“Pwede po ba ako gumamit ng IUD o ng implant kahit wala pa akong baby?” (“Can I get an IUD or an implant even if I’ve never had a baby?”)

This is one of the most common questions we receive on our Clinic Facebook page, which receives about 200 messages per day. Clients who come to our clinic and young people our Youth Advocates refer to us for services wonder the same thing.

We’ve found that most young people only begin accessing contraception *after* they’ve already had a pregnancy. And in a way this makes sense. For one thing, young people are generally not provided with comprehensive sexuality education or access to high quality free services, so they often don’t learn about contraception until after they’ve already had a child. But another reason is because even when this topic is discussed, it’s not discussed in terms that mean anything to young people.

When talking about pills, DMPA, implants, IUDs and condoms, health professionals usually call these “family planning”. This reinforces the idea that only married individuals who already have children use contraceptives in order to plan and space the births of their next baby.

When the language used to explain contraception uses terms that don’t apply to the people listening, they are unlikely to internalize it. Young people hear “family planning” and think, “Oh, I don’t have a family yet, so that’s not for me.” But it is for them. Contraception is for anyone sexually active who does not want to become pregnant. And for far too long, interventions in the Philippines have focused on getting a teen mom on contraception only after she’s already had her first child. What we need to do is to stop that first pregnancy in her teen years from happening in the first place.

This is easier said than done. Some health service providers are uncomfortable with the idea of giving teens contraceptives because they do not like what the teens are doing. They believe it is wrong, and that young people shouldn’t be having sex. They believe that if they provide them with contraception, they are condoning that behavior and somehow legitimizing it. So some providers don’t give young people services, even when they ask for them.

As public servants, health workers should realize that they do not have to like the behavior the young person is engaging in, but as health professionals, they are obligated to provide the services that young person needs in order to stay healthy. Too often, providers shame young people who ask for services, because they don’t want them to be having sex. But let’s be clear: getting angry at young people for what they are doing or disapproving of what they are doing does not make them stop the behavior. If young people are sexually active, they are unlikely to stop having sex just because an adult told them to.

Our view at Roots of Health is that young people should be given comprehensive sexuality education so they understand their bodies and their health. Our sessions cover more than just biology. We also talk about healthy relationships and consent because these are important for young people to consider as well. We would prefer that young people do not start engaging in sex until they are in more stable, mature, loving relationships. But if they are sexually active now, we want them to use contraception so they will not have a baby while they are still kids themselves, and so they will not contract HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Para sa magandang kinabukasan!