You are an important source of sexual and reproductive information for adolescents, and can be instrumental in preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections as well as promoting healthy relationships. A new clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence provides a variety of tools and techniques to help you with these discussions with your patients.
Confidentiality and consent are two of the most important factors to consider when discussing sexual health with adolescents, according to Arik V. Marcell, MD, and Gale R. Burstein, MD, coauthors of the report (Pediatrics. 2017. doi:
Clear and effective communication is another important feature in providing sexual health care to adolescents. Adolescence is a time of great change, and many adolescents may not feel comfortable asking questions, even though they want them answered. The AAP report recommends utilizing several interview techniques to get solid answers from adolescents.
Asking direct but open-ended questions is a great way to get useful answers from adolescents and it avoids yes/no answers. After listening to a patient’s response, use a reflection response, or one that mirrors the feeling of the patient. This allows the patient to feel that he or she is being heard. Restating and summarizing the interview also is an effective tool and allows the patient to understand what has been discussed. Asking questions that provide insight into the patient allows you to better understand the patient as a person. The use of reassuring and supportive statements is important to support patients and allow them to feel more comfortable, according to the report.
Apart from communication strategies and creating a safe and welcoming environment where confidentiality is promoted, there are several topics from the report to focus on.
• Reproductive life plans. It is important to broach this topic with adolescents. Many adolescents don’t have a pregnancy plan or understand how this would affect their lives. Asking questions concerning the desire to become pregnant, how many children the patient would like to have and when, and past and present pregnancy status will help adolescents plan and understand the issues surrounding pregnancy.
• Sexual assault and sexual abuse. These topics are particularly relevant to adolescents. Young people aged 12-34 years experience some of the highest rates of rape and sexual assault. When , questions should include whether she has been touched by anyone in an uncomfortable way, forced into unwanted sexual contact, or whether she has been “date raped” (Pediatrics. 2008. doi: ). When dealing with sexual assault, you always should comply with state guidelines regarding abuse, rape, and incest.
• Physical exams. These exams, including breast and and genital exams, should be approached with care. When conducting a physical exam, you always should have a chaperone present and allow the option of letting a parent or guardian be in the room. You always should describe what areas will be examined and inform the patient that if he or she feels uncomfortable at any point to tell you to stop. Some adolescents may not feel comfortable with their bodies and with disrobing; in this event, offering a gown may help make the patient more comfortable. It is important these exams are done to identify any pathologies and indications of sexual maturity.
In addition, counseling adolescents concerning sexual health should include (Pediatrics. 2014, Oct 1. doi: ). This should include information about condoms as well as long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, said Dr. Breuner, chairperson of the Committee on Adolescence.
None of the contributors to the report had relevant financial disclosures.