MyHealth.Alberta.ca Network

Student FAQs

We have included a list of common questions from students in class or from the question box to help you prepare responses. The questions are categorized by topics rather than grades, as the responses are just a starting point. Answers may change depending on your student’s age, maturity, the classroom environment and individual school policies.

An erection happens when the penis fills with blood, making the penis larger and harder. Erections usually go away on their own or after ejaculation (releasing semen through the urethra).

Erections do not commonly hurt. They are a normal part of male sexual arousal. No two people are exactly the same in how they respond sexually. The male genital skin is loose and mobile, which allows for the penis to get larger and harder during an erection.

If you experience pain during an erection or when ejaculating you should talk to your health care provider.

Blue balls is a slang term for the achy feeling people get in their genitals when there is a buildup of blood in the genital area during sexual arousal. Some people notice this feeling especially strong in the testicles.  Because the blood that has built up in the genital area is not returning to pick up more oxygen, it can make the skin in the area a bit bluish in colour. This cannot hurt you.  As soon as the blood begins to move away from the genital area, which can happen if the person orgasms or is not sexually aroused anymore, the discomfort usually goes away quickly. 

Some people use the idea of “blue balls” as an excuse to pressure other people to have sex with them.  This type of pressure is coercion and is not part of a healthy consent conversation.  

Semen is sticky because it has a sugar called fructose in it.

No. While sperm and urine both pass through the urethra, they can’t come out at the same time.

Before birth, the penis develops with loose skin covering the end of it, called the foreskin. Circumcision is a procedure to remove the foreskin, usually at birth or shortly after. It’s often done by a doctor or trained religious person. A circumcised penis looks different from an uncircumcised penis because there’s no foreskin covering the end, but both work the same way.

Impotent means that a person with a penis can’t get or keep an erection.

Breasts are made of nerves, arteries, blood vessels, milk ducts, fat tissue, connective fibers and lymph channels.

When breasts are growing, they change shape and size until they are fully developed. During this time, you may notice that one breast is bigger. Breasts usually even out as they develop, but if they end up being slightly different sizes that’s normal too.

Breasts don’t always have milk in them. When a woman is pregnant, their body makes hormones to get the breasts ready to feed the baby after it’s born. Once the baby is born, the hormones signal the breasts to start making milk. When the baby breastfeeds, milk leaves the breast and the hormones keep signaling the breasts to make more milk.

The hymen is a fold of tissue within the vagina that partially covers the opening. The hymen is usually there at birth, although people can also be born without a hymen. Hymens can be different shapes and sizes.

A womb is another word for a uterus. The uterus is a reproductive organ where a baby grows during pregnancy.

A pelvic exam is part of a regular physical checkup.  During the exam a health care provider examines the pelvic organs (vagina, cervix, uterus and ovaries).   During a pelvic exam you might be checked:

  • to make sure the reproductive organs are healthy
  • for sores and lumps on the genitals
  • for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • for infections in the vagina (e.g., yeast or bacterial vaginosis)

A pelvic exam may include a Pap test. A Pap test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. A sample of cells is collected and tested for changes that could turn into cervical cancer. 

Yes. Some people are born with both a penis and a vagina or parts of each. This is called ‘intersex’.

Most anatomical and medical words come from Latin. Penis comes from the Latin word for tail, and vagina comes from the Latin word for a sheath or covering.

A condom is a thin covering that fits over a hard penis. It decreases the risk of pregnancy and STIs by creating a barrier that stops sperm and body fluids from passing between partners.

With typical use (not following exact directions) a condom is 82% effective. With perfect use a condom is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. Condoms give good protection from STIs and HIV.

How to put on a condom:

  1. Check the expiry date (don’t use if expired). Squeeze the package to make sure it’s sealed—no air should come out.
  2. Push the condom to one end of the package. Open carefully at the other end. Don’t use scissors, fingernails, or teeth as you might damage the condom.
  3. Pinch the tip of the condom to squeeze out the air.
  4. Put the condom on the end of the hard penis. If not circumcised, pull back the foreskin.
  5. Unroll the condom all the way down the base of the penis.
  6. After you ejaculate (cum) and the penis is still hard, hold onto the condom and pull out.
  7. Carefully remove the condom, and tie it in a knot to keep the fluid inside.
  8. Throw the used condom in the garbage—don’t flush it down the toilet.

Never reuse a condom. Never use two male condoms or a vaginal condom and a male condom at the same time, as the risk of both breaking increases. The Using a Condom video shows you how to safely open, put on and dispose of a condom.

To ensure a condom is safe to use check the:

  • expiry date (don’t use if it’s expired)
  • the package (squeeze it to make sure it’s sealed-don’t use it if air comes out)

Latex and polyurethane condoms will help protect you from pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Lambskin condoms will help protect you from pregnancy, but not STIs or HIV. 

Yes, some condoms are flavoured. This is to encourage the use of condoms for oral sex. They can be used on a penis or can be used to make to make a dental dam.

Yes, you can store latex condoms in a wallet for up to 1 month. Condoms are sensitive to heat, cold, folding, sunlight, and rubbing. Keep condoms in their package, and store at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

A vaginal condom is a soft, plastic (non-latex) sleeve with two flexible rings, one on each end. It’s sometimes called a female or internal condom. The closed, inner ring goes inside the vagina. The outer ring stays outside the vagina to cover the genitals. The vaginal condom is used for vaginal sex. It decreases the risk of pregnancy and STIs and HIV by stopping semen and body fluid from passing between partners.

With typical use (not following exact directions) a vaginal condom is 79% effective. With perfect use the vaginal condom is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. Vaginal condoms give good protection from STIs and HIV.

Never use a vaginal and a male condom at the same time, as it increases the risk of both breaking. Condoms used with another method of birth control (pill, patch, injection, ring, IUD) give the best protection from pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Never reuse a condom.

The video Using a Vaginal Condom shows you how to safely open, use and dispose of a vaginal condom.

There are many kinds of birth control methods. They include:

  • barrier methods (e.g., male and vaginal condoms)
  • hormonal methods (e.g., pill, patch, hormonal IUD, injection, ring)
  • non-hormonal methods (e.g., copper IUD, fertility awareness)

Talk to your health care provider or go to a sexual and reproductive health clinic to find out what birth control methods will work best for you.

A dental dam (also called an oral dam or latex barrier) is a thin rectangular piece of latex used to prevent the spread of STIs during oral sex in the anal or vaginal area. It helps to reduce spreading bodily fluids.  You can buy dental dams at some drugstores. You can make your own dam out of a condom (latex or non-latex). To make a dam you need a new, rolled up condom and a pair of scissors. Check the expiry date (don’t use if expired) and check that the package doesn’t have any holes.

  1. While the condom is still rolled up, cut the tip off.
  2. Keep the condom rolled and put the scissors through the middle and cut through 1 die of the ring.
  3. Unroll the condom and use it like a dam.

The Dental Dam Demonstration Video shows how to make, use and dispose of a dental dam.

  1. Before use, hold it up to the light and check for holes
  2. Hold the dental dam in place of the anal or vaginal area and don’t let it flip over. Consider marking one side so you know which side your mouth goes on
  3. Throw it in the garbage — don’t flush down the toilet.

Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy if you’ve had unprotected sex or are not sure if you’re protected from pregnancy. You can use EC to help prevent pregnancy if a condom broke or leaked, no birth control was used, a regular method of birth control wasn’t used correctly or there was a sexual assault. EC should be used as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

There are two types of EC:

Emergency Contraception Pills

  • 2 types (levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate)
  • can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex

Copper IUD

  • a small soft t-shaped device with a copper wire wrapped around it
  • can be put into the uterus up to 7 days after unprotected sex
  • can be left in as a regular form of birth control for up to 10 years

EC doesn’t protect you from STIs or HIV.

IUDs are a safe and highly effective method of birth control. There are two types of IUDs (copper and hormonal).

It depends on the method of birth control. Using a male or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch, ring or IUD is called ‘dual method’. Dual method use provides the best protection from pregnancy, STIs and HIV.

Never use two male condoms or a vaginal and a male condom at the same time, as the risk of both breaking increases.

Abstinence means different things to different people. It may mean making the choice not to have any sexual contact including:

  • self-touch (masturbation)
  • direct touching of your partner’s genitals
  • vaginal sex (penis to vagina)
  • anal sex (penis to anus)
  • oral sex (mouth to anus or genitals)

For some people, abstinence may include certain types of sexual contact.

You can’t get pregnant if you are abstinent (when there is no genital contact). You can get pregnant if sperm is near the opening of the vagina. You can’t get STIs if you don’t have skin-to-skin contact or pass body fluids between partners.

Withdrawal is often referred to as ‘pulling out’. Withdrawal is used during sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy. Withdrawal is when the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation (cum). A person must not ejaculate near the genitals. Pregnancy can occur if sperm is near the genitals or in the vagina.

With typical use (not following the exact directions) withdrawal is 78% effective. It requires self-control and it can be hard to stop and withdraw the penis before ejaculation.

The cost of birth control depends on where you buy it and the type of method used. To find out about the cost talk to your health care provider or go to a sexual and reproductive health clinic. Many sexual and reproductive health clinics offer some types of birth control at low or no cost.

The timing of when people have sex, doesn’t affect how well the pill works. The pill works to prevent pregnancy by changing the hormone levels in the body over a whole month. It is taken every day, ideally at the same time each day to prevent pregnancy.

The pill is 91% effective with typical use (not following the exact directions). Most pregnancies happen because people forget to take their pill.

It’s safe to use the pill for many years—there’s no need to take a break. Talk to your health care provider to see if the pill is right for you.

In a 28-day birth control package there are a certain number of hormone-free pills, sometimes called sugar pills. They are reminder pills that help you stay on schedule and start your next package on time.

Depending on the brand of pill, the number of hormone-free pills can vary from 2-7. These hormone-free days are when you will get your period. You are still protected from pregnancy during this time.

Make an appointment with your family doctor or go to a sexual and reproductive health clinic or drop-in clinic. Write down questions and concerns before your appointment to help you remember them. Information you share during your appointment is kept confidential. You can also ask a trusted adult or friend to come to the appointment with you.

Yes, pregnancy can occur the first time you have sex. Use a condom every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Dual method use (using a male or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch, ring or IUD) provides the best protection from pregnancy, STIs and HIV.

A pregnancy can occur at any time during your menstrual cycle. There are times in your cycle when it may be less likely to become pregnant, but these times are hard to predict, especially if your periods are not regular. It can take many months of tracking to become familiar with your menstrual cycle. Use a regular method of birth control to prevent pregnancy. Where you are in your menstrual cycle doesn’t affect how likely you are to get an STI.

Use a condom every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Dual method use (using a male or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch, ring or IUD) provides the best protection from pregnancy and STIs.

Yes. Testicular cancer is most common in males between 15-29 years. All males should know what their testicles normally feel like. Many people find cancer by noticing a change in one or both testicles. The best time to feel the testicles is just after a warm bath or shower. The heat from the water makes the scrotum relaxed and the testicles descend more so they are easier to feel.  See your doctor right away if you think you notice a change.

Prostate cancer is rare before age 40. The risk of prostate cancer goes up with age. While some males in their 40’s do get it, the risk is higher after age 50.

Yes. Some strains of HPV can cause cervical, throat, vulvar, anal and penis cancers.  HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is a viral STI. There are many strains of this virus.  Some go away on their own without causing problems, some cause genital warts and some cause cancer (like those listed above). HPV can be spread through any sexual contact between one person’s body and an infected person’s genital area, semen or vaginal fluid, including skin-to-skin contact in the genital area.

There is an HPV vaccine that is 99% effective in preventing 9 of the most common and harmful types of HPV. In Alberta, the HPV vaccine is available to all grade 6 students. The HPV vaccine works best in children and teens before they have any type of sexual contact (oral, anal, vaginal), thus any exposure to HPV. The 9 strains covered by the HPV vaccine cause most, but not all HPV-related diseases. Because of this, females still need to have regular Pap tests once they start having sexual contact and turn 25 years of age. 

Using condoms every time you have sexual contact (anal, oral, vaginal) lowers the risk of HPV. Keep in mind that the virus may be on skin that isn’t covered by a condom, so HPV can still be passed on even if condoms are used. People whoa re already sexually active, but haven’t been vaccinated can still get the vaccine. It may still protect them from the types of HPV contained in the vaccine that they haven’t been exposed to. 

 

 

Cervical cancer happens when some of the cells on the cervix become abnormal, then grow out of control. Abnormal cervical cells rarely cause symptoms. A person may have some of the symptoms below if those cell changes grow into cervical cancer:

  • bleeding from the vagina that’s not normal (e.g., bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex, or after menopause)
  • pain in the lower belly or pelvis
  • pain during sex
  • vaginal discharge that’s different than usual

Cervical cancer is mostly prevented by screening and follow-up care. Regular Pap tests can find abnormal cell changes in the cervix early—before they become cancerous. HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancers in women. The HPV vaccine protects people against HPV infection by 9 common, and high risk HPV strains.

Menstruation is also called ‘having your period’. Sometime during puberty, ovaries begin releasing one egg (ovum) each month. If a sperm fertilizes the egg, it could grow into a baby. To get ready for the fertilized egg, the uterus builds a thick lining of blood and tissue. This lining is where the fertilized egg would grow into a baby.

If the sperm doesn’t fertilize the egg, the egg and the lining of the uterus flow out the vagina. This flow is called menstruation or a period. A person’s period usually lasts 3 to 7 days. The time between the beginning of one period to the next is called the menstrual cycle. A menstrual cycle lasts about 24 to 38 days, but can vary from person to person.

No, menstruation stops during pregnancy and during menopause. Menopause is when the ovaries no longer produce estrogen and stop releasing eggs (ovulating). Menopause is a gradual process where the body permanently stop having periods.

Menstrual cramps are the uterus contracting to push out the menstrual flow. The hormone changes that happen during the menstrual cycle can also lead to cramping. Cramps usually happen just before or just when the period starts (the bleeding part of the menstrual cycle).

Cramps can feel like a dull ache or a sharp squeeze in the lower abdomen (the area between the belly button and groin) and may also cause pain or discomfort in the lower back, hips and thighs. The intensity of cramps can vary from person to person and can change throughout a person’s life.  

PMS is short for Premenstrual Syndrome. A week or so before menstruation the body begins making more of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone. These hormones can cause feelings and symptoms that together are called PMS. Symptoms of PMS can include cramps, tender breasts, sore back, tiredness, bloating, headaches and feeling irritable or emotional.

Most people get their first period when they’re around 11 or 12. Some start as early as 8 years and some as late as 16 years—everyone’s different.

Yes, it’s normal. It can take up to a few years for the menstrual cycle to become regular. Some people never have regular menstrual cycles. However, if your cycle is regular and suddenly becomes irregular or stops, see a health care provider.

Puberty takes place over several years. It also happens in stages, not all at once. Menstruation doesn’t happen until all parts of the reproductive system have matured. This usually begins around 11 or 12 years, but it can start as early as 8 and as late as 16 – everyone’s different.

When you first get your period, you may feel like your underwear is wet. It may not feel much different from any discharge you’ve had before. Sometimes you can feel a small gush of blood, especially if you stand up after you’ve been sitting or lying down for a while.

Menstruation is a normal part of life. You can do everything you would normally do, if you weren’t having a period.

Although it can look like a lot more, there’s only about 60 to 180 ml (4-6 tablespoons) of blood every period. Some people lose less blood and some more.

You can act the same as when you’re not having your period. Menstruation is a normal part of life— you can carry on as normal.

No, only you know you’re having your period. It’s not something other people can see or tell by looking at you.

Blood, soft tissues and other fluids make up the menstrual flow. The colour can be anywhere from bright red or pink to dark brown or red.

There are commercials on TV that use a blue fluid to show menstrual flow on a menstrual pad.

You can change menstrual pads as often as you want but make sure you always change them before they’re soaked. You can buy menstrual pads in different thicknesses and absorbencies. You may need to try a few types to find what works best for you. You might find that you can use thinner, lighter pads at the beginning and end of your periods, and thicker, more absorbent pads at night. It’s important to follow the directions that come with the pads.

Change tampons every 3 to 4 hours, no matter how light the bleeding is, to avoid getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Tampons shouldn’t be left in longer than 8 hours, so some women choose to wear a pad at night.

If you get your period unexpectedly and don’t have a menstrual pad or tampon, ask a friend, teacher or school nurse for one. You can also make a pad with toilet paper until you can find a pad or tampon. It’s a good idea to keep extra pads or tampons in a backpack, bag or your locker just in case.

If you can’t change right away, try tying a sweater or jacket around your waist. Change your clothes as soon as you can. Rinse your clothes as soon as possible so your clothes don’t stain.

Menstrual pads and tampons come in different absorbencies. Choose the right one for you. Try using a calendar or app to track your periods so you’re not caught by surprise. Carry extra pads or tampons and wear darker clothing when you’re having your period or when it’s due.

No, you don’t have to use menstrual pads. People can choose from a few items: pads, tampons and reusable menstrual cups. Pads absorb menstrual blood and stick onto the inside of the underpants so it doesn’t move around.

Only a person with a uterus and ovaries can menstruate.

Yes, you still have your regular periods after having your tubes tied (tubal ligation). The body just absorbs the unfertilized egg instead of it coming out in the menstrual flow.

Although the average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, irregular periods are common during puberty. If there is a chance of a pregnancy, you should take a pregnancy test and see a health care provider. If it’s not possible that you could be pregnant, but it’s been a while since your last period, speak with a health care provider.

A tampon is a plug made of soft, absorbent material that is pressed together to form a cylinder-like shape. Tampons are inserted into the vagina during menstruation to absorb the menstrual flow (blood). Tampons are available with and without applicators and come in different sizes and absorbencies.

Tampons are safe when you follow the instructions correctly. Using a tampon the right way can prevent a rare but serious infection called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). To prevent TSS, change tampons every 3 to 4 hours, no matter how light the bleeding is. Tamps are not meant to be left in longer than 8 hours, so some women choose to wear a pad at night.

Tampons are available with and without applicators. When learning, it’s usually easier to use ones with applicators. Follow the directions that come with the tampons. Most also have diagrams included. 

Before inserting a tampon, wash your hands with soap and water. Find a comfortable position, squatting or sitting with your legs apart or having one foot on the toilet seat. Once you have found a position that is comfortable for you:

  • Hold the applicator securely at the grip marks with your thumb and middle finger.
  • Insert the top part of the applicator into your vagina at a slight angle upwards and towards your lower back.
  • Continue to slide the applicator into the vagina until your hand that’s holding the applicator touches your body.
  • With your index finger, push the bottom of the applicator all the way up. This pushes the tampon out of the applicator and into your vagina.
  • Gently pull the applicator out and throw it in the garbage.

The tampon will remain inside of you, the string will hang outside the vaginal opening. When it is time to remove you can gently pull on the string until the tampon is all of the way out. Wash your hands after you remove the tampon.

If the tampon is in correctly, you should not be able to feel it. If it feels uncomfortable, it may not be in far enough and you can remove the tampon and try again with a new one. 

It is extremely unlikely for a tampon to get stuck in the vagina. Tampons are attached to a string a few inches in length that hangs through the vaginal opening. The tampon is removed by pulling gently on the string. If a tampon did get stuck, it is important to seek medical attention, as there is a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) if the tampon is left in too long.

No. Tampons are just one of the ways you can choose to use to manage your period. Virginity is a term that refers to whether or not you have ever had sexual intercourse, and is not affected by using tampons.

TSS stands for Toxic Shock Syndrome, which is caused by a bacteria. More than 9 out of every 10 cases of TSS are linked to using tampons during menstruation. Better teaching about how to use tampons has helped decrease the risk of TSS.

Some symptoms of TSS are headache, sore throat, sudden fever, vomiting, diarrhea, achy muscles and a rash that looks like a sunburn.

To prevent TSS, change tampons every 3 to 4 hours, no matter how light the bleeding is. Tampons shouldn’t be left in longer than 8 hours, so some women choose to wear a pad at night.

Peri-menopause is the time leading up to menopause. Most women will notice the physical and emotional changes of peri-menopause in their late 30’s or as late as the early 50’s when their menstrual cycle begins to change. During this time, hormone levels go up and down unevenly (fluctuate), causing changes in periods and other symptoms.

Menopause is when a woman has no menstrual period for 12 months in a row. This can happen when a woman is in her mid 30’s all the way to her early 60’s, but is most common between ages of 45-55. No two women go through menopause in the same way. Some have no symptoms while others have many physical and emotional symptoms.

First take a pregnancy test. If the pregnancy test is negative, keep taking the pill as normal. If the pregnancy test is positive, see your health care provider. Taking the pill when you’re pregnant doesn’t increase your risk of miscarriage or that your baby will have a birth defect.

Pregnancy happens when a sperm fertilizes an egg, and the fertilized egg attaches (implantation) to the lining of the uterus.

People can get pregnant by having vaginal sex. People can also get pregnant with fertility treatments that involve the help of a health care provider. Any time semen is near the vagina, there is a risk of pregnancy.

Pregnancy can occur as soon as ovulation has started. A sign that ovulation has started is the onset of menstruation (a period). Most people get their first period when they’re around 11 or 12. Some start as early as 8 years and some as late as 16 years—everyone’s different.

Sexual positions have no impact on pregnancy. Pregnancy occurs if sperm fertilizes an egg, and the fertilized egg attaches (implantation) to the lining of the uterus.

No, you can’t get pregnant from kissing. Pregnancy happens when a sperm fertilizes an egg, and the fertilized egg attaches (implantation) to the lining of the uterus.

Yes, you can get pregnant when you’re menstruating and right after you stop. Any time semen is near the vagina, there is a risk of pregnancy.

Yes, any time semen is near the vagina, there is a risk of pregnancy.

No, you can’t get pregnant from semen in a hot tub. The temperature of the water is too high for sperm to survive.  However, if you have sex in a hot tub and sperm enters the vagina, there is a risk of pregnancy. 

No, you don’t have a period (menstruate) when you’re pregnant. During pregnancy, the egg is fertilized and has attached (implantation) to the lining of the uterus.  There may be some bleeding called ‘breakthrough bleeding’ or ‘spotting’ at the time the period would have been due. This can also be sign of a miscarriage.

A baby is made when a sperm fertilizes an egg then implants into the wall of the uterus. Once there, it grows and develop into a baby.

Sperm don’t have eyes. Sperm cells travel to the egg by moving their tail back and forth in a swimming motion. Sperm find the egg because there is a chemical around the egg that attracts the sperm and signals that the egg is ready.

Both males and females have a reproductive cell. The male reproductive cell is the sperm, and the female reproductive cell is the egg. Within each of these cells, there are chromosomes that decide the biological sex of the baby. Eggs only carry X chromosomes and sperm carry an X or a Y chromosome. If a sperm with a Y chromosome fertilizes the egg, the cell develops into a male (X+Y). If a sperm with an X chromosome fertilizes the egg, the cell develops into a female (X+X).

Pregnancy is about 40 weeks, or 9 month long. 

During birth, the baby travels out of the uterus through the cervix and into the vagina. The vagina stretches as the baby moves out of the body. The uterus is a muscle, it contracts and relaxes (having contractions) during labour to push the baby out.

Labour pain is caused by the uterus contracting, the opening of the cervix and stretching of the vagina. As labour progresses, the contractions become stronger, longer and closer together. This allows for a baby to be born.

The vagina stretches when a baby is born vaginally. However, it’s usually back to the size it was before pregnancy by 6-8 weeks after the baby was born.

Stretch marks are lines on the skin that may appear late in pregnancy. Stretch marks are most common on the stomach, but they can also develop on the breasts and thighs. The cause of stretch marks is not well understood. They may be caused by increasing pregnancy hormones and stretching of the tissue under the skin. Stretch marks will fade to white lines after birth. Not all people get stretch marks during pregnancy.

Pregnant women should talk to their health care provider about any medicine, vitamin and mineral supplements or other drugs they are taking. During pregnancy, the placenta and umbilical cord connect a woman to the baby. Drugs can pass through the placenta to the developing baby and may affect their health and development. 

Developing babies who’ve been exposed to other drugs such as fentanyl, ecstasy, methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin are at the same risk for problems like:

  • birth defects
  • the placenta separating from the uterus before birth
  • preterm birth
  • low birth weight

Pregnant women should not use cannabis (marijuana, hashish, hash oil). Developing babies exposed to cannabis are at higher risk for low birth weight.  After they’re born they might not be able to self-soothe and have problems with sleep. There may also be long-term effects such as:

  • abnormal brain development
  • slower growth
  • learning disabilities and behaviour concerns

Drinking alcohol anytime during pregnancy can harm the baby. Alcohol passes through the placenta to the growing baby. A baby’s liver isn’t as developed as an adult’s, so it can’t break down the alcohol as fast. This means that a baby’s developing organs are exposed to the effects of alcohol for a longer period of time.  

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Babies with FASD are born with birth defects and brain damage. The brain damage can affect things like behaviour, brain development and cause other birth defects. FASD has lifelong impacts on a baby. There’s no cure for FASD.

A miscarriage is sometimes called ‘losing a baby’. A miscarriage is when the baby dies in the uterus in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s most common in the first 12 weeks. Most miscarriages happen because the baby isn’t developing normally.

A pregnant person has 3 choices:

  • continue with the pregnancy and choose to parent
  • continue with the pregnancy and choose adoption
  • end the pregnancy by choosing an abortion

Talk to your parents, a supportive friend or adult or your health care provider for support and non-judgmental information.

Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy if you’ve had unprotected sex or are not sure if you’re protected from pregnancy. You can use EC to help prevent pregnancy if a condom broke or leaked, no birth control was used, a regular method of birth control wasn’t used correctly or there was a sexual assault. EC should be used as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

There are two types of EC:

Emergency Contraception Pills

  • 2 types (levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate)
  • can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex

Copper IUD

  • a small soft t-shaped device with a copper wire wrapped around it
  • can be put into the uterus up to 7 days after unprotected sex
  • can be left in as a regular form of birth control for up to 10 years

EC doesn’t protect you from STIs or HIV.

Mifegymiso, also known as the ‘abortion pill’ is used for medical abortions. It is a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. The drugs change the lining of the uterus so a pregnancy can’t continue. A prescription is required for Mifegymiso, and can be prescribed and taken up to 9 weeks of pregnancy.

No. In Alberta you do not need parental consent to get an abortion. If it is clear to the doctor and other clinic staff (counsellor, nurse, etc.) that a person understands the procedure and its risk, they can sign their own consent form. In Alberta, abortions at hospitals and abortion clinics are covered by Alberta Health Care insurance.

An abortion procedure will feel different for everyone. For many people, it feels like strong menstrual cramps.  Medicine is given before and during the procedure to help with pain and discomfort.

A person makes the decision to have an abortion because they feel that at that time in their life, it’s the right thing to do. At another time in their life, they may make a different decision.

It’s not common to have any serious, long-term emotional issues after an abortion. Emotional issues are more likely if:

  • the abortion is against religious or moral beliefs
  • the pregnancy was wanted but the woman’s and/or baby’s health were at risk
  • the abortion was related to an upsetting life event
  • the person was having serious relationship problems
  • the person had mental health concerns before becoming pregnant

Having to make tough decisions about your life can bring up both positive and negative feelings. It’s important and healthy to express your feelings, including the negative ones. You might find it helps to talk to a trusted friend, adult or health care provider about what’s going on.

If there are no complications, a person should be able to become pregnant again after an abortion.

Puberty is the time when your sexual organs mature and having a baby becomes possible. Everyone goes through puberty. When your body is ready to begin puberty, your pituitary gland releases hormones which cause changes in your body. You can expect a lot of changes both physically and emotionally. Your body shape may start to change, you may get acne, grow hair on your legs, underarms and pubic area and you may sweat more.

Females will notice that their breasts start to develop, they start to gain weight in their hips, buttocks, legs and stomach. They will also start to have white, mucous-like discharge from their vagina and start menstruating (get their period).

Males will notice that their shoulders grow wider, their voice changes, body and facial hair start to grow, and their penis, scrotum, and testes grow. Ejaculation and nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) occur and sperm production begins or continues.

There are also social and emotional changes that happen during puberty, like being more interested in what your friends think, and becoming better at handling emotions.

Although puberty doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone, most females may notice changes starting between the ages of 8-16 years and males may notice changes beginning between 9-14 years. It’s a process that can take several years. Some people start earlier and others later. It may be fast for some, and slower for others.

During puberty not only does your body change, so do your feelings. A crush is when you have special feelings for another person. You may think about someone a lot or want to be very close with them. This is a normal and healthy part of growing up.

Breasts may start growing anytime between ages 8-16. When your breasts start to grow, has nothing to do with how fast they will grow, or what size they’ll be.

One of the first signs that the breasts are starting to develop is a small, tender bump behind each nipple called a ‘breast bud’.

As the breasts grow, the skin stretches, causing them to feel itchy or sore. This is normal. The nipples can also feel sore.

Like most parts of the body, breasts can be sore from time to time, especially if they’re pushed. One of the most common times that breasts might feel sore is when they’re beginning to develop. It’s also common for the breasts to be sore or tender during menstruation.

Breasts start developing at different ages, and continue developing at different rates. Breasts may start growing anytime between age 8-16, and it could happen even earlier or later than this. Starting earlier or later does not have anything to do with how quickly breasts will develop, or what size they will eventually become.

Female breasts are mostly made of fat and other tissue, not muscle. This means that exercise won’t make your breasts bigger.

There is no ‘normal’ age to start wearing a bra. You can decide when you want to start wearing a bra. Breasts may start growing anytime between ages 8-16.

Almost half of all males will have a temporary swelling of the breasts during puberty because of hormones. This swelling goes away over time. If you’re worried about this, talk to an adult, parent or health care provider you trust.

A yeast infection is a common infection caused by a type of fungus called Candida albicans. A healthy vagina has a small number of yeast cells. A vaginal yeast infection means that too many yeast cells are growing in the vagina. These infections are very common. Symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • a curdy, white vaginal discharge
  • itching and/or redness in the genital area,
  • sores in the genital area that look like paper cuts
  • pain or burning when you pee

Visit a health care provider if you have any of these symptoms. Yeast is one of many different types of vaginal infections. If you do have a yeast infection, you will probably be prescribed a pill to swallow or a cream, tablet or suppository to put in the vagina.

Yes, deodorant is safe to use. The Canadian Cancer Society has never found proof that deodorant or antiperspirants increase the risk of cancer. Using deodorant or an antiperspirant is a personal choice.

The sweat glands make more sweat when puberty starts, which means you sweat. When the sweat mixes with the bacteria on the skin, you get a body odour. You can cut down on the smell by keeping your skin clean by taking a bath or shower every day. If you don’t shower or bathe every day, wash your feet, neck, ears, armpits and groin area every day. It also helps to wear clean clothes and underwear. Some people find that wearing deodorant helps.

Hair, no matter where it is on the body, helps to protect our bodies and regulate our body temperature.

Pubic hair appears at different times and grows at different rates for everyone. Most people begin to grow pubic hair around ages 9-13. It also changes in both quantity and texture as puberty progresses.

The colour of hair is determined by how much melanin the hair has. Different parts of the body have hair with more or less melanin. This means that hair may be darker or lighter depending on where it is on the body.

Some people may also colour the hair on their head making it a different colour than the hair on the rest of their body.  

During puberty, hormones cause the voice box (larynx) to grow larger and make the vocal cords thicker. While this is happening, some people may notice their voice sounds like it’s cracking or jumping between high and low sounds. It often happens with no warning. It can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year for the voice to finish changing.

Females tend to go through puberty earlier than males. This means that females often have a growth spurt earlier than males. By the end of high school, most people have stopped growing taller. Everyone is different, which is why there are people of all different heights.

Acne (whiteheads, blackheads and pimples) are normal, especially during puberty. This is because the hormone changes make the skin oilier during puberty. Washing every day with mild soap and water is a good way to take care of your skin. Some people can have acne and need to use special creams or medicine. Talk to an adult, parent or health care provider you trust if you’re worried.

The scientific term for a wet dream is nocturnal emissions. A wet dream is when a penis gets erect (hard), and ejaculates (releases semen) while a person is asleep. A sign that a nocturnal emission has happened is waking up in damp pyjamas and bed sheets. Nocturnal emissions usually begin during puberty as the body produces more testosterone. Some people experience them and some may find them embarrassing, but they are completely normal.

It is normal for people to have sexual feelings towards others. These feelings can make people want to be really close to someone. This is a normal and healthy part of growing up.

Yes, it’s normal for people to think about sex. Some people think about it a lot and some not as much. When you go through puberty and mature physically and emotionally, it’s normal to become more curious about your sexuality and your body.

Every person is different when it comes to knowing when they are ready to have sex. It’s an important decision only you can make. Take some time to consider the following:

  • Is having sex something you really want to do, or are you feeling pressured to do it?
  • How will you give and get consent? How can you withdraw consent if you change your mind or want to stop?
  • How will having sex affect your personal or family values?
  • How will you protect yourself from pregnancy and STIs?
  • Can you talk to your partner about safer sex and birth control?
  • What happens if birth control fails?
  • How would you deal with an STI or pregnancy?

It can be helpful to talk to someone you trust, like a parent, health care provider or friend.

Deciding to be intimate with someone is a very personal choice and only you can decide what is right for you. Being intimate may include kissing, sexual touching and sex (anal, oral, vaginal).  

Consent is the foundation of sexual relationships and is needed for every sexual activity, every time. Consent means that both partners agree to the sexual activity and everyone understands what they’re agreeing to.

Consent is:

  • needed for every sexual activity
  • understanding what you’re saying “yes” to
  • asking your partner if they understand what they’re saying “yes” to
  • checking in with your partner and agreeing that either of you can change your mind at any time

People can’t give consent if they’re:

  • drunk, high or asleep
  • forced, threatened, bribed, intimidated, or offered a reward to do something sexual

Any sexual activity without consent is sexual assault. If you’re having a hard time deciding whether you want to engage in sexual activity or not, talk to a parent or an adult you trust.

 

Canadian law states that the age of consent is the legal age when a person can make a decision to partake in sexual activity. By law, 16-18 year olds can consent to sexual activity, except if the:

  • other person is in a position of authority (e.g., teacher, coach, or employer)
  • sexual activity exploits them (e.g., pornography, prostitution, or trading sex for safety)

There are “close in age” exceptions to this law:

  • 14 and 15 year olds can consent to sex if the partner is less than 5 years older
  • 12 and 13 year olds can consent to sex if the partner is less than 2 years older

Children younger than 12 cannot consent to any type of sexual activity. Having sex with a child younger than 12 is against the law and is sexual abuse.

A 16 year old can legally consent to sexual activity, unless the other person is in a position of power (e.g., teacher, coach, or employer) or the sexual activity will take advantage of the person (e.g., pornography, prostitution, and trading sex for safety). Consent means that both partners agree to the sexual activity and everyone understands what they’re agreeing to.

Deciding to be intimate with someone is a very personal choice and only you can decide what is right for you. Often, when there’s a big age gap between partners, especially when one person is a teen, some elements of a healthy relationship can be missing. There may also be more sexual pressure in these types of relationships. It’s important to decide if the relationship is healthy or not. Any healthy relationship, no matter what the age, has respect, trust, honesty, fairness, equality and good communication.

To learn more about the age of consent and sexual activity, see the question above – What is the age of consent?

It’s normal to have disagreements from time to time. They give you a chance to explore things that you disagree about, and it can help make your feelings clear.

Disagreements that often turn into fights that include yelling, criticism or harsh words are signs of an unhealthy relationship. It’s a problem if you’re fighting all of the time, or if you say cruel things when you’re arguing. Remember—physical fighting (punching, hitting) is NEVER okay.

Signs of a healthy relationship are:

  • respect
  • honesty
  • communication
  • being able to be yourself
  • feeling safe
  • trust
  • equality
  • support

Take some time to think about what these fights are about. Can they be worked out in a positive and constructive way? It can be helpful to talk to someone you trust, like a parent, health care provider or friend.

Yes, stalking is a type of abuse and is against the law. Trust your instincts and get help if you feel you or someone you know is being stalked. Here are some examples of stalking:

  • following someone around or parking close by and watching where they live, work, go to school or take part in an activity
  • too many or unwanted texts, emails, phone calls and/or visits
  • contacting friends, relatives or co-workers and asking them questions about someone’s actions or whereabouts
  • threatening behaviours, like leaving notes on someone’s car, at their home and/or where they work

Yes. Sexual assault can happen to anyone by anyone. Any sexual activity without consent, no matter the age or gender is a crime. This includes all forms of sexual activity, ranging from sexual touching (e.g., kissing) to sexual intercourse.

Yes, it’s normal for people to think about sex. Some people think about it a lot and some not as much. When you go through puberty and mature physically and emotionally, it’s normal to become more curious about your sexuality and your body.

Usually it refers to the way one person’s body touches another person’s genitals in a sexual way, such as inserting the penis into a vagina or anus.

An orgasm is the physical sensation of sexual excitement resulting from stimulating the genitals.

Every person is different when it comes to knowing when they are ready to have sex. It’s an important decision only you can make. Take some time to consider the following:

  • Is having sex something you really want to do, or are you feeling pressured to do it?
  • How will you give and get consent? How can you withdraw consent if you change your mind or want to stop?
  • How will having sex affect your personal or family values?
  • How will you protect yourself from pregnancy and STIs?
  • Can you talk to your partner about safer sex and birth control?
  • What happens if birth control fails?
  • How would you deal with an STI or pregnancy?

It can be helpful to talk to someone you trust, like a parent, health care provider or friend.

Yes, you can get pregnant the first time you have sex. Any time semen is near the vagina, there is a risk of pregnancy.  Use a condom every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of pregnancy, STI and HIV. Using two methods of protection, called dual method use (using a male or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch, ring or IUD) provides the best protection from pregnancy, STIs and HIV.

Sex may be uncomfortable the first few times. Some people find using a lubricant helps. Talk to a health care provider if you continue to have pain.

As long as sperm doesn’t get near or in the vagina, there is no risk of pregnancy.

Yes, you can have sex when you are menstruating. You may bleed during sex, so be prepared. Communicating with your partner about your period may help you to feel more comfortable. 

You can also get pregnant when you are menstruating. Use a condom every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Dual method use (using a male or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch, ring or IUD) provides the best protection from pregnancy and STIs.

A pregnancy can occur at any time during the menstrual cycle. There are times in the cycle when it may be less likely to become pregnant, but these times are very hard to predict, especially if periods are not regular. Use a regular method of birth control to prevent pregnancy.

Use a condom every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of pregnancy, STIs and HIV. Dual method use (using a male or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch, ring or IUD) provides the best protection from pregnancy, STIs and HIV.

Oral sex is when a person stimulates another person’s genitals with their mouth, lips, tongue or teeth. Use a condom or dental dam every time you have oral sex to reduce the risk of STIs and HIV.

Yes, oral sex is a type of sexual activity. Oral sex does not have a risk of pregnancy and has a lower risk of STIs and HIV compared to other types of sex. Oral sex without a condom or dental dam has a risk of STIs because of skin-to-skin contact and passing of body fluids between partners.

Condoms and dental dams are used to cover the penis, anus or genitals before starting and during oral sex. Use a condom or a dental dam every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to lower your risk of STIs and HIV.

‘Blow job’ is a slang term for mouth to penis oral sex. Use a condom or a dental dam every time you have oral sex to lower your risk of STIs and HIV.

Anal sex is when a person puts their penis into another person’s anus. Use a condom every time you have anal sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of STIs and HIV.

Anal sex without a condom increases the risk of pregnancy if semen gets near the opening of the vagina. Use a condom every time you have anal sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of STIs and HIV. Dual method use (using a male or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch, ring or IUD) provides the best protection from pregnancy, STIs and HIV.

People express and experience their sexuality in different ways, no matter what their sexual orientation. People of all sexual orientations may have anal, oral and/or vaginal sex.

Safer sex is not just about reducing the risk of pregnancy. Although two males or two females do not have to be concerned about pregnancy, there is still a risk for STIs and HIV. Condoms and dental dams are used to cover the penis, anus or genitals before starting and during anal or oral sex. Use a condom or a dental dam every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to lower your risk of STIs and HIV.

Masturbation is when you touch your own genitals to make them feel good. It’s a normal way for a person to learn about and explore their body.  While masturbation is normal, it should be done in private.

Masturbation is normal.  It’s a way for a person to learn about and explore their body and their sexual feelings. Masturbating a lot won’t hurt you. It’s only a problem if it interferes with school, spending time with friends and family or doing other things you normally like.  While masturbation is normal, it should be done in private.

You don’t have to be a certain age to masturbate. It’s a normal way for a person to learn about and explore their body. While masturbation is normal, it should be done in private.

‘Rub one out’ is a slang term for male masturbation referring to ejaculation. Masturbation is a normal way for a person to learn about and explore their body. While masturbation is normal, it should be done in private.

The penis is external male genitalia and is the passageway for urine and semen.

Pre-cum is the slang term for pre-ejaculatory fluid. Pre-ejaculatory fluid is clear. It’s released during male arousal and helps line the urethra to protect sperm that could travel down during ejaculation.

There may be sperm in the pre-ejaculate fluid. Sperm from a previous ejaculation can remain in the urethra, and then the ‘leftover’ sperm will come out the urethra in the pre-ejaculate fluid.

Semen is made up of many things like enzymes, sugar, water, protein, zinc and sperm. It is very low in calories and has little nutritional value, and will not make a person gain weight if swallowed.

You can get STIs from swallowing semen. Use a condom or dental dam every time you have oral sex to lower your risk of STIs and HIV.

Everyone is different and some people might not like the way it tastes or the way it makes them feel. You can get STIs from swallowing semen. Use a condom or dental dam every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to lower your risk of pregnancy, STIs and HIV.

Gender is complex and can be thought of as a spectrum of possibilities, not as a binary or a choice. A person’s gender identity is their internal sense of being male or female, both or neither, regardless of their sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is a feeling that begins very early in life. Gender expression is how a person presents their inner sense of gender out into the world around them. This can include how we dress, our name, the pronoun we choose, and our social behaviours.

Sex is assigned at birth, and is based on a person’s internal and external reproductive organs, physical appearance, hormones and chromosomes. At birth, most people are assigned as male or female. When a person’s physical sex characteristics don’t seem to fit traditional definitions of male or female, they may be described as intersex.

‘Tranny’ is an offensive slang term to describe a person who is transgender. People whose gender identity does not match their sex are called transgender (or “trans”). A pregnancy can happen anytime a penis or semen is in contact with the vaginal area. So yes, depending on their anatomy, people who are transgender can become pregnant.

People express and experience their sexuality in different ways, no matter what their sexual orientation. People of all sexual orientations may have anal, oral and/or vaginal sex.

Some people will practice by first coming out to people they know will have a positive or neutral reaction before they tell people who may have a more emotional reaction. Other people tell those closest to them first, even if they’re not expecting a positive response.

If a person is worried about their safety when they tell someone, it’s important they speak with a professional support person, like a guidance counsellor. Together they can come up with a safety plan for this conversation. A safety plan may include telling someone in a public location.

Here are some tips that might help when coming out to parents:

  • Choose a calm time to talk (e.g., not during or after an argument).
  • Let your parents know you want to talk to them about something important.
  • Ask if now is a good time to talk. If it is, go ahead. If not, set up a time to talk later.
  • Tell your parent(s) why you want to tell them this information (e.g., it could be about wanting to stay close, being honest and authentic, being respectful or honouring the relationship).
  • Say what you want to say and let your parents know what you want and need from them.
  • Remind your parents that you are still the same person.
  • Stay calm.
  • Remember that while you’ve had time to process this, it may be very new to your parents. Sometimes parents already suspected you may identify as LGBTQ+ but were waiting for you to tell them.

An LGBTQ+ support service may have other ideas, resources and supports related to coming out to parents. For more information: LGBTQ+ Students: A guide for counsellors

Having sexual thoughts and feelings about someone the same sex as you doesn’t automatically mean you’re gay. If you notice that you always have thoughts and feelings about people the same sex as you, it might mean that you are gay.

In Alberta, students who ask to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) club are guaranteed the right to start a group in their school, have regular meetings in a safe space, have an adult supervisor or sponsor and name the club. Below are steps to starting a GSA or QSA:

  • The first step is to notify your school leadership (principal, vice principal, etc.), so that they can find a supervisor or staff sponsor, like a teacher. The sponsor can get information about how to support you from the Alberta Teachers’ Association or Alberta Education.
  • Find other students who may want to help start up the group.
  • Pick a meeting space.
  • Advertise the group and plan your first meeting.
  • Set up ground rules/group agreements.
  • Think about possible activities, like hosting guest speakers, holding events with other school groups or writing articles for the school newspaper or website.

People whose gender identity does not match their sex (sex assigned at birth) are called transgender (or “trans”). In other words, how you look on the outside does not match with what you feel on the inside.

In some cases transgender people will experience gender dysphoria, a feeling of psychological distress that comes from the mismatch between one’s gender identity and their biological sex. Sometimes this feeling goes away after puberty; other times this feeling only appears in adulthood. Some say it feels like they’ve been born into the wrong gender or the wrong body.

Safer sex is not just about pregnancy. Although two males or two females do not have to be concerned about pregnancy, there is still a risk for STIs and HIV. Condoms and dental dams are used to cover the penis, anus or genitals before starting and during anal or oral sex. Use a condom or a dental dam every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to lower your risk of STIs and HIV.

It is NOT bad to be trans! Trans is a shortened version of the word transgender, which is a person whose gender identity or expression is different from their sex (sex assigned at birth). 

It’s very normal for individuals to want to express themselves in different ways and outside of traditional gender stereotypes. The clothes you wear do not determine your sexual orientation or gender identity. They simply express your unique personality.

Yes. Attraction can be fluid, which means you can be attracted to many different people. Who or what you’re attracted to can change. Being attracted to someone doesn’t always mean you want to be in a relationship with them.

Sexual orientation is a person’s emotional and sexual attraction to other people. For example, heterosexual (attracted to opposite sex); gay or lesbian (attracted to the same sex); bisexual (attracted to more than one gender); and asexual (not interested in either sex). 

Pansexual means you are attracted to a person’s personality (who they are), not their gender, sexual orientation, or body parts. Think of “P” for person. Sexuality can be fluid (change) and may or may not reflect sexual behaviours.

If a friend tells you they’re gay, it means they trust and care about you enough to share this part about who they are. It doesn’t change who they are or who you are. It also doesn’t mean that they have a crush on you if you happen to be the same sex. It can make the friendship stronger if you thank your friend for trusting and caring about you enough to tell you.

 

You don’t have to do anything. However, many people find it helps to learn more about what being gay means to them, so they might look for information and support. Some people decide to ‘come out’ or tell people important to them that they’re gay.

If a person is worried about their safety when they tell someone, it’s important they speak with a professional support person, like a guidance counsellor. Together they can come up with a safety plan for this conversation. A safety plan may include telling someone in a public location.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

When people have same sex parents, like having two moms, they often pick one parent to celebrate Mother’s Day and the other parent to celebrate Father’s Day. They may also call both days ‘Parent’s Day’. Other people might celebrate both mothers on Mother’s day and treat Father’s Day like any other regular day. People can do what makes the most sense for their family. 

 

Coming out is the process of telling other people your identity as LGBTQ2S+. Everyone’s situation is different, so they may decide to reveal their sexual orientation and gender identity in different ways.

LGBTQ2S+, LGBTQ*, LGBTQ +, GLBT, LGBTTQ and LGBTQ2 are common acronyms that refer to the spectrum of sexual and gender identities including:

  • lesbian
  • gay
  • bisexual
  • transgender
  • two spirit
  • queer
  • questioning
  • intersex
  • asexual

An asterisk (*) or plus sign (+) shows there are other identities included that aren’t in the acronym. It’s meant to be an inclusive term. 

SOGIE is an acronym that stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and (Gender) Expression. This acronym is sometimes used instead of LGBTQ2S+ and it highlights 3 important traits that are part of every person’s identity. To learn more about these traits, check out the “Every Body” Tool.

 

 

Transgender is a word used to describe people who are told that they are one gender because of their genitals, but they know inside that they are a different gender. An example of this would be a person who was born with a penis, and told they are a male because they have a penis, but they actually knew they were a female. Some say it feels like they’ve been born into the wrong gender or the wrong body.

How a person identifies, is how they should be treated. You’re an important part of your health care team. If you feel that you aren’t getting the care you need and deserve because of your sexual orientation, you have the right to find a new doctor who will better meet your needs.  All individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, have the right to health care without judgement and are protected from discrimination at Alberta Health Services.

For a health care provider to know what your health needs are, it’s important that they understand your sexuality. Sharing information helps to make sure you get the right care. Because the teen years are a time of sexual development and emerging sexuality, some people, including some doctors, may believe that any sexual expression may be part of sexual exploration rather than sexual orientation.

Asexual describes a person who doesn’t feel any sexual attraction or desire to have sex. They may or may not still feel emotional or romantic attraction to others.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Demisexual describes a person who only feels sexual attraction if they already have a close emotional bond with that person.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Gay is a word used to describe people who are attracted to people of the same sex.

Pansexual means you are attracted to a person’s personality (who they are), not their gender, sexual orientation, or body parts. Think of “P” for person.

For more information: LGBTQ Students: A guide for counsellors

Polyamory is having more than one sexual, loving relationship at the same time and with consent of all partners involved.

A virus is a kind of germ that’s so small even a regular microscope can’t see it. Viruses are the smallest and simplest of all germs, but they are also some of the deadliest. Different viruses cause different diseases. Vaccines can prevent some viruses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) caused by a virus (like Herpes and HIV) can’t be cured, but can be treated to help manage symptoms. STI has replaced the term STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease). In medical science, infection is the term used to talk about a bacteria, virus, parasite or other microbe that has entered the body and begun to multiply. The term disease indicates that signs and symptoms of illness are present. There are many people with STIs who have no symptoms, therefore STI is a more accurate term.

Many STIs don’t have symptoms, especially when the infection first starts. When an STI is found and treated early, it can lower the chances of having complications and can prevent the infection from spreading to sexual partners. As with any infection, prevention is important. You can prevent getting an STI by:

STIs can often be cured or treated with medicine to lessen the symptoms of the infection and to prevent spread of the infection.

Other symptoms can include:

  • discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
  • pain or discomfort when urinating (peeing)
  • pain during sex
  • new or different bleeding from the vagina especially after sex
  • lumps or bumps on the genitals
  • pain in the scrotum or testicles
  • genital sores
  • genital itching
  • genital irritation or pain
  • rash on the genitals

If left untreated, STIs can cause serious infections of the uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, and prostate.

STIs spread through sexual contact involving the genitals, mouth or rectum. Some infections (such as Chlamydia, and Hepatitis A, B and C) can also be spread through other means such as:

  • skin-to-skin contact (e.g., kissing, non-penetrating sex or body rubbing)
  • mixing infected body fluids (such as blood, semen or vaginal secretions)
  • sharing needles, other drug paraphernalia and through needle stick injuries
  • from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby, as the baby’s being born during a vaginal delivery
  • through breastmilk to a baby

Use a condom or dental dam every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of STIs and HIV.

Yes, oral sex without using a condom, vaginal condom or dental dam has a risk of an STI and HIV because of skin-to-skin contact and passing bodily fluids between partners. Use a condom or dental dam every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) to reduce the risk of STIs and HIV.

Yes, oral herpes can be passed to partners by kissing, if the person with oral herpes has a cold sore when kissing happens. People can get cold sores (oral herpes) from sharing drinks, lip balm or kissing. Avoid these activities when someone has a visible cold sore. You can also ask your friend or partner with oral herpes to let you know about their symptoms so you can be aware of when the herpes virus is active (which is when it can be spread).

It would be extremely difficult for you to get an STI from a toilet seat. Sex germs are fragile and they have a hard time surviving outside of the body. STIs are also not spread through casual contact such as shaking hands or hugging. STIs spread through sexual contact involving the genitals, mouth or anus/rectum. They also spread:

  • by skin-to-skin contact (e.g., kissing (oral herpes), non-penetrating sex or body rubbing)
  • by mixing infected body fluids (such as blood, semen or vaginal secretions)
  • by sharing needles, other drug paraphernalia and through needle stick injuries
  • from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby as the baby’s being born during a vaginal delivery, or through breastmilk
  • when sharing things like clothing, bedding and linens (specifically infestation-type STIs such as scabies and pubic lice).

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is a group of viruses that can cause infections that lead to skin warts, genital warts and certain types of cancer. HPV is passed through sexual contact. HPV causes almost all cases cervical cancer in females and almost all cases of head and neck cancers in males under 40 in Alberta.

There is an HPV vaccine that is 99% effective in preventing 9 of the most common and harmful types of HPV. In Alberta, the HPV vaccine is available to all grade 6 students. The HPV vaccine works best in children and teens before they have any type of sexual contact (e.g., oral anal or vaginal), thus any exposure to HPV. The 9 strains covered by the HPV vaccine cause most, but not all HPV-related diseases. Because of this, females still need to have regular Pap tests once they start having sexual contact and turn 25 years of age.

Using condoms, vaginal condoms or dental dams every time you have sex (anal, oral, vaginal) lowers the risk of HPV. Keep in mind that the virus may be on skin that isn’t covered, so HPV can still be passed on even if condoms or dental dams are used. People who are already sexually active but haven’t been vaccinated can still get the vaccine. It may still protect them from types of HPV they haven’t been exposed to.

The HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine works best if it’s given before any type of sexual contact has ever happened. Getting the vaccine before you become sexually active allows your immune system to build antibodies that will protect against HPV in the future. HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancer in females and most of head and neck cancers in males under 40 in Alberta.

Hepatitis is an infection in the liver that is caused by a virus. Hepatitis A, B and C are different in how they are spread, some of their symptoms, and if they are curable or treatable. People infected with hepatitis may have none, some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever
  • feeling tired
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • joint pain
  • the skin or the white part of the eyes turn yellow (jaundice)

Although they cause the same type of symptoms, how bad the disease is and how long it lasts is different for everyone. Each of these viruses spreads differently:

  • Hepatitis A (Hep A) is spread through contaminated food and water
  • Hepatitis B (Hep B) is spread through both blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids
  • Hepatitis C (Hep C) is spread only through direct blood-to-blood contact, or through bodily fluids that contain blood

There’s a vaccine for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. In Alberta, the Hep B vaccine is offered in Grade 6. There’s no vaccine for Hep C.

About 90% of people with Hep B get better. About 70-80% of people infected with Hep C go on to develop a chronic or lifetime infection. With both Hep B and C, the chronic infection can lead to a serious liver disease (cirrhosis) or cancer of the liver later in life.

Depending on the type of Hepatitis, you can also reduce your risk of infection by:

  • washing your hands after using the toilet and before you prepare or eat food
  • practicing safer sex
  • not sharing personal objects that may come into contact with blood (e.g., needles, razors, tooth brushes or nail clippers)

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that weakens the immune system and makes it difficult to fight diseases and infections.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is a combination of having HIV and one or more infections or diseases. Because HIV has damaged the immune system, the body can’t protect against or fight infections or diseases and a person becomes very sick. There is no cure for HIV, but medicine can be taken to help keep the immune system strong, allowing people with HIV to live for many years.

HIV often has no physical symptoms, so you can’t tell if someone has HIV by looking at them. In Alberta, people are legally required to tell sexual partners if they are HIV positive.  People do not have to tell employers, coworkers, teachers, landlords, friends, family and police officers if they are HIV positive.

HIV is spread through infected body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal secretions, rectal fluid and breastmilk) that get into someone’s blood. This can happen when people:

  • don’t use condoms, vaginal condoms or dental dams when they have sex (anal, oral, vaginal)
  • share needles or other drug use equipment
  • share sex toys, razors or toothbrushes
  • have HIV and are pregnant, give birth or breastfeed
  • use dirty equipment for tattoos, piercings or acupuncture
  • have contact with an infected object, like a needle, by accident

The risk of getting HIV is higher if a person has other STIs.

HIV cannot be spread by:

  • saliva, tears or urine
  • talking, shaking hands, working or eating with someone who has HIV
  • hugs or kisses
  • coughs or sneezes
  • swimming pools
  • toilet seats or water fountains
  • bedsheets or towels
  • forks, spoons, cups or food
  • insects or animals

Yes, it is safe to play with someone who has HIV. HIV is spread through the following infected body fluids:

  • blood
  • semen
  • vaginal secretions
  • rectal fluids
  • breastmilk

HIV can’t be spread through saliva, tears or urine. You can’t get HIV from hugging, holding hands or being near someone with HIV or AIDS. You also can’t get HIV or AIDS from toilet seats, drinking fountains, door knobs, dishes, drinking glasses, food or pets.

There is no cure for HIV. There is treatment and medication that can help people live, long healthy lives. 

HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a drug that helps prevent HIV in people who have high ongoing risk of getting the virus. It is taken as a pill once a day.

HIV PrEP doesn’t prevent other STIs or pregnancy. It’s important for sexually active people to have regular STI testing and use dual-method protection (using a condom or vaginal condom along with another method of birth control like the pill, patch or ring).

People who are HIV negative, but at high, ongoing risk of getting HIV. This includes:

  • Men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender women and gender diverse people reporting anal sex without a condom in the past 6 months and who:
  • have had chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis in the past 12 months
  • have sex partner(s) known to be living with HIV who are not taking treatment, have HIV virus in their blood or don’t know their HIV virus levels
  • have many sex partners
  • Heterosexual people in an ongoing relationship with an HIV positive partner who is not taking treatment, has HIV virus in their blood or does not know their HIV virus levels

Other individuals who may also benefit from HIV PrEP include:

  • People who inject drugs and share injection supplies
  • Heterosexual persons engaging in sex with partner(s) who may be from a population or community with high rates of HIV
  • The medication is prescribed by health professionals who have knowledge in HIV prevention. They are called Designated HIV PrEP Prescribers.
  • To get a prescription for HIV PrEP, people must be Alberta residents with a valid Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan card. If the Designated Prescriber decides a person is eligible, they will be given a prescription.
  • People that get a prescription for HIV PrEP can have their prescription filled at any pharmacy that has the medication.
  • For a list of Designated HIV PrEP prescribers, go here.

AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is caused by HIV. AIDS is the last stage of infection with the HIV. As HIV weakens the immune system it can’t fight infection or disease and this is usually what causes a person with AIDS to die. Medicine can be taken to help keep the immune system strong, allowing people with HIV to live for many years without developing AIDS.

A pelvic exam is part of a regular physical check-up.  During the exam, a health care provider examines the pelvic organs (vagina, cervix, uterus and ovaries).  During a pelvic exam you might be checked:

  • to make sure the reproductive organs are healthy
  • for sores and lumps on the genitals
  • for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • for infections in the vagina (e.g., yeast or bacterial vaginosis)

A pelvic exam may include a Pap test. A Pap test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. A sample of cells are collected and tested for changes that could turn into cervical cancer.

Sores on the testicles can be a symptom of an STI—see a doctor or go to a Sexual and Reproductive health or STI clinic as soon possible to be tested.

No, the virus can only survive in human cells.

 
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