Growing up as the daughter of two immigrant parents and a part of the Asian community, conversations about sex and sexuality were all but nonexistent. It was (and continues to be) the prevailing expectation that women simply didn’t have sexual experiences before marriage, so there was no need for those conversations in the eyes of my parents. Had I not been lucky enough to go school that provides medically-accurate information about STI prevention, consent, healthy relationships, and sexuality -- and where abstinence-only sex education is prohibited -- I would never have accessed the information I needed to make informed choices about my reproductive health.
However, this expectation does not reflect the reality for many Asian youth. Research shows that cultural expectations of abstinence that define the sexual experiences of Asian immigrants to the United States often do not translate to Asian Americans, who generally adopt similar sexual behaviors as their non-Asian peers once they become sexually active. Still, compared with their peers, Asian Americans have the lowest rate of communication about their sexual health with health care providers. In a study of the sexual behaviors of twenty Asian American adolescents, many reported lying to health care providers about their sexual histories, especially Asian American providers, and a general lack of knowledge regarding sexual health topics. I can’t say that any of these studies surprise me -- keeping relationships a secret from parents to avoid the cultural stigma associated with sex was the norm for most Asian Americans in my community.
That’s why Planned Parenthood health centers are so important. In New Hampshire, over 40,000 people identify as a part of the Asian community. Planned Parenthood provides condoms, information about birth control, pregnancy tests, and treatment for STIs, often at a reduced cost or no cost. These services are incredibly important for Asian American youth, who often avoid getting the reproductive health care they need out of fear that their families will find out and judge them for their sexual behaviors. While Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., their health care needs are often overlooked due to the model minority myth, which perpetuates the notion that Asian communities are universally healthy and financially successful. Not only is this myth untrue, it can be harmful in how health care resources are directed, especially for Asian American youth who face unique cultural barriers in accessing reproductive health care.
Providing culturally competent care for the Asian and Asian American community means understanding these cultural barriers and addressing concerns about reproductive health head on. By involving members of the Asian community in their organizing and outreach, ensuring patients are aware of their right to privacy, and keeping the costs of services at low, Planned Parenthood is addressing the health care disparities that many young Asian Americans must contend with. As New Hampshire’s largest and most-trusted provider of sexual and reproductive health care services, Planned Parenthood can lead the effort to make Asian communities healthier and happier.