September 24th, 2005
Over the past few days the papers have been full of a story about a school nurse giving a contraception injection in the toilets of a branch of McDonalds.
These revelations came from Angela Star, who this week was named ‘Sexual Health Nurse of the Year’ by the National Association of Nurses for Contraception and Sexual Health.
Nurse Star’s remarks were to explain how difficult it is to provide sexual and reproductive health advice to young people. I think she should be applauded on her award and recognised for her dedication to helping young people.
Whilst we may assume in the UK that sexual, reproductive and relationships health is delivered to a high standard in all schools, and contraception advice is available to older pupils either from school or local family planning services, the reality is very different. Some schools opt out of sex education completely, others allow it to be taught but in highly restrictive ways. In many schools teachers who’re excellent in their specialist subject struggle to provide sex education for which they’re less skilled and unsupported. School nurses are tied as to what advice they can give or referrals they can make depending on their school’s attitude and policies towards sexual health.
Teenagers do need sexual health advice, and if we’re to reduce our teen pregnancy and STI rates they also need information about contraception.
What was really interesting was the response from McDonalds, quoted in many newspapers as saying “we are highly disappointed and think it is completely inappropriate”. This is ironic coming from the company who’ve been criticised over their environmental and commercial policies, the nutritional aspects of their food, and putting teens and children at risk from obesity.
The way the media reacted it was as though an evil nurse lurks behind the toilet door of every fast food outlet ready to pounce on every girl who comes in and give her a contraception injection against her will.
But why not provide sexual health advice where teens are likely to go and feel more relaxed? Whilst we should hope for accurate sex education to be delivered at school and in the home, alternative outlets where teens can ask questions and not feel judged could also work well.
In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to give sex and relationships advice to teens outside the school setting, but since many schools are unable or unwilling to do the job, and teenagers definitely need support and advice, then information should be available in alternative places.
It’s interesting that when there have been campaigns for adults to tackle male sexual health, distribute condoms, or raise general health awareness in pubs or sports centres, the media has sung their praises. Magazines have highlighted ‘sex tips’ classes for women held in bars. But when it comes to highlighting the difficulty of giving advice to teens they’re less supportive – hardly surprising nurses have to resort to giving contraception jabs outside a clinical setting.Tweet