National Partnership for Women & Families

Monthly Women's Health Research Review

Review examines adolescents' experiences with reproductive health visits

Summary of "Was that all I got? 'You're too young to have sex': Adolescents experiences accessing sexual and reproductive health services and recommendations for providers," Moore et al., Journal of Adolescent Health, February 2016.

While "previous research suggests that health care providers ... play a critical role in providing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information to adolescents" -- which helps "prevent unintended pregnancy and sexual[ly] transmitted infections [STIs]" -- other research has "found that [health care providers] spend" only about "36 seconds discussing sexuality during adolescent health maintenance visits," according to K. Alexis Moore of Elon University and colleagues.

For the study, the researchers reviewed "experiences of adolescents accessing SRH services" to identify best practices and recommendations for providers "to improve the quality and frequency of [health care provider]-initiated SRH conversations."


The researchers conducted four same-sex focus groups with a study sample of 25 college undergraduate students. The groups included 16 females and nine males, with a mean age of 20.5. Participants were asked about how comfortable they were discussing SRH-related topics with providers. They were also asked about their recommendations "on how to facilitate more productive SRH conversations."


Four categories "deemed important" to SRH conversations emerged from participants' answers, including environment, resources, relationship and language.

In terms of environment, study participants suggested that a "safe setting that is private and welcoming with provider body language that is relaxed and exhibits measured and composed reactions" enhanced reproductive health discussions.

In terms of resources, participants recommended the use of educational materials, such as pamphlets and signage, to "fill in gaps during time-limited visits." The researchers noted that such resources also prepare patients to ask questions.

The participants said that it was important that they "b[e] able to relate to their provider." According to the researchers, factors "such as provider personality, presentation or (personal) history influenced comfort level."

The researchers also found that "contextual language that is shared by both patient and provider" enhanced reproductive health discussions. They noted that terms such as "family planning," "sexually active or sexual violence ... may be understood differently by patients and providers."


"Effective provider communication regarding SRH requires engaging patients in a redefined SRH setting -- one that strives to engage both personal and disease domains and that considers the context of SRH in the individuals' emotional and personal life and behavior," the researchers wrote.

According to the researchers, "Future clinicians must be trained to consider setting context so that clinical encounters serve as touchstones for increased patient-provider stability, rather than solely disease treatment." The researchers urged additional research into "whether the creation of settings more conducive to patient understanding and receptiveness improve patient outcomes."