The novel coronavirus pandemic has been affecting the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and young adults — not because of the virus itself, but because of social distancing and limited access to both birth control and abortion care.

Many adolescents and young adults have seen their whole lives changed — including their relationships with the parents, their partners and their peers, said Leslie Kantor, a professor and chair of the Rutgers Department of Urban Global Public Health.

While social distancing may mean that there's less opportunities for sex ( and thus less risk of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases), young adults are still seeing their partners, Kantor said. But there is still much more limited access to certain kinds of health care right now which can mean greater health risks for that group of people.

Kantor said there are preventative services that young people need to get such as the HPV vaccine, which is known to prevent a number of different cancers. She said immunizations and vaccines for everyone over the age of 2 have plummeted, but HPV immunization has gone down even more.

For young people who are still sexually active, it's important to have access to birth control, STD screenings and treatments, Kantor said. Those who experience unintended pregnancies may see further difficulty getting access to abortion because of restrictions in some parts of the county, as well as the pandemic.

Some services can be handled through telemedicine — including access to many forms of contraception, and access to testing and treatment for STDs. But Kantor said adolescents and young adults have a lot of confidentiality concerns and may be reluctant to seek such care.

While young adults are "digital natives" familiar with online platforms and social media, Kantor said maintaining relationships with romantic partners at a distance is, without a doubt, challenging. Young people, by nature, are supposed to be gaining independence from their parents at this time in life, so those who have had to return home during the pandemic after a period of being away may find it particularly challenging.

Kantor's advice?

"For everybody in the household, everything you can do to keep yourself as centered and healthy as possible is clearly important — and it is important to have the perspective that there are some challenges now, but they will not be forever."

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