Sexual Health Centre offers support for Cork teenagers

Author of Cork Sexual Health Centre’s most recent resource which is shifting the conversation on young peoples’ sexual health, Olivia Teahan speaks to Breda Graham about the importance of such resources during the pandemic.
Sexual Health Centre offers support for Cork teenagers

Tony Power (Social Inclusion Specialist, Cork City Council), launching SHIFT outside Cork City Hall with Olivia Teahan (Author of SHIFT, and Communications & Engagement Lead, the Sexual Health Centre). Photo: Ian Gubbins.

THE Sexual Health Centre in Cork recently launched an inclusive relationships and sexuality education booklet for teens and is also running a series of webinars in relation to sexual health for teenagers.

Sexual Health Information For Teens (Shift) was launched as a means to help young people, of all sexualities and genders, navigate areas of sexual health such as puberty, sex, relationships and everything in between.

The second webinar in the series based on Shift takes place today at 2pm.

The relationships and consent webinar, hosted by Sexual Health Centre health promotion officer Muire O’Farrell, will explore communication, sexting and pornography.

The booklet was funded by the 2020 dormant accounts funding via the Department of Rural and Community Development under the national LGBTI+ strategy, which seeks to ensure that existing community infrastructure is inclusive and welcoming to the LGBTI+ community.

The resource is inclusive of everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, and gives each individual information relevant to them about their own sexual health.

Shift author and Sexual Health Centre communications and engagement lead Olivia Teahan highlighted the need to prioritise inclusion and diversity in sex education.

“The idea was to prioritise inclusive sex education and to make sure that it is for everyone and that it does not exclude people, as a lot of sex education does and, unfortunately, it’s not always inclusive of everybody.

“It’s about giving people the opportunity to say, ‘Okay, this is the information that I should be getting’ and that it is okay to be asking questions.

“That’s a priority anyway for the Sexual Health Centre — that young people and everyone can have that space where they can talk about their more intimate concerns, because a lot of people just have not had the opportunity to have a place that they feel is safe to discuss their sexual health and relationships,” she said.

Ms Teahan said that it was particularly important during the pandemic to let young people know that there were still services available for them.

“It’s important to remind people that there are services still running and, just because people might have to physically isolate themselves, they don’t have to be on their own or not get the information they might need,” she said.

Olivia Teahan (Communications Officer) Cork's Sexual Health Centre
Olivia Teahan (Communications Officer) Cork's Sexual Health Centre

“Lockdown heightens online use as well and that’s very relevant in any year for young people — lockdown or no lockdown. We don’t want people to have to go straight to Dr Google for sexual health concerns; you should be able to get that information. There is a lot of misinformation online and I think that’s why it’s extra important to be able to distribute that information to people,” Ms Teahan added.

“Our concern was that, because young people weren’t getting the in-person engagement, that there was that lack of contact and that young people weren’t given the opportunity to check in about different issues that can come up in relation to sexual health and that’s why we thought it was so important to go that extra mile and try to make sure that they have access to those services and that they know that we’re there for them,” Ms Teahan explained.

She said that the Sexual Health Centre had run initiatives to support people seeking information and to support those teaching sex education.

“Before Christmas, the Wise Online programme launched, which was for professionals and anyone delivering sex education, to give them the resources online where, if they are delivering sex education, they feel comfortable doing it and they know we’re there to support them doing it,” she said.

Over the next number of weeks, a webinar series specifically for young people, which is based on the Shift booklet, aims to remind people that the centre is there for them and that they can get in touch with the centre about its various services, despite Covid-19.

She said that the centre had to adjust and adapt its services due to the pandemic, with the move to remote support and counselling services through phone or video calls.

The centre still offers pregnancy testing and HIV testing from Tuesday to Thursday by appointment.

The centre also has a dedicated LGBTI+ sexual health support worker, who deals with various sexual health and relationship issues.

Sexual Health Centre executive director Dr Martin Davoren noted the importance of providing people with factual information around their sexual health, saying that “every young person should be given the opportunity and encouragement to be fully informed about their own sexual health”.

He continued: “This is particularly important when considering the vast amount of misinformation online.

“We are very grateful to Cork City Council and the Department of Rural and Community Development for enabling this important project to come to fruition,” he said.

The Sexual Health Centre has published a number of booklets for Cork’s young people over the years and Shift was developed as a reimagined production of the centre’s Sexual Times booklet.

Shift offers factual information and guidance on healthy relationships, consent, sexual activities, contraception, pregnancy, HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and more.

Cork City Council social inclusion specialist Tony Power said that it was “fantastic” to see such an engaging and educational resource being made available to Cork’s young people.

“Cork City Council is delighted to support the Sexual Health Centre in making this happen,” he said.

To order a copy or to view the online version of Shift, visit www.sexualhealthcentre.com/shift.

The Sexual Health Centre’s helpline (021 4276676) is open Monday to Friday. The centre, which is located at 16 Peters Street, is open from Tuesday to Thursday for pregnancy testing and HIV testing, by appointment only.

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