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The sex counselling team supports students in strengthening their self-knowledge

For some of us, life as a student can be a turning point when one starts to contemplate one’s sexual orientation, gender and romantic relationship ideals more than before. The FSHS sex counselling team supports students with questions related to these areas of life, and also helps other FSHS staff to keep their knowledge up to date.

“Sexuality, gender, and relationship diversity all make life richer. However, they can also be sensitive issues that may sometimes need to be discussed with a professional,” says psychologist Marjo Tossavainen from the sex counselling team. The team, consisting of six professionals, is responsible for helping students with questions concerning sexual orientation, gender, and relationship diversity. The team works as part of the FSHS’s digital and remote services, which allows it to attend to students irrespective of their location. But what’s their work like in practice?

Kolme pariskuntaa kolmessa kuvakehyksessä. Vasemmalta oikealle: 1. cistyttö ja transpoika halailevat sängyllä. 2. Kaksi lyhythiuksista nuorta henkilöä syleilee ulkona, toisella on silmälasit ja parransänki. 3. Kaksi nuorta miestä kuvattuna rinnasta ylöspäin, toisella on pää toise olkapäällä. Kuvassa on myös YTHS:n markkinointitunnuskuva Pride-väreissä.

Diversity as part of support for sexuality, gender and relationships

The purpose of the FSHS sex counselling team is to foster respect for diversity and students’ individual experience. Where necessary, the team is able to challenge norms and stereotypes associated with different groups of people or different ways of life. Room should always be made for each student’s life situation. Within healthcare, this includes adhering to, for example, the following practices.

  • • Language used by healthcare staff doesn’t presume a student’s sexuality or gender identity or the kind of relationships they wish to pursue.
We avoid sayingInstead, we say
“Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?”       “Do you have intimate relationships?”
“Have you made friends with any of the other female students?”“Have you made friends with any of the other students?”
“Do your Mum and Dad help you out financially?”“Do you receive any financial support for your studies?”
  • Room is left for each student to define their own gender identity, sexual orientation, and relationship structure and to develop their self-image – remembering that not everyone wishes to label themselves. For healthcare staff, a natural time to bring this up is when explaining other principles associated with their work, such as confidentiality.
  • Our healthcare staff always call students by their chosen name.

Sexuality, gender, and family and relationship diversity are essentially tied to a person’s identity. On the other hand, all societies have attitudes associated with these matters as well as norms intended to steer people toward desired behaviours. This is why students in problematic situations may experience feelings of shame, anxiety and even fear and may find it difficult to broach the subject troubling them. Healthcare staff should thus be alert to more subtle messages, listen carefully, and express acceptance in their actions and words.

“For students who are questioning their sexual or gender identity or pondering about gender expression or relationship diversity, it’s very important not to dismiss their thoughts”, says Tossavainen. An accepting approach respects students and their self-knowledge. More information is provided for students who need it. However, the intention isn’t to rush students into making decisions on things such as whether they differ from the majority in terms of sexual orientation or gender. The approach is centred around each student’s individual process.

Consultation and education

The principles of support for diversity and each individual’s own experience form the basis for FSHS services. Within a large organisation however, some staff will inevitably be more knowledgeable than others. Tossavainen welcomes the fact that students are quick to give feedback about their experiences with the FSHS.

“We get some feedback relating to assumptions or the choice of words used during appointments, including a lack of familiarity with terminology. Of course, it’s disappointing for a student if they felt they had to educate a staff member about their situation. That’s why we try to keep our staff up to date, for example through training, particularly those working within general and mental health services,” says Tossavainen. Training is provided by both the sex counselling team and outside consultants.

The sex counselling team is often consulted within the FSHS both during and outside training situations. In addition to widening their general knowledge, staff want answers to questions such as what things are relevant to include in students’ medical records. They also often ask when it is appropriate to refer students for specialised healthcare or to third-sector support services. Tossavainen adds that staff working in mental health services are particularly interested in learning more about sexual and gender diversity.

Support and advice for students

If you have questions about gender and sexuality, the FSHS and the organisations listed below can help.

Sexuality | Väestö

Tietoa seksuaalioikeuksista, seksuaaliterveydestä, seksuaalisesta hyvinvoinnista ja seksuaalikasvatuksesta

Services |

Personal advice and peer support for all trans and intersex persons, those questioning their gender and their loved ones. Most services are free of charge.

SINUIKSI – support and advice service

Guidance by professionals for those belonging to sexual and gender minorities, those questioning their identity and their loved ones. You can contact the service with any questions you may have concerning sexual orientation, sex and sexuality, gender identity and gender expression. The service is available in Finnish and English.

Sexuality & gender|

Information on sexuality and gender (in Finnish).

Further reading

Sexual health