual health education program. They found that after completing the course, young people weren’t as concerned about cost or being judged by clinic staff. The vast majority of youth surveyed said they would go to a clinic or doctor if they needed sexual health services.

Young people still had worries about confidentiality and getting test results after the program. This highlights the need to further address these issues during sex ed. Educators could spend more time discussing specific policies to protect privacy and confidentiality, as well as what to expect when you get a positive pregnancy or STI test. While many sex ed programs discuss HIV and other STIs, few provide details about testing and treatment programs.

This study demonstrates the potential for sexual and reproductive health programs to explicitly address perceived barriers and improve knowledge and intention to seek care. However, there are additional barriers at the clinic and policy levels. Some places, especially rural areas, still lack local services. Many states don’t have policies in place to protect the rights of adolescents to seek confidential services. Although increasing knowledge and awareness of sexual and reproductive health services is necessary, it’s not enough. Changes in policies and clinic practices need to ensure that quality services are available and accessible to youth. Young people need efforts to make services more youth-friendly, including respectful and nonjudgmental care, and ensuring privacy and confidentiality.