Every human being has basic rights. Still, adults may say and do things that make young people feel like they don’t have rights. It’s important for you to know your rights so that you can stand up for yourself when necessary.
These are some widely recognized rights related to sexuality. Some of them are backed by law (although laws are different depending on what state you live in) and some of them are not.
You have the right to accurate information about sexuality.
In an ideal world, adults would freely give you accurate information about your body, relationships, love, sexual orientation, gender identity, reproductive health, communication, sexual behavior, pregnancy and pregnancy prevention, and STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Your school would offer comprehensive sexuality education, your parents/guardians would talk with you openly and honestly, the media would always depict sexuality realistically, and all of the information you get would be medically correct, straight forward, easy to understand, and not judgmental. Unfortunately, our world is not like that — yet. If you want to be informed you’re going to have to make the effort to track down reliable sources.
You have the right to decide how to express your sexuality.
Sexuality is a part of who you are as an individual. People express their sexuality in many ways, like through the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the way they dance, what they say and how they say it, and what they do with other people. At every point in your life, you can choose if and how to express your sexuality. Remember though, you don’t always have control over how other people will read the signals you’re sending.
You have the right to make decisions about sexuality.
Over the course of your life you will be faced with many decisions about sexuality. These may include decisions about how to express your sexuality, when and whether to become emotionally involved with another person, how you want to be treated in relationships, what sexual behaviors you want to do/when/and with whom, how you protect yourself from possible pregnancy or STDs, and how you take care of your sexual health.
You have the right to protect yourself from pregnancy and STDs, including HIV/AIDS.
Most sexual behaviors involve some level of risk. It is up to you to determine how much risk you are willing to take. Some people choose to protect themselves by not engaging in any sexual behavior. Some limit their sexual activities to those that pose less risk. And some use condoms and contraception every time. You have the right to make any or all of these choices at any point in your life.
You have the right to say no to unwanted touch of any kind.
Your body belongs to you and no one has the right to touch it without your permission. If someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you have the right to tell them to stop and expect them to listen to you. You also have the right to tell someone who can help you. If you have experienced unwanted sexual touch, abuse, or assault remember that it is not your fault.
You have the right not to be pressured into sexual activity or being physical with someone else.
There are a lot of forces out there — advertising, movies, music, your friends — that may seem to be suggesting that everyone is having sex and you should too. Obviously this is not true. Many teens choose to be sexually active and many choose not to. You have the right to decide exactly what behaviors, if any, you are comfortable participating in and to expect that your friends and partners will respect your decision.
You have the right to stop being physical or sexual with a partner at any point.
Lots of people portray sex like a slippery slope and make it seem like once you start to kiss someone you cannot stop. This just isn’t true. Choosing to engage in any sexual activity, like kissing, is just the first of many decisions you will have to make. At any point, you can choose to keep going or you can choose to stop. You not only have the right to do this, you have the ability to do it, and the responsibility to do it. Even if you have done something with this partner before, it doesn’t mean you have to do it again. And you have the right to expect that your partner will respect your wishes.
Sexuality comes with a lot of rights. Some of these rights (such as the right to say no) are clear to everyone, but on others you might find some disagreements. In some situations, for example, young people may have a hard time getting accurate information about sexuality. You may have to become an advocate and fight for your rights.
There are many organizations that can help you do this, check Advocates for Youth at www.advocatesforyouth.org; the American Civil Liberties Union at www.aclu.org; the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network at www.glsen.org; Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund at www.lambdalegal.org; and Sex Etc. at www.sexetc.org.