"None of my friends want an implant because they’re scared of getting it cut out," says Estelle, 18. "I don’t use the pill because a friend of mine did and it messed up her periods. The injection? Just … noooooo! My friend had it, and it was horrible – I hate needles. The coil? That’s just weird."
Estelle relies on condoms for contraception. Although good for lowering the risk of contracting an STI (sexually transmitted infection), condoms are one of the least reliable contraceptive methods available. She’s been having sex for less than a year – has she ever had a conversations with a health professionals about how to avoid getting pregnant?
"I mainly just talk to my friends about it," she says. Has she ever thought she might be pregnant? "Yes."
So does she think condoms are safe? “Yes, because I’ve used them and I haven’t got pregnant” is the response.
Because she’s using condoms, Estelle believes she’s taking care and being responsible. She is, as far as she has the information to be. But health professionals say that young people are routinely let down by the education system, their teachers and wider society when it comes to easy access to good-quality contraceptive advice. It means that myths abound, and teenagers fall back on the limited and highly subjective experience of their peer group.
There are numerous problems facing teenagers when they find themselves needing contraceptive advice, not the least of which, says Hollie Kluczewski, national co-ordinator for Sexpression, is that nobody talks about young people having sex in a positive way.
"It’s all very mechanical. ‘Please pee in a pot for a chlamydia test and here’s a condom,’" she says. "If you always talk about sex as a frightening thing – ‘sex kills’ for instance – then you feel bad about having it, and then you’re not going to access services."
Sexpression is a nationwide organisation of mostly medical students, supported by consultants in sexual health to offer peer support to young people on any sexual health or relationship-related topic. The students volunteer in schools, community centres and youth groups. Kluczewski says that creating an atmosphere where having sex is seen as normal, healthy and positive does not mean “plugging sex”, but being open and honest about the questions that arise.
Read the rest of this great piece at The Guardian here.