Pictured above: Teen Group. From http://www.plannedparenthood.org/illinois/teens-20943.htm
It’s important that all young people have the information and resources they need to take care of their sexual and reproductive health. However, depending on the state you live in, you might encounter barriers in the form of laws and policies that affect your ability as a young person to access your sexual and reproductive rights. Through our work of providing sex education in various Arizona communities, we know many people aren’t fully clear on what their rights are when it comes to sexual and reproductive health — so consider this a quick crash course!
A critical step in protecting your sexual health is to understand your rights.
In terms of information about sexuality, there is no state law requiring sex education in schools. It is up to each school district to decide whether they provide sex education, and what type of curriculum they want to use if they do provide it. We know there are many districts across Arizona that have chosen not to offer sex education to their students or to provide limited information about sexuality (e.g., abstinence-only sex ed).
The lack of consistency around sex education is problematic because research shows that most youth and their families want their schools to offer comprehensive sex ed — a holistic curriculum that covers topics like consent, healthy relationships, STDs, birth control, abstinence, etc. Furthermore, when youth receive comprehensive sex ed, they are more likely to have healthy relationships and make choices that will reduce their likelihood of unintended pregnancies and STDs.
When it comes to accessing resources and services that help young people protect their health, there are a few laws in Arizona that are important to know about:
- In Arizona, a young person can access sexual and reproductive health services (such as STD testing and treatment, birth control, pregnancy testing, etc.) at any age with a parent’s permission and at age 13 without parental consent. If a young person is in state custody (for example, they are in foster care or in a juvenile detention center), they have the right to access these services without a guardian’s permission at age 12.
- One exception to the above rule is abortion care. A young person can obtain an abortion with a parent’s permission as soon as they are able to become pregnant. However, if they want to obtain an abortion on their own, without a parent’s permission, they must be 18. Without parental permission, the young person has the option to go before a judge and request what is called a judicial bypass, that (if granted) would allow them to receive an abortion without a guardian’s permission.
- Young people who are pregnant are able to make choices regarding adoption or parenting at any age with or without their parent’s or guardian’s permission.
- There are products you can access outside of a doctor’s office and without a prescription, such as condoms, spermicides, pregnancy tests, and emergency contraception. All of these products are available at most drug stores (and some grocery and convenience stores), and do not have an age requirement (or gender requirement) for purchasing. Many pharmacies keep these products behind the counter, so you will have to see the pharmacist to purchase them, and sometimes pharmacists might give misinformation about your ability to purchase these products as a young person. Regardless, all people have the right to access these over-the-counter products, assuming they can pay out of pocket. If you do not have the money to pay the cost, all of these products are available through sexual health clinics in your community, like these or any Planned Parenthood health center.
There are a couple of additional pieces to consider when accessing sexual health information and services:
- Insurance: If you are a dependent on your caregiver’s insurance plan, any medical services you receive will be charged to their insurance and they will receive a statement that reviews what services you received. If this is a concern, talk to the medical office about how you can maintain privacy for the services you receive.
- Mandatory reporting: Medical providers and any professionals who work with youth (like school staff) are mandatory reporters, meaning there are limits to what they can keep confidential, and some of those limits pertain to sexual activity among minors. The mandatory reporting laws are complicated, and every organization has their own procedures for reporting to law enforcement or child protection agencies. You can ask about mandatory reporting when you are seeking out sexual health information or services.
Beyond all of this basic information about your rights, it is important to find resources, whether they are individual people, websites, or sexual health clinics that are reputable and will give you accurate, factual information about your sexual and reproductive health. Make sure any clinic you go to will give you a full range of options around your sexual and reproductive health. Be wary of places in your community that offer free pregnancy tests or free ultrasounds, as many of these places are not medical clinics and will not offer you a full range of pregnancy prevention options or pregnancy choices. If you are looking for reputable places online to get anonymous, factual, and holistic information about your sexual health, Scarleteen and Roo are great starting places.
No matter where you live, you deserve to have full access to the information and resources you need not only to protect but also to enjoy your sexual health. A critical step in being able to do that is understanding your rights.