Why Confidentiality Matters for Teens

By Sierra Freeman

Confidentiality. This word is so important to me now as a 22-year-old woman. But I hadn’t always paid much attention to it. Why is confidentiality so important to me now? Let me backtrack to the first time it ever became relevant to my own life.

I was a sophomore in high school and I had just become sexually active with my first boyfriend. Everything was so new to me and I didn’t know much about sexual health. For the most part, things had been going smoothly until one night when a condom broke during sex and I freaked out. I had never anticipated this happening.

Immediately so many questions started going through my head. Who am I going to tell? Does this mean I am automatically pregnant? Seriously, what do I do right now? My sexual education was very primitive at the time; I seriously didn’t know the answer to these questions. I remember my boyfriend spoke to his sister, who then told me about Plan B, the emergency contraceptive that you take after having unprotected sex. All of a sudden I had this moment of relief knowing that there would be people I could talk to. However, instant panic came over me again when I thought about having to ask my parents for money or for help making an appointment. This is where confidentiality came in to save me.

Reflecting now, I realized that when you are young, you don’t feel that you can be treated as an individual with your own experiences, thoughts, and concerns. Health was not something I felt in control of in my life. I was still looking to my parents to schedule appointments for me and to provide advice or to handle my health problems. However, the moment I was faced with a problem that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with them, I freaked out because I didn’t realize that I had confidential support.

After the incident, I reached out to my boyfriend’s sister and a couple of my closest friends, who helped me feel supported and safe. They directed me to Planned Parenthood and went with me without my parent’s knowledge. I was able to get the services I needed and all of my questions and concerns were answered. I felt safe in doing so and for the first time, I was able to speak with adults about reproductive health and the options that I had as well as how to pay for it.

I never realized, until that moment, that it my sexual health was something I had always wanted to talk about, just not with my mom in the doctor’s office. In my case, Planned Parenthood was my first taste of receiving confidential services that were so crucial to me at the time. As young adults, we have the right to confidentiality. At first, I felt slightly shameful, like I was being dishonest to my parents. However, I am proud of myself for taking control of my health and my body. If there is any advice I could give to my teen self, it would be that confidentiality is my right and not something I should EVER feel bad about.

Visit our Privacy Section of the Youth Legal Guide to learn more about your rights to confidential health care.  

Ask NCYL: How can I get STD testing for free?

You’ve sent us your questions about sex, pregnancy, and parenting rights. Each month, we’ll pick one to answer here on the blog. Check out our first Q&A below!

Q: How can I get STD testing for free and without my parents knowing?

A: Whether you’re sexually active or just getting started, it’s important to get tested regularly to make sure you’re healthy and safe.  But STD testing can feel awkward or embarrassing, and sometimes people aren’t comfortable talking with their peers or parents about sex.

If you’re 12 or older, you have the right to get preventive care and be tested and treated for sexually transmitted diseases without your parents’ knowledge or permission.  That’s the law.

If you are 12 or older and a doctor tells you that you need to have your parents’ permission to get STD testing, treatment or prevention, you can contact a legal services agency near you or contact us.  Your doctor also cannot tell your parents you got STD testing, or the results of the test, without you giving the doctor permission to share that information.

You can get confidential, free or low-cost testing at many clinics, like Planned Parenthood.  You can also go to your regular doctor to get health care services for free if your insurance covers the cost.  However, it’s important to note that if you use your parents’ insurance, there’s a chance they could find out about your testing when they receive the insurance bill unless you send in a confidential communications request.You can find out about confidential communications requests here. You can find out more about free testing options here.

No one can force you to get tested (in fact, it’s against the law for a health provider to test you without your permission).  But it’s important to note that you can get STDs and STIs from oral, vaginal, or anal sex. So if you’re having any kinds of sexual encounters, it’s really important to get tested, for your safety and the safety of others!