MANY teenagers today are not sufficiently equipped with accurate information around their sexual health and sexual health supports.
Ireland has introduced another generation of young people to a plethora of negative sexual health outcomes, which often results in shame, bullying, and ineffective communication skills.
A knowledge gap exists for our young people in this area, leaving them unprepared for the changes and sexual experiences that can come with puberty and sexual initiation.
The Sexual Health Centre team in Cork city, who offer a range of free sexual health supports, believes that stigma, embarrassment, and misinformation are major barriers for young people who could be engaging in invaluable sexual health services.
We have all spent much of this year indoors and online due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Issues such as porn, intimate image abuse, and online relationships have become new concerns for many households and families as sexual relationships become more virtual. The Sexual Health Centre recognised a pressing need to address these issues and developed the ‘Screen-age Kicks’ and ‘Healthy Relationships’ online campaigns earlier this year. These campaigns addressed relationships, communication skills and sexual health in the virtual world, providing a navigation guide on what to expect and how to manage sexual health issues in this new reality.
Despite the online accessibility of sexual health information, research has shown that many young people still report difficulties in finding accurate information and details of their local services. One of the biggest concerns reported by teens is being discovered while searching for information on sexual health, or inadvertently bringing up pornography rather than health information. Sexual health information sites are also considered too text heavy and difficult for young people to navigate (Patterson et al., 2019).
In the absence of the Sexual Health Centre’s usual outreach programmes due to Covid-19 restraints, staff recognised a lack of safe, familiar and accessible community spaces across Cork city and county for young people to access sexual health information. The Centre’s response to this need was the development of Ireland’s very first Sexual Health Hub.
The Hub was developed to bring sexual health information directly to the youth of the local community in a space they already attend, where their first point of contact is a trusted professional.
The Hub stand also allows information to be accessed as required throughout the year and will negate the need for youth to go online to seek information from unreliable and unofficial sources.
The Sexual Health Centre launched the first Sexual Health Hub in September in association with Youth Work Ireland Cork (YWIC), based in ‘The Hut’ in Gurranabraher. YWIC runs the Gurranabraher and Churchfield UBU youth project, providing out-of-school support to young people to enable them to overcome adverse circumstances and improve their personal and social development outcomes. The Sexual Health Hub will provide access to information on sexual health topics (e.g. contraception, relationships, sexually transmitted infections) and will equip workers to signpost young people to specific sexual health services. Free condoms and lubricant will be available at Hub locations where appropriate, with youth seeking to access condoms required to watch a custom built condom demonstration video via a QR code. This QR code is incorporated into the information stands provided by the Sexual Health Centre once a location has signed up. As part of this new initiative, the Sexual Health Centre will provide ongoing information sessions and workshops throughout the year at the Hubs, to provide continued education on sexual health topics.
Capacity building workshops will also be available so that staff in community locations can regularly upskill in the areas of sexual health, communication, LGBTQIA+ support and signposting.
Collaborative working between youth-oriented organisations is vital for the provision of direct, local level support for young people, and leads to the normalisation of discussions about sexual health.
The new Sexual Health Hub at Gurranabraher is to be the first of many popping up across Cork. The Sexual Health Centre aims to work in partnership with organisations across the city and county, for example youth groups, resource centres, outreach workers etc., to bring sexual health information and discussion to youth from Castletownbere to Charleville, Kinsale to Kanturk.
The Hubs will provide teens with an opportunity to seek advice on topics that are still not openly talked about in many schools and homes. Young people will also have the chance to take part in sexual health workshops that are facilitated by the Sexual Health Centre’s Health Promotion team throughout the year and be signposted by staff at Hub locations to access further supports such as free pregnancy testing and counselling, STI screening and contraception where necessary.
The Centre has also launched a free online training programme for professionals, which is ongoing until December 2020. As a follow-up project to the homonymous ‘Screen-age Kicks’ awareness campaign, the four-part training programme ‘Screen-age Kicks- The Webinar Series’ offers guidance on how to respond to youth sexual health queries, identifying challenges arising for young people and raising awareness of the relevant services and resources available to those working with them. It examines topics such as consent, sexting (sending nude photos and sexual messaging), intimate image abuse (also known as ‘revenge porn’), relationships and communication, pornography, contraception, STIs, gender, sexuality and HIV awareness.
Anyone who is interested in setting up a Sexual Health Hub in their local community or organisation can contact the Sexual Health Centre on email@example.com or 021-4276676 for further information.
Information on the Screen-age Kicks campaign (for young people, parents/guardians and youth workers) and training programme (for youth workers) is available on the Sexual Health Centre’s website at www.sexualhealthcentre.com.