What Can Health Providers Do?

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What can health providers do?

Providers who do not address sexuality in counseling or services may rely on assumptions that do not reflect a client's situation and may even put a client's health and safety at risk. When providers ask clients about sexual behavior, about the number and gender of their partners, and about contraceptive decision making, they can help clients choose methods that are compatible with their sexual practices, thus increasing the likelihood of satisfaction and continuation.

With the onset of the AIDS pandemic, failure to provide education about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) poses a life-threatening risk to clients. Since the risk of STI transmission is greater from men to women than from women to men, the female client is at increased risk simply because of her anatomy and physiology.

By talking about sexuality with clients, providers can often identify health risks that otherwise would have been missed-risks that the client can take into consideration when making reproductive health decisions.

Understand how personal values affect responses to clients

Providers must first understand that their own comfort, knowledge, and values influence the counseling and services they provide.

Providers should ask themselves these questions:

  • Can I openly and knowledgeably discuss sexual functioning and response -- including the ways contraception relates to sexuality?
  • Do I avoid asking or answering certain questions because they make me uncomfortable?
  • Do I make assumptions that may be incorrect or detrimental to the client?
  • Does my disapproval of reproductive and sexual behaviors affect the way I counsel and deliver services?
  • Can I recognize the signs of sexual violence? Am I sensitive and effective when talking to victims of sexual violence?

Training modules can be used to help providers learn more about sexuality and understand how their own values may affect how they respond to clients. For example, AVSC's Family Planning Counseling curriculum includes training activities on sexuality.

Create a comfortable environment

Providers can learn about the concerns of clients by creating an atmosphere that encourages them to speak freely. Privacy and confidentiality should be respected; the client should feel that clinic staff are supportive, respectful, and nonjudgmental.

By talking about sexuality, clients can understand more about themselves, their relationships, and their gender identity. Insights from surveys, group discussions, and counseling sessions can be incorporated into program design.

Be nonjudgmental

When providers speak to clients about sexuality and STIs, they need to do so in a nonjudgmental fashion. Imposing guilt or voicing disapproval rarely helps people deal responsibly with an STI. Providers need to help clients who have STIs learn how to prevent transmission to others and to protect themselves from future infections.

All programs need to help clients determine whether they are at risk of having an STI. One way to do this is use self-assessment, in which clients assess themselves by responding silently to a series of questions.

Self-assessment may be especially appropriate for clients who do not feel comfortable talking about sexual issues or for countries in which cultural prohibitions make open discussion difficult. Self-assessment activities are also a clear sign that the provider respects the autonomy of clients. Researchers are beginning to examine self-assessment techniques to determine their effectiveness as screening tools.

[ || Pregnancy || Informed Choice || Infections and Diseases || Quality of Care || Emerging Issues ]
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