Practice question

What is the nurse’s role in supporting young people’s sexual health?

Young people should have access to education, assessment and treatment for sexual health

Young people should have access to education, assessment and treatment for sexual health

Sexual health is defined as a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality ( World Health Organisation 2006 ).

High income countries have long identified poor sexual health in their young people due to high rates of unplanned teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections ( National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2019 ,

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Young people should have access to education, assessment and treatment for sexual health

Teaching children about sexual health
Teaching children about sexual health Picture: Alamy

Sexual health is defined as ‘a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality’ (World Health Organisation 2006).

High income countries have long identified poor sexual health in their young people due to high rates of unplanned teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2019, Public Health England (PHE) 2019).

Since the 1999 teenage pregnancy strategy (Social Exclusion Unit 1999), rates are at their lowest in 20 years (NICE 2019) but the age of first intercourse is now lower than it was in 1990 and a greater proportion of people have multiple partners (NICE 2019).

Sexual behaviours may be influenced negatively by several factors including: low self-esteem, lack of related knowledge or skills, availability of resources, peer pressure as well as general attitudes and prejudices that are prevalent in society (NICE 2019).

What is the nurses’ role?

With the Making Every Contact Count agenda every nurse caring for young people should be aware of key issues about sexual health and the resources that are available (Health Education England 2021).

Guidance and policy states that all young people should be able to access education, assessment and treatment about their sexual health, and be able to do this in a confidential setting (Rogstad et al 2010). This must be within the appropriate safeguarding limits outlined in policy and legislation (HM Government 2018).

Young people have said that they want to have conversations with experts who are positive about sex and to have safe boundaries in a discussion (Pound et al 2016).

Avoid gendering body parts

It is also important to consider different cultural backgrounds as well as LGBTQ+ experiences (Formby and Donovan 2020). For example, research indicates that transgender young people have requested an approach that avoids gendering body parts to ensure inclusivity (Riggs and Bartholomaeus 2018).

Studies have shown that young people use online resources or technology mostly to find their health information, searching for sexual health information above all other topics (Magee et al 2011). However, research has also shown that young people prefer to access sexual health information by speaking directly to healthcare professionals (Lim et al 2014). Therefore, providing and taking opportunities to discuss sexual health during nursing contact with young people is essential.

PHE (2019) outlines that health professionals should use a non-judgemental, empathetic approach to sexual health, understanding the needs of the individual and the resources available to offer support. Primarily this should involve using opportunities in different settings to provide reassurance and sexual health education. For example, when asking if someone has been sexually active, take the opportunity to ask if they would like to talk further about their sexual health.

Top tip

For nurses wishing to upskill in this area there are free online resources available in the Public Health England guidance Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV: Applying All Our Health

Find out more


This article has been subject to external open peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software


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