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Ask the Experts

Question:

It seems to me that teenagers living in cities have plenty of access to solid information about HIV/AIDS and other issues of sexuality, but what about those living in suburban and rural areas? What particular concerns do they have, and how can they be reached?

Answered by: Joyce Hunter

It would be great if all youths had access to accurate, comprehensive information about all aspects of sexuality, including HIV, other STDs, contraception, and sexual orientation.

I wouldn’t be so sure that teenagers in cities necessarily have access to all the information and resources that they need. The quality, and even availability, of sex education varies widely. And many urban youths have a lot of other life stressors that also go unaddressed, such as poverty, racism, and other forms of discrimination.

Still, you may be right that many urban youths have more opportunities to access the services they need, such as youth drop-in centers, community-based organizations, and school clinics. Distances are so much smaller in cities that many teenagers can use public transportation to reach a wide range of resources outside of their own neighborhoods, where they are may have greater privacy. Youths in suburban or rural areas, especially if they are too young to drive or can’t afford a car, may face a great deal of social isolation. It can also be difficult for them to have the anonymity they may need to, for instance, acquire contraception or try to get support if they are questioning their sexual identity. And while some suburbs are affluent, it’s important to remember that poverty, and the stresses that come with it, also affect many suburban and, especially, rural areas.

Of course, the Internet has done a great deal to bring access to new resources and support to everyone, regardless of their geographic location. But in suburban and rural areas where there may be fewer services accessible to youths, it becomes more important for all of the services they encounter to provide quality sex education and social services to youth. Public schools, community agencies, health facilities, youth clubs and activities – all of these must recognize that just as sexuality is a part of everyone’s life so education and training in responsible sexuality should be part of their work as well.