Young people’s sexuality often focuses on what adults don’t want young people to do. Adults want to keep young people safe from negative health outcomes, sexual violence, or difficult relationships but in doing so, often forget that sexuality is normal and positive and that young people are sexual beings too.

Sexuality is more than just what we do. Healthy adolescent sexual development includes bodily changes, sexual behaviours, and new healthcare needs. It also means building emotional maturity, relationship skills, and healthy body image.

What Does it Mean to Be a Sexually Healthy Teenager?

Being sexually healthy as a young person means:

  • Accepting and celebrating our bodies, gender identity, gender expression, and our own and other peoples’ sexual orientation.
  • Developing the skills to effectively communicate with our family, peers, and partners, from casual partner(s) to romantic partner(s).
  • Having the information we need about our body to make important health decisions. This includes information on puberty and what to expect.
  • Understanding the risks, responsibilities, outcomes, and impacts of sexual choices as well as the potential benefits of sexuality like joy, fun, connection, pleasure, and intimacy.
  • Having tools to reduce risk for ourselves and others.
  • Developing a strong understanding of privilege and oppression to make sense of our own and others’ experiences in the world, to build resiliency and community, and to contribute to positive change.
  • Knowing how to use and access the healthcare system and other resources to seek information and services. Click here for more information on navigating the healthcare system
  • Learning how to set and respect sexual boundaries and understand consent.
  • Forming and maintaining meaningful and healthy relationships, from friendships to romantic partnerships.

Adults as Allies

As adults, we need to have a positive and respectful attitude towards young people’s sexual development and health if we want to be supportive.

Having open and honest conversations about what matters to the young people in our lives, and what they are going through, is the foundation of becoming a trusted resource as they learn about sexual health. If we want to be advocates for young people, we need to make sure their fundamental rights are respected and that sexual health information and services meet their needs.

The best way to be an ally when it comes to young people’s sexual health and well-being is to:

  • Recognize that the teenage years are a time of sexual development and experimentation.
  • Acknowledge that choosing to be or not to be sexually active is a normal and healthy part of adolescence.
  • Support, defend, and advocate for young people’s right to develop healthy, respectful, and consensual sexual relationships and advocate for their right to information (including sexual health information, their right to health, their right to live free of violence, and their right to non-discrimination).
  • Talk about sexuality and gender in positive and inclusive ways. Not everyone is cisgender, heterosexual, or fits neatly into gender norms and gender expression boxes.
  • Teach young people about the context in which their experiences take place to nurture their resiliency and their ability to build community with others when they face challenges like homophobia, fatphobia, slut shaming, sexual violence, misogyny, transphobia, and racism.
  • Create inclusive and safe homes and learning environments for all youth.

Puberty

Puberty is a period of important growth and physical, emotional, and social change. It’s the time when our brains and our bodies transition from their child version to their adult version. People start puberty between 8 and 13 years old but everyone’s body, mind, and circumstances are different so it’s perfectly normal that your body will develop at its own pace.

Being well informed about puberty is key to taking care of ourselves. We can have feelings about this transition: some of us will feel dread, others will feel excitement, and some, confusion. We can even feel all of those feelings at once! We can take better care of ourselves by having the accurate information on hormones, periods, hair growth, and how to deal with our mood swings, feelings, wet dreams, crushes, and everything else going on.

Click here to visit Teen Health Source for inclusive information on puberty »

Because puberty is a time when our start to appear (things like breasts and widened hips or facial hair and Adam’s apple), it can be a tough time for young people who experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is when someone doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Some people can feel distress about their body and the way others may perceive them because their gender doesn’t fit with their assigned sex. . If you are having a hard time with gender dysphoria, you don’t have to deal with this alone. You matter and you deserve support.

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression

Gender and sexuality are central to who we are. Thinking about it, talking about it, and getting support to be our authentic selves is very important.

Everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender. Those of us who identify as straight and/or cisgender don’t have to think about it too much since our experience is seen as the norm in our society. We all express our gender in different ways: with our clothes, our likes and dislikes, what activities we engage in, etc. It’s healthy and important to take a minute and think about those big pieces of ourselves.

Most of us will have a good sense of our gender and who we are attracted to from an early age (2-3 years old for gender and 4-7 years old for attraction). That said, how we identify ourselves can change. Most of us will go through periods of questioning and experimentation when our bodies and brains start to transition from kid to adult. As we grow, we will have access to more information and more life experiences that can shape how we see ourselves and the world. We are also exposed to more people and see how diverse our friends and peers really are. We may also become more self-confident and feel readier to assert ourselves. Everyone deserves respect when it comes to figuring out who we truly are and how we wish to express it.

Click here for a list of important concepts on gender and sexual orientations to think through your own experience and your place in the world.

It can be very difficult if our gender and/or sexuality doesn’t match with our family or community’s expectations. We deserve respect and dignity and we deserve to be safe in our homes, at school, and in our larger community. You are loved and your gender and sexuality are part of what makes you uniquely you. We encourage you to seek support and guidance by connecting with sexual health centres near you, supportive online groups, and trusted adults around you. Here are some useful resources:

Sexual Health Centre Directory

LGBT Youth line – Call, text or email

Trans Lifeline (toll-free from anywhere in Canada) 1-877-330-6366

Nuance

Egale

Am I Ready for Sex?

Sexual development is part of becoming an adult and includes deciding whether or not to have sex. There are some important things to consider before you make the decision to have sex for the first time or have sex with a different partner.

Sadly, many of us are misinformed about sex because of the lack of proper sex-ed in schools. This can make it more difficult to know if we’re ready to have sex for the first time, to know what to do, or know what might make it a positive experience. A lot goes into feeling ready: the timing, the location, your mental state, and most importantly, the person you’re planning to do it with.

Some of us don’t experience sexual attraction and may be on the asexual spectrum. When we start witnessing our peers getting more and more interested in sex, it might feel like something is not right but being asexual is a completely normal sexual orientation.

Click here to read more about asexuality »

How Do I Know when the Time is Right?

Many of us believe that we “should” feel ready to have sex even if we’re not because we think everyone else is already doing it. It’s common to overestimate how many people around us are having sex and/or how much of it they’re having. This can make many teens and young adults feel embarrassed or ashamed because they believe they are the only ones not having sex. We can feel pressure to have sex when we’re not interested or ready.

What is most important is to feel ready. What does that mean? Read the considerations below to find out more.

I Found the Right Partner

The right partner is someone who makes you feel safe. When we trust someone because they have our backs and make us feel empowered and comfortable, sex can be a source of great joy, connection, and pleasure. The right partner is someone we feel desire for. If you are feeling unsure about how you feel about a person or about how they feel about you, it might be good idea to wait.

The Timing Feels Right, This Is What I Want

The right time is when planning to have sex (for the first time or with a new partner) fits with your personal values, life goals, relationship goals, and emotional and physical needs. Some of us will consider having sex to please someone or because of peer pressure but we should have sex when WE want to. This is also true for those we wish to have sex with: we should always be sure they want to have sex. It is not okay to try to “convince” someone to have sex and/or badger them once they’ve said no.

Timing is important and you shouldn’t feel rushed. Perhaps you do feel ready to have sex (or you’ve had sex already) but the timing is not right (you don’t want to have sex at a party or in a park, for example). If that’s the case, it’s important to recognize it and take a step back.

I Feel Desire and I Know What Feels Good to Me

We can experience physical pleasure in many ways, including touching, hugging, kissing, and stroking. Some of the greatest physical pleasures in life involve sexual excitement and experience. We all deserve pleasure, closeness, and care when we have sex. Before we have sex with other people, we should take time to get to know ourselves and figure out what feels good. This is especially true for girls and young women because there is little representation in the media of authentic female sexuality and pleasure. Having a solid idea of what makes our bodies feel good, what we desire, what we truly want, and how to talk about it is an important step in becoming ready to have partnered sex.

I Have the Right Information to Take Care of Myself

Sex is great and has many positive and pleasurable outcomes but can also present the possibility of getting an STI (which is very common) or facing an unplanned pregnancy. Knowing how to take care of your body by having the right information on birth control, STIs, safer sex, and pregnancy options can help ease a lot of anxiety.

Want more information? Click here to check out Planned Parenthood’s Am I Ready for Sex? »

Consent Culture

When it comes to any sexual touching and sex, everyone has the right to decide for themselves when to do it, where to do it, and what they want to do. For any sexual activity to happen, everyone needs to consent to it, which means saying yes willingly and freely. Sex shouldn’t happen if people are coaxed into saying yes, are drunk, are ignored when they try to stop (because we are allowed to change our minds at ANY TIME), are scared, tricked, or do it because that’s what they think they need to do to keep the peace.

What Is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is:

  • Being catcalled on the street
  • Being Touched without our consent
  • Being insulted with sexualized words (like “slut” or “whore”)
  • Having peers or strangers make sexualized remarks
  • Rape
  • Sexual coercion (attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused, especially using drugs or alcohol, exploiting trust, “guilt-tripping,” manipulating insecurities, and making someone feel like they can’t say no)
  • Sharing nude or sexual pictures of someone without their consent.

Most sexual assaults happen between people who know each other.

A national US survey found that 87% of women reported at least one incident of sexual violence and assault in their lifetime; yet, 76% of all people interviewed had never had a conversation with their parents or guardians about it. This study also showed that teachers are not talking about consent in their classrooms. This means that a lot of us don’t have the information we need to identify when we’re experiencing sexual violence (because even though we might feel bad, sad, angry, and afraid, we might not have words to define it), to respect the consent of others, and to intervene when we see something that is not right happening near us.

No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are people you can talk to. For a list of rape crisis centres and transition houses by province and territory you can visit the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres. They will outline your options, including medical attention, filing a police report, and getting counselling.

Recently, we’ve heard a lot about sexual assault, sexual coercion, and sexual harassment in the media. It became more of a conversation when the #MeToo movement opened the door for more people to share their stories. Many were shocked at how common those experiences are. Part of the reason is rape culture.

Rape Culture

Rape culture is a term used to describe how normal we make sexual assault seem in our society. This means living in a culture where rape and sexual violence (usually against women and gender minorities) are common and seen as inevitable and not a big deal. Rape culture is possible because of the ways in which we normalize, tolerate, or joke about sexual violence.

What does rape culture look like?

  • Supporting celebrities accused of rape or sexual assault
  • Believing and spreading rape myths like thinking that rape is only perpetrated by dangerous strangers in alleyways who use violence or threats of violence to attack someone
  • Not believing people who say they have experienced sexual violence, thinking they are liars, or only out to cause trouble for the people they accuse
  • Rape jokes
  • TV shows, movies, and video games that constantly show sexual violence, sometimes in incredibly graphic detail
  • Making excuses to explain why someone was assaulted (“she was drunk,” “did you see what she was wearing?!” “she was partying with those boys,” “she was a flirt,” “what was she doing there if she didn’t want it?” “she’s such a drama queen, she’s probably just regretting something she did”)—also known as victim blaming
  • Saying that “boys will be boys” (or excusing inexcusable behaviour because of being a man)
  • Being more concerned about the reputation of people who sexually assaulted someone than about the well-being and safety of those who were assaulted
  • Thinking it’s funny to grab others without their consent
  • Thinking people are overreacting when they call out sexual harassment
  • Boys and men making inappropriate comments about women and girls among themselves and calling it “locker room talk”

We can stop rape culture by participating in the creation of a culture of consent, respect, and positive sexuality in which all the touching and/or sex that takes place is wanted.

A culture of consent, respect, and positive sexuality means:

  • Looking for and respecting “yes” and “no” (which can be communicated in words and non-verbally)
  • Calling out people who talk in a disrespectful way about women, girls, and gender minorities, joke about rape, or sexually assault or harass others
  • Not making excuses for sexual violence and believing those who disclose or report sexual harassment and violence
  • Learning how to have healthy relationships, including friendships, hookups, and romantic partnerships

Consent is crucial to mutual pleasure and healthy sexuality. Click here to read more about how to ask for consent, why it matters, and what to do in different situations »

Sexting

We can’t talk about consent without talking about sexting. Sexting is when we send sexually explicit photos or text messages to someone else’s phone.

Sexting can be fun, exciting, and a way for us to express our affection and desire for each other without putting ourselves at physical risk. Sexting is not new—before cellphones, people would send each other steamy love letters instead of texts.

Sexting can be great if are in a trusting relationship and feel safe. It can be part of learning how to be in healthy relationships, learning how to practice consent, and building skills for effective communication. For example, let’s say someone asks you to send a sext. If you don’t want to do it, you need the skills to express yourself while explaining that you want to stay in the relationship. The person on the other end must also communicate their respect for that boundary and recognize that pressuring you to send a picture is not healthy or ethical.

If you want to send sexts or you want to ask for them, make sure to ask for the other person’s consent.

Sending a sext comes with risks. Once we send one, we lose control over where it’s shared and with whom. The person receiving the text is responsible for ensuring they’re not sharing it without the sender’s permission. If they share it without the sender’s permission, they need to think of the possible consequences.

It’s important to be aware of Canadian laws on sharing sexual images without consent. In 2015, the Canadian government put in place a new law to deal with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and what some people called revenge porn. This new law states that:

“Everyone who knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person knowing that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to that conduct, or being reckless as to whether or not that person gave their consent to that conduct, is guilty.”

Law enforcement uses this law when a picture or video is sent without consent outside of a relationship and used as a weapon.

With trust, sexting can be great! We need to be respectful and ethical partners, who:

  • Don’t share content that what was meant just for us as it could seriously harm others; and
  • Make sure that people consent to receiving sexts from us before we send them.

Healthy Relationships

Many young people report feeling unprepared for caring and lasting romantic relationships and are anxious about developing them; yet, parents, educators, and other adults often provide little or no guidance in developing these relationships. This is especially true for young people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or queer. Young people deserve to get the information and the skills-building opportunities needed to build strong healthy relationships.

Healthy, good quality relationships and social support networks are important. They have a direct impact on our well-being and on our life expectancy. Strong, healthy relationships help us manage stress, problem-solve, and overcome life’s challenges.

You might have different types of relationships over the course of your life, such as relationships with family members, friends, and co-workers and intimate relationships with one or more partners. There’s also an important relationship we forget to talk about: the relationship we have with ourselves.

We are a crucial player in our relationships and putting energy into knowing, loving, respecting, and valuing ourselves is part of building our relationships on solid grounds.

Intimate relationships can enrich our lives and come in different forms. There are monogamous relationships, casual dating relationships, married relationships, and polyamorous relationships, just to name a few.

What Makes a Healthy Relationship?

While all relationships are unique, the following indicators can help determine the healthiness of any relationship.

  • Compatibility: Keep in mind what you’re looking for in a relationship. Take the time to really get to know someone before the relationship gets serious and committed. It’s important to get a good sense of who they are, whether their values match your own, and whether this is a good personality fit. Sparks can be fun but they don’t always mean compatibility!
  • Communication: Good communication means each person feels comfortable expressing their feelings, needs, and desires and this includes listening respectfully to what the other person has to say. It also means respecting your partner’s opinion, even if it’s different from your own. Non-verbal ways in which we communicate (e.g. body language, tone of voice, facial expressions) are important too and play a big role in how we relate to others.
  • Honesty and accountability: Being true to ourselves and honest and fair with others is the foundation of a healthy bond. Honesty means we’re comfortable enough to share important feelings and desires with our partner(s) and not afraid to speak up when something in the relationship isn’t working for us. Honesty doesn’t mean being harsh and unkind; we can share our feelings in a way that is constructive. Accountability means taking responsibility for our feelings and behaviour and respecting any agreements negotiated with our partner(s).
  • Shared power: Sharing power is key to a healthy relationship. Each person should feel safe, respected, and have equal say in all aspects of the relationship. An important part of shared power is negotiation. In negotiation, everyone shares their needs about specific situations and together you try to find a solution or compromise.
  • Healthy physical boundaries: It’s important to establish what you and your partner(s) are comfortable with when it comes to different types of touch and sexual activity. Be sure to communicate those boundaries with your partner(s).
  • Healthy emotional boundaries: It’s healthy to establish emotional boundaries in relationships. Emotional boundaries can help you maintain a strong sense of self and protect you from being manipulated or entrapped. They allow you to separate yourself from the problems or feelings that your partner(s) might be experiencing. Expressing a boundary doesn’t mean you are being unsympathetic, uncaring, or unsupportive, and boundaries remind us that it’s not our responsibility to solve another person’s problems for them (no matter how much we might love and care for that person).
  • Trust and caring: Trust and caring are crucial ways to foster intimacy. When we care about another person and they care about us, it’s easier to let ourselves be vulnerable and show our true selves. Trust is part of being intimate because most people need to trust that their partner(s) respect their boundaries and mutual agreements. When you trust someone enough to be intimate with them, you’re trusting that they’ll treat you with respect and dignity, they won’t divulge personal details about your intimate life to other people, and they will honour the boundaries you’ve established.
  • Nurturing our full selves: While a new relationship can be fun and exciting and you might want to spend all your time together, it’s important to try and maintain a sense of balance. It’s healthy for each person to maintain their own identity and life (including their own interests and other important relationships). It’s important to remember that we are individuals. Regularly taking the time for yourself to get in touch with your own feelings and needs benefits everyone.

Some relationships can put our well-being and our safety at risk while others can make people feel down, trapped, or mentally and emotionally drained.

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is when someone’s partner or ex-partner engages in physical, sexual, verbal, or psychological violence or stalking. We often think that domestic violence is only physical (a black eye, pushing and shoving, slaps, etc.) but it can also include emotional or psychological violence. This form of abuse can look like:

  • Public humiliation
  • Insults or constant criticism
  • Intimidation and threats
  • Attempts to control you (for instance, where you go, who you see, what you wear, etc.)
  • Isolation from friends and family

Emotional and psychological violence and abuse is as harmful to our sense of safety and self-worth as physical violence.

This type of violence happens to young people too. It is never ok. No one deserves this and it’s never your fault. You have a right to be safe. Click here if you need help or want to talk with someone »

Gender-Based Violence

Gender‐based violence is violence that is directed against someone because of their gender. It disproportionately affects women and girls but also trans, non-binary, and two-spirit people because of their gender identity and/or expression. Most often it is perpetrated by men, including young men. It includes any acts of violence that can cause physical, sexual, psychological, or economic harm to someone. It can look like street harassment (groping, whistling, catcalling, unwanted attention in public spaces), stalking, sexual violence, hitting, shoving, slapping or kicking, and psychological or emotional abuse such as threats, name-calling, shaming, and isolating someone from their friends and family.

Gender-based violence makes those who are targeted feel unsafe and is used to assert power and control. We aren’t always aware we’re using violence; some gender-based violence can be done without thinking about it or be qualified as “just teasing” or “just jokes” for a laugh. We can also participate in it because we want to prove ourselves to other men and boys.

Gender-based violence is very common. 87% of women will report experiencing at least one incidence in their lifetime. We should learn about it in schools or from our parents but the reality is that very little about what it is and how not to do it is generally taught to us. To better understand gender-based violence, it can help to understand what fuels it: misogyny.

What Is Misogyny?

A Harvard research study found that many young people struggle with having healthy romantic relationships and experience widespread misogyny and sexual harassment.

Misogyny is more complicated than just hating or being hostile to girls and women. Even people who love women or at least some of them (like their moms, their girlfriends, etc.) can do misogynistic things.

Misogyny is based on sexism. Sexism is a system that considers men and boys as the opposite to women and girls and defines all things masculine as superior to those that are feminine. Sexism is why men are generally paid more than women and why “feminine” tasks like taking care of babies are seen as less important work.

Misogyny is about controlling, policing, punishing, and isolating the “bad” women/girls who challenge men and what they are “entitled” to (like sex, attention, admiration, a wife who has their babies and takes care of their home, etc.). Misogyny also means rewarding “the good women” who do what is expected of them and singling out other women as “bad.”

We’re raised to think in misogynistic ways. Think about how often you’ve heard jokes like “go make me a sandwich” or how many of us are surprised when a woman doesn’t want to have kids. Think of the number of people who feel attacked when women assert themselves and take leadership positions. These women are seen as catty, incompetent, or are told they “should be put in their place.” This is misogyny: putting women and girls in their place simply for acting in ways that conflict with stereotypical expectations of femininity, and sometimes using violence (gender-based violence) to do so.

Slut-Shaming

Slut-shaming is when we openly criticize, shame, and make fun of someone (usually women and girls) for their real or presumed sexual activity. People assume someone is “slutty,” which is considered bad, based on different characteristics—what they wear, how many people they’ve had sex with, because they sent a nude photo, because they kissed someone, etc. The punishment for being perceived that way is shame, gossip, or even sexual violence. People of all genders participate in slut-shaming because we learn at a young age that someone’s sexual activity is subject to gossip and bullying. No one deserves to be slut-shamed! Don’t participate in slut-shaming and call it out if you see it happen.

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

We’ve heard a lot about toxic masculinity in the news. Many are confused about it and some think it means that all boys and men are bad. That’s not what it means.

To even begin to understand what masculinity is, it’s important to know that researchers found almost no differences between the “female” and “male” brains. People of different genders often act differently not because of biological characteristics but because of rigid definitions we have created around what is feminine and what is masculine.

Toxic masculinity is one version of masculinity that is unhealthy for men and boys and for people around them. It links masculinity to violence, sex, status (who rules who and has power over who), and aggression. Under toxic masculinity, manliness is defined by physical strength, not showing weakness, the sex we have, and brutality and violence. According to toxic masculinity, “feminine” traits, like feeling and talking about emotions, being vulnerable, caring about others, or not being hypersexual, make us “less of a man.”

Toxic masculinity is challenging for the mental health of boys who grow up having to fit into such a rigid box where their feelings and emotions are discouraged.

Toxic masculinity causes violence, including sexual violence. Men are encouraged to show brutality, use force to show their domination, pursue sexual conquest to prove their manliness, and are not encouraged to connect emotionally with others.

Knowing that toxic masculinity is just one version of masculinity means we get to decide what it means for us to be a man. With the support of our friends and family, you can define the best version of masculinity to live up to.

Click here for some examples of healthy masculinity »

Positive Body Image and Healthy Self-Esteem

All bodies are worthy of love, acceptance, and positive representation. We deserve to feel good about our own bodies and we should extend that to others, regardless of being big, small, short, tall, fat, skinny, muscular, using a wheelchair or a cane, etc. There are no “good” or “bad” bodies.People who are thin are not necessarily “healthy” just like being fat doesn’t necessarily mean you are “unhealthy.” Straight hair is not better than curly or kinky hair and light skin is not better than darker skins. Brown skin is beautiful.

How we feel about ourselves and our bodies plays a big part in our health and well-being. The media, people around us, and popular culture all influence our body image. We’re constantly exposed to pictures that only show being thin and muscular and having white skin and straight hair as beautiful. TV shows, movies, and our social media feeds are full of these images. Seeing these images over and over again can make us feel bad about ourselves and our bodies. These feelings can affect our self-esteem and our mental health.

There’s so much pressure to conform to very narrow rules of what is “beautiful.” We get in the habit of comparing ourselves to our friends and to celebrities but we shouldn’t have to try and make ourselves into something we’re not. Instead, we should embrace what makes us uniquely beautiful and learn how to be grateful for all the ways our bodies serve us so well.

What can we do?

  • Talk about beauty standards (and how unrealistic they are).
  • Surround ourselves with people who accept and support each other and don’t talk down about their bodies or the bodies of others.
  • Become a positive influence in our groups of friends.
  • Check ourselves when it comes to how much time we spend on social media and who and what we follow.
  • Get moving: join a team or a group, especially one that doesn’t focus on body size and image. It can help us connect with our bodies.
  • Talk with our friends and trusted adults about what we see in the media and the injustice of celebrating only one type of body and photoshop. Let’s talk about how racism and/or ableism impact how some of us feel about our bodies.
  • Fuel our bodies with what it needs, including love and respect, food and movement, touch and pleasure.

Click here for more on body positivity »

Media Literacy: Important questions to ask ourselves

We spend a lot of time on our phones or our computers on social media, scrolling through content, watching TV shows, listening to music, and reading stuff on the internet. Media has a powerful effect on us. It’s important to distinguish between how sexuality and relationships are represented in the media and how they unfold in real life.

Most representations of sexuality, relationships, and bodies in the media are unrealistic. We can learn to be critical and challenge these messages rather than completely absorbing them.

Every ad has a message beyond “buy this.” Every story, TV show, and piece of news has deeper messages. Advertisements, commercial social media feeds, and influencers all create ideals that play on people’s insecurities to increase sales. To sell products or market themselves, brands also hypersexualize female bodies and leverage toxic masculinity, play up gender roles, and send messages that can make us feel inadequate or down on ourselves, especially when it comes to what kind of bodies are portrayed as “good” (e.g. super thin, muscular, white skin, fit, etc.). Becoming good at applying our critical thinking skills to media is an important way to keep ourselves healthy.

Pornography

Pornography is more accessible than ever. Many young people have seen porn: maybe you were just curious, maybe you and your friend wanted a laugh, maybe you clicked on a link accidentally, or maybe you were looking to get off. There’s nothing shameful about watching porn. That said, we need to be critical of this content too because, just like regular media, mainstream porn mostly shows limited ideas about gender, bodies, and sexuality. For example, most porn actors look a certain way (e.g. very thin, muscular, fit, big breasts, big penis, etc.), a lot of plots feature women being sexually and socially submissive and the sex is not always realistic or pleasurable for everyone involved.

Porn literacy is as important as media literacy. If possible, find a trusted adult to talk through porn and people’s attitudes towards sex, porn and gender roles, fantasy, porn and racism, etc. There are also resources out there to dig deeper.

Click here to check out the What’s up with Porn Project »

Here are helpful questions to ask about the media we consume:

  • Who has created this content and for what purpose?
  • What do they wanted us to take away from it?
  • Why is this message being sent?
  • Who and what do you see? Who is represented and who is missing?
  • Does it realistically represent gender, sexuality, bodies, young people’s lifestyles, etc.? If it is porn, do you think it offers realistic representations of sex with a partner?
  • Does the message put a person or a group of people down?
  • Does the way in which people are represented further any stereotypes?
  • Does it contribute to harmful ways of thinking about gender, sexuality, relationships, consent, bodies, health, women and girls, people of colour, immigrants, etc.? Or does it challenge harmful stereotypes?
  • Does it sexually objectify anyone?
  • How does this message make you feel about yourself? Your choices? Your body? What you have? Your life in general?

Taking in the content we scroll through all day with these questions in mind quickly becomes almost automatic when we get used to doing it. It’s about getting used to flexing our critical thinking muscles. The more aware we are of what messages are sent our way, the better we can enjoy what is good about technology.

The Low-Down on STIs and Getting Tested!

Getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is pretty common. Anyone who is sexually active can get an STI and pass it on. STI rates among young people have been on the rise for many years with chlamydia and HPV as the most common ones. Not only are they common, they are also often asymptomatic, meaning you might not know you have one. It’s important to get STIs treated so they don’t lead to complications if left alone for too long.

Considering how common they are, we should learn more about STIs! Our new STI information hub is currently under construction. It will feature useful information on symptoms, treatment, and testing and a directory of clinics and providers where you can get tested. It will also feature a youth-friendly STI testing clinic directory to help you find a clinic near you. In the meantime, please visit Heart Your Parts to read more about STIs.

Everything Pregnancy: From birth control to pregnancy options

During puberty, our reproductive systems mature and we become able to conceive a baby, either because we can ejaculate sperm or because our ovaries release an egg every month which, if fertilized with sperm, will turn into an embryo (the very beginning stage of a pregnancy). If the embryo attaches itself to the lining of the uterus (our womb), then it could eventually develop into a baby over the course of nine months. If we have unprotected penis/vagina sex once our bodies go through that maturation, it can lead to a pregnancy.

Choosing a Birth Control Method

We can prevent pregnancy by using birth control (also called contraception). It’s important to get informed on fertility (how you can get pregnant the first time you have sex, how it’s possible to ovulate during our period, etc.) and on birth control options when you are considering or starting to have sex.

Click here for more information on birth/fertility control methods to help you choose what is the best one for you »

Click here to read about the latest recommendations for birth control for young people »

We can use contraception for other reasons too. Even though the purpose of birth control is to prevent pregnancy, many people choose to use hormonal forms of contraception because of health benefits. For example, some hormonal birth control methods may help regulate periods, address mood disorders associated with the menstrual cycle, reduce acne, and/or lower endometriosis-related pain. Talk to your healthcare providers about birth control to pick out the best option for you.

Facing an Unplanned Pregnancy: Pregnancy options

Finding out that you or your partner are pregnant when you are in high school or just starting college can bring on strong emotions (surprise, fear, shame, joy, excitement, confusion, anger, etc.). Unintended pregnancies are not always the result of someone being irresponsible about sex. Even if you take every precaution, deciding to have sex means accepting that there is some risk—no method is 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. Condoms break, birth control fails (or is used incorrectly).

If you suddenly find out you’re pregnant, you don’t need to figure this out alone. Finding support as soon as possible is the best way forward. Many young people wait to seek help from trusted adults (this doesn’t have to be your parents—it can be a school nurse, a healthcare professional, etc.) because they feel overwhelmed but the longer we wait to deal with a situation, the bigger and more complicated it can get.

If you are pregnant and don’t know where to start or who to turn to, don’t worry. There are many excellent resources available to guide you through the process of learning about your options and deciding on a game plan. Call your local sexual health centre to help get your started or call our Access Line.

When it comes to making decisions around an unplanned pregnancy, remember that everyone is different and that we all have unique circumstances that inform the choices we make. Every person needs to make the decision that is right for them.

Some of us will choose to have an abortion and that’s ok.

Some of us will choose adoption and that’s ok.

Click here and here to read more about parenting.

Teen parenting is rarely talked about in positive ways and that’s not helpful for anyone. Stigma, shame, and judgment only makes it more difficult for young parents to succeed. Some young people choose to become parents and intentionally get pregnant. Some young people were not planning on getting pregnant but when facing an unplanned pregnancy, decided to go ahead and become parents. Young parents can certainly be great parents and deserve help to reach their potential. Teen parents need support, not stigma and judgment.

Click here to read about the some experiences of teen parents »

Click here to learn more about the different options available when we face an unplanned pregnancy »

Need to Go to the Clinic?

Privacy and Confidentiality

Being able to trust our healthcare providers is essential. Making sure that we can count on our healthcare team to protect our privacy and confidential information is very important.

When it comes to sexual and reproductive healthcare, many people wonder about what information and services they can get without their parents’ consent. Maybe you want to have an abortion, you want to get tested for STIs, or you need to get on the pill but don’t feel comfortable bringing that up with your parents.

Click here to read more about privacy and confidentiality so you know your rights and what to expect from healthcare providers »

Youth-Friendly Sexual Healthcare

Finding a place to get tested or access sexual healthcare can be difficult, particularly if you live in a small community without public transit. It can be hard to find healthcare providers who are used to working with young people.

Click here to find tips on how to assert yourself in healthcare settings and what to do if you experience discrimination or stigma »

Comprehensive Sexuality Education

As a young person, it is your right to receive unbiased, scientifically accurate sex-ed.

Everything we have talked about in this section should be part of the education we receive from childhood all the way to adulthood. Imagine if everyone could grow up having the best information out there to figure out their gender and sexuality, to nurture healthy relationships, and to take care of their sexual health?

The sex-ed many of us receive (if we receive any at all) doesn’t offer that. Most of us grow up without the basic information that could help us stay healthy and safe. Typically, if we get any sex-ed at all, it focuses on risk, some anatomy, and includes a quick demonstration of how to put a condom on (if we’re lucky, a banana will be involved). Almost everywhere, sex-ed is not LGBTQ+ inclusive and doesn’t speak to important issues like consent, technology, pleasure, and how to have healthy relationships.

Since sexuality is an integral part of being human, comprehensive sex-ed is key when it comes to making decisions about sex, relationships, and our bodies.

To read more about sex-ed, this web series provides an overview of what is happening in Canada. Stay tuned for the launch of our campaign, Together for Sex-Ed!