As student ambassadors for the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, we help educate our fellow high school students about health topics like HPV and stress.
We know that talking to your doctor about sex and similar topics can feel awkward and embarrassing—we’ve been there. But we also know how important those conversations are for us to stay healthy and happy.
Use these 6 tips to help you through conversations about birth control, STI testing, your way-too-painful period, or why it’s taking so long for you to grow hair down there!
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Your medical provider wants you to have the info you need to get and stay healthy. If you’re not sure about how to take your birth control, whether you need STI testing, or if that “you can’t get pregnant if…” myth you heard is true, ask. No question is too weird or embarrassing for them—they’ve heard it all.
If you just can’t force yourself to ask what you want, write your questions down on a sheet of paper before the appointment. That way, when your health care provider asks if you have any questions, you can hand the paper to them instead of asking out loud.
2. Ask about confidentiality.
If you’re under 18 years old and not yet a legal adult, most medical care still requires your parent or guardian’s consent. Of course, it can be hard to talk about your sexual health if you’re worried that what you say might get back to your mom. Your health care provider should ask your parent to leave for part of your visit so you can have a private conversation. If they don’t, it’s ok for you to ask your parent to leave the room for part of the visit.
In New York and many other states, sexual health care is confidential. This means your doctor cannot talk to your parents or caregivers (or anyone else) about STI testing or treatment, birth control, and many other sexual health services. Different states have different laws though. Ask your medical provider to explain exactly what’s confidential, and what’s not.
If you’re worried about something in particular, like not wanting a parent to know your sexual orientation, tell your medical provider so they know to not bring it up when your parent or guardian is in the room.
3. Be honest.
Your health care provider might ask some personal questions, like whether you’re sexually active, drink, or use drugs. It may feel awkward, but medical providers ask those questions for a reason. They want to give you the best care possible. To do that, they need to know whether they should recommend STI testing, talk about birth control and/or STI prevention, and more. Remember: your doctor is there to help you, not judge you.
That being said, if your doctor ever asks you something that you just don’t feel comfortable talking about, you can tell them that. They won’t force you to answer.
4. If you feel uncomfortable or judged, you can switch doctors.
If your doctor tells you that you’re too young for birth control, makes you feel bad for asking a question, or does anything else that makes you feel judged, uncomfortable or not welcome, you can change doctors. You deserve a health care provider that treats you with respect and makes you feel safe. Plus, it’s important to feel comfortable with your doctor so you can be honest with them (see above). If your doctor is making that difficult, you don’t have to stick around.
5. Make sure you understand new diagnoses and medications.
If you have a new diagnosis or medication, it’s important to know how to take care of yourself, and what the next steps are. If you’re at the appointment by yourself, there won’t be anyone else to explain or remind you later. Make sure you leave your appointment with all the info you need. If you have a new diagnosis and know you’ll google it later, think about asking your health care provider for a website recommendation. That way, you know you’re getting accurate info.
6. Expand your definition of health.
Your health care provider can help you with questions related to stress, mental health, relationships and more. If you’ve been feeling down, can’t concentrate in class, don’t feel safe at home or in a relationship, or anything else is off, tell your health care provider. They can help connect you to resources, like therapists or LGBTQ groups.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 12,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.