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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

HEALTHY SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT FAQS

Q: Will talking to youth about sex encourage them to experiment?

A: Talking about sexuality with youth encourages healthy sexuality. Research shows that when youth have access to comprehensive sexuality education, there is postponement in first sexual intercourse, decreased number of partners, and increased condom use (SIECCAN, 2010).

Q: Is it normal for young kids to touch their genitals for pleasure?

A: Children may masturbate (touch the genitals for pleasure) because it feels good or for stress relief. This type of touch is normal – some children masturbate and some do not. A positive message about knowing your body can be combined with a message about safety. It is fine to touch the body in this way, but it should be done in private.

Q: When is too soon to talk to children about sexuality?

A: Children start learning about sexuality form the day they are born. It is important that children have accurate age appropriate information to keep them safe, and to set the foundation for healthy sexuality. Knowing the correct names for body parts, and knowing that some parts are private but not a secret are important protective factors from an early age. For more information on talking to children about sexuality see the following parent packages:

 

• For Parents of Children: Birth to 12 Years
• For Parents of Teens:  13 to 18 Years
• Sexuality & Developmental Disability: A Guide for Parents 

Q: Is it normal for a 12 year old to have sexual feelings?

A: Youth at that age may be going through puberty. Puberty is a time when hormones can affect the way we feel towards others and about our own sexuality. Some people may start to become interested or have sexual feelings toward other people, others may not. Either is perfectly normal. It is important to think about the difference between having sexual feelings and being involved in sexual activity. Thinking about sex does not carry risk, having sex on the other hand does.

Q: If it’s too uncomfortable talking to youth about sexuality, it’s better not to say anything.

A: It’s normal to be uncomfortable talking about sexuality. This shouldn’t stop us from educating youth. Talking about facts rather than values is an effective way deal with any worry. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or to let youth know that you’re embarrassed. You can say, “I feel a little uncomfortable, but this is important to talk about. Let’s find out some answers together.”

 

To learn more about talking to youth and some tips for talking, click here.

PUBERTY AND SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT FAQs

Q: Why do people feel lonely during puberty?

A: Some people feel lonely during puberty as they begin to feel more independent from their family. Sometimes friendships change or a person feels like they are the only one who understands what they are going through. The hormones that are produced during puberty can increase the feelings of loneliness. If the feelings of loneliness are overwhelming, it’s important to speak with an adult to come up with some ways to create a life that feels better.

Q: Is it normal to have irregular periods? If so, for how long?

A: It is normal to have irregular periods, especially in the first couple of years after beginning menstruation. Some females never become regular. Some females are regular some of the time, but the regularity is affected by life changes, stress, illness, exercise, nutrition, etc. If the person is always irregular and it has been many years since they began menstruating, or if they have always been regular and that has changed, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider about it.

 

For people who are also sexually active, it’s important to remember that a missed period could also be a sign of pregnancy.

Q: What is a wet dream?

A: Wet dreams are also called nocturnal emissions. This is when a male ejaculates while sleeping. Ejaculation is when semen, which is a combination of sperm made in the testicles, along with other fluid, is released from a male’s erect penis. This is normal during puberty.

Q: Why do people get sexy thoughts and feelings?

A: During puberty, the body starts producing sex hormones. One of the functions of these hormones may be sexual thoughts and feelings. People also start to have sexual thoughts and feelings through exposure to sexuality in the world around them (e.g., TV, internet, movies). Having sexual attractions are part of developing into adulthood and for many people is part of creating relationships. Having sexual thoughts and feelings is a normal part of growing up.

Q: What is masturbating and is it wrong?

A: Masturbation is when a person touches their own genitals for pleasure. Some people masturbate, others do not. Both are normal. Some people have family, cultural, religious or personal values about masturbation. So to know the answer to the question, a person would need to think about the values they have about masturbation. The only time masturbation is considered harmful is if it goes against values and it makes someone feel guilty about it, or if they are masturbating so often that it gets in the way of day to day activities.

RELATIONSHIPS FAQs

Q: How do I know if my relationship is healthy?

A: Healthy relationships generally feel good. In healthy relationships, people:
• Feel safe,
• Can share their feelings,
• Listen to each other,
• Respect each other’s points of view,
• Make decisions together,
• Work out disagreements,
• Both get their needs met,
• Meet needs over wants,
• Are honest,
• Can share how they feel about sex,
• Are not pressured to do something they don’t want to do, especially sexually,
• Spend time alone and with other people,
• Try not to speak harshly to or about each other, and
• Have fun and enjoy each other’s company more often than not.

 

Relationships might be unhealthy if there is distrust, jealousy, embarrassment about sharing ideas or feelings, or if one partner ignores the wants, needs and opinions of the other.

 

Relationships are abusive if there is harm happening to a partner. This harm can be emotional, physical, spiritual, financial or sexual.

 

For more information and support regarding relationship abuse, see www.connectnetwork.ca

 

For more information or referral to community support agencies, call 211 or see www.informalberta.ca

Q: Is jealousy a sign of a healthy relationship?

A: Although mild feelings of jealousy may be common in relationships, stronger feelings of jealousy are a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Jealousy reflects insecurity, lack of trust, fear, possessiveness and a need for control, none of which are signs of a healthy relationship. Extreme jealousy may be a sign that a relationship is becoming abusive.

Q: What do I do if my partner is pressuring me to have sex but I’m not really ready?

A: The first step might be to clearly communicate your boundaries and limits. In a healthy relationship, both partners feel safe to communicate their ideas, values, boundaries, limits and goals about sex. In a healthy relationship, both partner’s ideas would be heard and respected.

 

If your partner is still pressuring you to have sex after you have clearly communicated your boundaries and limits, it seems that they are putting their desire to have sex (want) ahead of your boundaries to protect your safety (need). This is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

 

When people are in this situation, they can:
• Choose to end the relationship,
• Stay in the relationship and access support to make it healthier, or
• Choose to leave it unhealthy and keep being pressured to disregard personal limits.

 

In the short term, at a time when you are being pressured to have sex but are not ready, you can:
• Delay – find a way to get more time to think about what to do or say, such as saying “I just remembered, I’m supposed to babysit for my neighbor right now. Gotta go!”
• Negotiate – find a way to change the situation for the positive such as saying “You know, I’m not ready for sex, but I would love to go with you to that gaming store you always want me to go to with you.”
• Refuse – assertively deal with the situation, such as by saying “Are you crazy? We haven’t even been to the doctor for STI testing or to get birth control yet?”

 

If pressure to have sex turns into force to have sex, the relationship has become abusive. Sex without consent is sexual assault.

 

For more information and support regarding relationship and sexual abuse and assault, see www.connectnetwork.ca

Q: What do I do if I’m in an unhealthy relationship?

A: There is no one right way to handle being in an unhealthy relationship.

 

There are always 3 choices of how to handle an unhealthy relationship:
• Stay in the relationship as it is. Unfortunately, this common strategy tends to result in relationships becoming unhealthier.
• Stay in the relationship and access supports to make it healthier.
• End the relationship.

 

If there is a chance that the relationship is so unhealthy that safety might be in danger, it’s important to speak with an adult to create a safety plan.

 

To talk to someone about an unhealthy relationship, see www.connectnetwork.ca

Q: How can I keep my relationship fun and healthy?

A: Relationships should be fun. Some ideas for a healthy relationship might include:
• Doing new things together such as taking a class, doing a new sport, going to a new place.
• Doing things apart such as taking a class, doing a new sport, going to a new place.
• Finding ways to share humour.
• Showing affection.
• Complimenting or noticing positive things about each other.
• Talking to each other about your day, current events, life in general.
• Listening to your partner.
• Working on your own self growth.
• Looking for outside supports if you are finding that the relationship is having a hard time.

SEXUAL DECISION-MAKING FAQs

Q: How do you know if you’re ready for sex?

A: There is no one right way to know for sure if you are ready for sex. To make the healthiest decisions for you, it is important to consider if you are:
• Physically ready for sex:
– Do you have STI and pregnancy protection?
– Are you feeling sexually aroused? Is your partner?
• Emotionally ready for sex:
– How does this fit with your personal, family, community, cultural and religious values?
– What are the reasons you want to have sex?
– How will you probably feel afterwards?
– Are you comfortable and confident with yourself, your partner, your sexuality and the choice to have sex?
• Socially ready for sex:
– Are you and your partner both able to set and respect boundaries?
– Do you have healthy relationship and communication skills?
– Is this a situation where there is mutual respect, care and trust?
– How will this choice impact your other important relationships?

 

Some people find it helpful to speak with their family members, friends, mentors, counselors or other trusted and respected people when making this decision.

Q: What if you are both drunk… is it considered sexual assault?

A: In Canada, people who are under the influence of substances such as alcohol and drugs are not considered legally able to give consent for sex. If all partners are under the influence of substances it is possible that they could all face charges. Being high or drunk is not considered legal defence.

Q: What do you do if you have been sexually assaulted?

A: There is no one right way to respond if you have been sexually assaulted. It is important to know that:
• It is NOT your fault
• You are not alone
• You are believed

 

If sexual assault has happened recently, go to the nearest Urgent Care or Emergency Department. Alberta Health Services Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinics (link to community resources, tools and resources page on high risk portal) can also provide care after sexual assault.
Even though some people may feel like they want to change clothes, shower or bathe after an assault, it is important not to until after medical care has been accessed.

 

It can be helpful to get support through a helpline such as connectnetwork.ca where you can access
• health support such as STI testing & treatment, emergency contraception
• emotional, social and spiritual support in the form of counselling
• access to legal and ongoing resources

Q: What do you do if your partner wants sex but you don’t?

A: It can be difficult when people in a relationship are in different places about the choice to have sex. Ideally, you could assertively communicate your needs, boundaries and limits and then they would be respected by your partner. In healthy relationships, a person’s need for safety and protection of boundaries outweighs the other person’s desire for sex.

 

If you are being pressured to have sex when you don’t want to, you can:
• Refuse – assertively state you are not going to participate in that activity, say no.
• Negotiate – provide alternatives to the situation.
• Delay – put off having to respond to the situation at the time of pressure

Q: How do I talk to my partner about using a condom?

A: Using condoms lowers the risk of STIs and pregnancy, so for many people, condom use is needed before they choose to have sex. Some people are uncomfortable talking about sexuality, safer sex or condoms, but healthy communication is important to healthy sex. Saying something like “I know sometimes talking about sex can be uncomfortable, but for me to be comfortable with sex, we need to talk about condoms” might be a good conversation starter. This conversation would be most effective if it happened before a sexual situation, but at the time is better than not at all!

 

Anytime a person is choosing to have an important conversation with someone they care about and are uncertain of that other person’s reactions, it can be helpful to:
• Choose to have the conversation at an emotionally neutral time (no one is particularly happy, angry, sad, aroused).
• Let the other person know you have something important to talk about.
• Ask the other person if it is a good time. If it is not, choose a time that will work for both.
• Let the other person know the reason you want to talk to them and what you are hoping will come of the conversation.
• Remember that you may have had some time to think about what you are sharing. To the other person this may be new information.
• Stay calm.

 

If negotiating condom use may put you in danger, it is important to speak with a safe adult to let them know of your concerns so they can support you in making a safety plan and accessing relationship resources.

BIRTH CONTROL FAQs

Q: What if you can’t afford birth control?

A: If a person cannot afford birth control, there can be ways to access it for lower cost such as:
• Telling the doctor who is prescribing the birth control that you cannot afford it. The doctor may then provide you with a sample of the birth control or can help you get “compassionate” (free) birth control from the drug company or other programs.
• Going to a doctor at a specialty clinic for those who have barriers such as a street clinic, mobile clinic, youth/teen clinic or sexual and reproductive health clinic.
• Using your extended health benefit plan if you have one which can cover a large portion of the cost – but remember if you are using your parents’ health coverage, it will show up on their insurance statement.

 

Many clinics and community service agencies provide condoms at low cost or free. Some may also provide emergency contraception at low cost or free.

 

For information about Alberta Health Services Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinics near you, click here.

Q: Do you need parent consent to get birth control?

A: In Alberta, people generally do not need parental consent to go on birth control or to access other sexual health services (such as, birth control, pregnancy testing, STI testing and treatment, and abortion services). People under 14 or with significant developmental disabilities may need guardian consent.

Q: When is the safest time to have sex and not get pregnant?

A: Although people can only get pregnant around the time when they have released an egg (ovulation), it can be hard to know exactly when that is. For example, some people ovulate much earlier in their menstrual cycle than other people, some people ovulate more than once in a cycle and some people may ovulate without having common ovulation signs. It is important also to remember that sperm can live inside of the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes for 3-7 days, which means that someone can have sex at a time they think is safe but then ovulate several days later and get pregnant!

Q: Does birth control make it harder to get pregnant later?

A: The birth control pill, patch, ring and IUD do not make it harder to get pregnant later. In fact, some fertility specialists actually prescribe hormonal birth control for couples having a hard time getting pregnant because when they go off of it, they might find it easier to get pregnant. The depo shot sometimes may delay fertility for up to a year or two after the person stops taking it.

Q: What are the side effects of birth control?

A: Some people have side effects with birth control. Many people do not. Side effects are usually minor and temporary.

 

If you have had contact with a latex condom and are getting hives, severe swelling, dizziness or are having difficulty breathing or swallowing, seek immediate medical attention.

 

If you are on birth control and have any concerning symptoms such as chest pain, trouble breathing, a bad headache, bad stomach ache, bad leg pain, eye blurriness or vision loss or numbness in the arms or legs, seek immediate medical attention.

 

As with every medication, it is very important to give the doctor as much information as you can about your lifestyle, medical history and family history so that they can help decide if a medication may have serious side effects for you or not.

 

With hormonal birth control, there is a chance (especially in the first 3 months) that you might:
• Feel sick to your stomach.
• Have mild headaches.
• Have tender breasts.
• Feel moody.
• Have spotting or bleeding between periods.
• Have a bloated stomach.
• Have slight weight gain or loss.

 

Over time, people using hormonal birth control may notice that they have:
• More regular, shorter, less crampy periods or no periods at all.
• Improved skin.
• More regular mood.

 

Some people using copper IUDs may have heavier, longer or crampier periods.

 

Some people using depo provera (birth control injection) may notice changes to their periods such as less regular periods, spotting, irregular periods or lack of periods.

 

Some people using the birth control patch may get skin sensitivity or irritation on the spot the product is applied. This side effect is lower when each patch is applied to a different place on the skin (making sure you only apply it to places instructed by the doctor, pharmacist or product insert).

 

Some people may have sensitivity or allergies to certain condoms, especially to latex condoms. Most people would know if they are allergic to latex before the first time they use a condom. Mild allergy or sensitivity can result in rash, itchiness, discomfort, redness, sneezing or watery eyes. If a person has these reactions to the condom, it is important to use a condom made out of something other than latex, such as polyisoprene, polyurethane or nitrile. Reactions can worsen with repeated use.

PREGNANCY FAQs

Q: How soon after sex can you get a pregnancy test?

A: Pregnancy tests are generally accurate 2 weeks after sex. If you take a test 2 weeks after sex and it is positive, it is accurate. If you take it 2 weeks after sex and it is negative, it is a good idea to take another test in a week and again at week 4. If you go to a clinic, you can get a blood test that is even more accurate than the common urine test.

Q: What are the signs you are pregnant?

A: Some people have recognizable symptoms when they are pregnant, others do not. The only way to know for sure if there is a pregnancy is through a pregnancy test which tests for specific hormones that are present when a person is pregnant. Other signs of pregnancy may include:
• Feeling the need to pee more often.
• Tender or swollen breasts.
• Headaches.
• Mood swings.
• Nausea any time of day, but especially in the morning.
• Missed period.

Q: When is the safe time to have sex so you don’t get pregnant?

A: People can get pregnant only when they have released a mature egg into the fallopian tubes. Because an egg only lives 12-24 hours after being released, people sometimes try to have sex at other times of the month to avoid pregnancy. This is called using fertility awareness based methods of birth control. It can be challenging to determine when you can’t get pregnant so if a person wants to use this method of birth control, it is important to speak with a health care provider or a person trained in this method. Here are some considerations when thinking about when it might be “safe” to have sex:
• Some people ovulate about 14 days after the first day of their period, but some people ovulate sooner, later or even more than once in a cycle.
• There can be symptoms of ovulation such as increased temperature, change in vaginal mucous and hormone changes, but some people may have asymptomatic ovulation.
• Lifestyle and health changes can change ovulation patterns.
• Sperm can live inside of the uterus, fallopian tubes and cervix for up to 7 days, so a person could have sex at a time they think is “safe” then ovulate a week later and get pregnant.
It is important to know that you can get pregnant when you don’t expect it even if you believe you know your cycle.

Q: I think I’m pregnant but I don’t know what to do. What should I do?

A: If you think you are pregnant, it is important to see a health care provider as soon as possible for a pregnancy test. If you are not pregnant and don’t want to be, the health care provider can help you get birth control right away. If you are not pregnant and want to be, the health care provider can support you with fertility. If you are pregnant, the health care provider can provide support and resources so that you can be as healthy as possible regardless of the choice you make about the pregnancy. If you are pregnant and uncertain about what to do about the pregnancy, accessing unbiased, objective, up to date and accurate information about abortion, adoption, parenting and pregnancy is very important. This type of information can be found at a public health care provider. Not for profit community agencies may provide pregnancy support services, but may not provide accurate or unbiased pregnancy option information.

 

If you are pregnant, you have three choices. You can choose to:
• Remain pregnant and go on to parent.
• Remain pregnant and place a baby for adoption.
• End (terminate) the pregnancy through abortion.

Q: I haven’t gotten pregnant for a year and we don’t use any protection… does that mean I’m infertile?

A: Not necessarily. In one year, out of 100 couples having unprotected sex, 85 will create a pregnancy and 15 will not. If a couple is trying to get pregnant, they can speak with a family doctor about how to enhance fertility. Lifestyle choices to increase fertility may include reducing/abstaining from tobacco and drugs, improving nutrition, managing stress and other health concerns and maintaining a healthy weight. If a couple is trying to avoid pregnant, correctly and consistently using birth control reduces the risk of pregnancy.

STI FAQs

Q: Can you get an STI from sitting on a toilet seat or from sleeping in someone’s bed?

A: Generally speaking, STIs are passed from a person with the STI to another person through intimate physical contact. This includes through skin-genital contact, genital-genital contact, mouth-genital contact, anus-genital contact or genital fluid-body contact.

 

HIV can be transmitted when an infected person’s blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, anal secretions, vaginal secretions or breastmilk comes in contact with another person’s blood or mucous membranes.

 

Some parasitic STIs such as pubic lice (crabs) and scabies can be transmitted through contact with infected bedding or linens as those organisms can live up to a couple of days in that environment.

 

The microorganisms that cause STIs cannot survive on surfaces such as toilet seats.

Q: Do you really have to tell your partner before sex if you have an STI, even if you don’t have symptoms?

A: STIs can still be transmitted, even when there are no symptoms. In some cases, depending on the type of STI, the public health act requires that partners be told. It’s a good idea to speak with your health care team to understand your obligations.

 

For partners to give consent to sex, they need to have all the information, including their risk for STIs to make informed decisions about their health. Partners should discuss their sexual history, safer sexual practices (e.g., condoms) and their limits and boundaries before having sex.

 

For some good advice on how to talk to your partner, see http://sexgerms.com/talking-to-your-partners

Q: What is the most common STI symptom?

A: The most common STI symptom is no symptom at all. Most STIs can go unnoticed for a long time before the person has any symptoms.

 

If a person does get symptoms, they might include:
• Lumps, bumps, sores, rashes, marks, irritation or other visible changes to the genitals, thighs, mouth or other site.
• Flu like symptoms, aches, pains, low grade fever, swollen lymph nodes.
• Itchiness.
• Pain and/or bleeding in the genitals, pain and/or bleeding during sex, urination, or orgasm.
• Unusual discharge from the site.
• Foul genital smell.

Q: Can STIs make you infertile?

A: Untreated STI can lead to damage to the reproductive system. In very extreme cases of untreated STI, the damage can result in difficulty with fertility.

Q: How can you lower your STI risk?

A: The only way to completely avoid the risk of STI is to abstain from any intimate, sexual contact or contact with another person’s blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory fluid, vaginal secretions, anal secretions and breastmilk.

 

To lower the risk of STI, people can:
• Use condoms and dental dams.
• Get vaccinated against Hep B and HPV.
• Limit the number of sexual partners.
• Get tested and treated for STI.
• Discuss sexual history, boundaries, and safer sex with partners.
• Discuss sexual history, boundaries, and safer sex with a health care provider.

LGBTQ FAQs

Q: Why are people gay?

A: Gay is when a person has sexual or romantic attraction to people of the same sex. Between 2-10% of all people identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. There doesn’t appear to be any known cause of sexual orientation despite lots of research. At this point in time, sexual orientation is understood to be something that just is about a person.

Q: Can you make gay people straight?

A: No. Although some people find that their sexual orientation is fluid and may change over time, there is nothing external that can make people straight or gay. The idea that sexual orientation is a choice, condition or sickness and can be changed or healed is an outdated idea that is not based in science. It is important to remember that sexual behavior doesn’t necessarily match sexual orientation.

Q: What do you do if you want gender reassignment surgery?

A: Gender reassignment surgery (or surgeries) is when a person undergoes surgical procedures as one part of the process of change from the sex assigned at birth to one’s self-identified gender. These surgeries typically happen well into the transition process, after many of the social, legal and hormonal changes have already begun. To start this process in Alberta, speak with your doctor or psychiatrist who can provide a diagnosis of gender Dysmorphia or refer you to someone who can. This allows you to be referred to medical specialists who can support you in accessing the services necessary, such as surgery.

Q: Where can you go for LGBTQ support?

A: There are many school, community, provincial and national resources available that provide information, support and advocacy to and for the LGBTQ community and their allies.

 

In Calgary:
• Alberta Health Services Sexual and Reproductive Health (link to community resources, tools and resources page on high risk portal)
Calgary Sexual Health Center
PossiBilities
Calgary Trans Hub
HIV Community Link
Calgary Police and Gender diversity unit
MRU Pride Center
UofC Q Center
The Alex Youth Health Center
Miscellaneous Youth Network
• 1-877-OUT-IS-OK (1-877-688-4765)

 

In Alberta:
Trans Equality Society of Alberta
Camp fYrefly
Youthsafe.net

In Canada –
PFLAG Canada
Trans Lifeline
Egale Canada

 

In schools –
MyGSA
Alberta Learning

 

Some faith based and other community groups now have LGBTQ supports in place designed to create safer spaces for all members and clients.

Q: How do you come out?

A: Coming out is one term that means coming to understand your own LGBTQ identity. This identity is sometimes then revealed to others. There is not one right way to come out, either to yourself or to others. Some people choose to come out to many people after coming out to themselves; some choose to come out to people in only a few circumstances.

 

Anytime a person is choosing to have an important conversation with someone they care about and are uncertain of that other person’s reactions, it can be helpful to:
• Choose to have the conversation in an emotionally neutral time (no one is particularly happy, angry, sad, etc.).
• Let the other person know you have something important to talk about.
• Ask the other person if it is a good time. If it is not, choose a time that will work for both.
• Let the other person know the reason you want to tell them and what you are hoping will come of the conversation.
• Remember that you may have had some time to think about what you are sharing. To the other person this may be new information.
• Stay calm.

 

If coming out to others may put you in danger, it is important to speak with a safe adult to let them know of your concerns and to support you in making a safety plan.