Youth-friendly sexual health care: know your rights!



A message from Sara Pyke, FNHA Clinical Nurse Specialist, Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections; Dr. Unjali Malhotra, Women's Medical Director; and Barbara Webster, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Maternal Child Health

It's Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week (Feb. 8-14), and this year's theme is “Youth-Friendly Care: It's Your Right." If you are a youth or young adult, taking care of your sexual health today will be important for your overall health and wellness in the future. You have the right to access sexual health care services that are free of racism and are respectful of you as both a young and Indigenous person.

Sexual health includes your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Traditional knowledge and values support healthy sexuality, healthy relationships, identity, adulthood, and rites of passage. These values and traditions also help keep people and communities healthy and strong.

Sexual Health Care Services

It is your right to access health care services so you can take care of your sexual health. Your local community health nurse or family doctor can help you with: Testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), access to birth control, pregnancy testing, pregnancy termination, PAP testing, medication to prevent getting HIV (Pr​EP), vaccines to prevent certain STIs, gender-affirming care, mental health and substance use care, sexual assault care, and more.

Ideas for Positive Conversations with Health Care Providers

You may feel uneasy or nervous talking to your health care provider about sexual health. These feelings are normal, especially if the provider is someone you do not know. You have the right to expect your provider to treat you with respect and listen to you openly without judgement. Here are some things you can do to help make sure that your visits are positive and that you get the care you need:

• Make a list of questions to bring to your appointment.

• Bring a friend or support person you trust to your appointment.

• Take notes, or ask your provider if you can record the conversation to refer back to later.

• Ask for printed or electronic resources for information you can read later.

• Have a conversation about how your information will be kept private.

• Share how you wish to be addressed (e.g., your preferred pronouns).

• Share your preferred words for your body parts.

• Share cultural practices or traditional values that are important for your care.

• Ask your provider to describe medical procedures so you know what to expect before going ahead with them. Remember, you have the right to say yes or no to procedures, exams, or tests.

• Ask if you can do your own swabs for STI testing.

• It is okay to book a follow-up appointment if you run out of time to cover all of your questions.​

Again, it is your right to have good health care to support your sexual health and wellbeing. Feeling comfortable talking with your health care provider is a first step. By taking good care of your sexual health now, you are helping ensure a healthy future for yourself.

If you do not have access to a local nurse or doctor, you can book a virtual appointment with the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day by calling 1-855-344-3800 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., seven days per week. For general sexual health questions, information and resources, you can call SexSense at 1-800-739-7367 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., Monday to Friday.

We recommend that you check out our webpage on sexual health, which includes the FNHA fact sheet “Sexual Wellbeing Learning Model" and links to other great resources promoting sexual health and wellness for Indigenous youth and young adults, including the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and YouthCo: Yúusnewas."

We thank Bryn Hanks, Harm Reduction Educator North Region; and Adam Gauthier, Child and Youth Coordinator VI Region, for their input and support in writing this article.

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