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Sexual health
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NHS Choices - sexual health

Parents' guide to sexual health

  • Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe
  • be proactive in your approach - take the initiative and raise the issues about sex and relationships
  • explain that sex is not compulsory and that saying "no" is an option
  • try not to give the message that sex is necessarily a problem - be prepared to talk about sexuality, even if it seems difficult
  • try not to be judgmental, but don't be afraid to say if you think an activity might be unhealthy or could put your son or daughter at risk
  • your child will learn by example - they will learn your family's way of doing things based on your values, culture, faith and belief

Influences around us

Children will learn about sex whether you want them to or not. Sex is everywhere around us - in magazines and newspapers, in advertisements and soap operas. Children and young people also learn about sex from each other - and what gets passed on in the playground may not be accurate or what parents want them to hear!

All these confusing messages may lead young people into situations they don’t know how to deal with. As a parent you have an important role in making sure your child has the right information and skills to cope with these pressures.

Why should I bring up the subject?

You might feel concerned that by discussing sex and relationships, particularly at an early age, you will encourage your children to start having sex when they’re very young. But research has proved that the opposite is true. In fact, teenagers from families where parents talk frankly about sex wait until they are older before they start having sex. And when they do have sex for the first time, they are more likely to use contraceptives.

The average age when young people first have sex is 16, although some people can be as young as 11 or 12 and others are in their twenties. The fact is that you can't always stop your teenagers from having sex. What you can do is let them know that they can always come and talk to you if they have something on their mind. Make sure that they have the right information about puberty, contraception, emergency contraception, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/Aids, and talk to them about the range of places that they can go for confidential help and advice.

Start early

If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about talking about sex with your children, don’t worry - this is a common reaction. But don’t let it put you off. Sex education shouldn’t be a one-off talk, but a gradual process of communication. If your children grow up knowing it’s OK to discuss sex and the feelings they have with you, then they’re much more likely to come to you for support when they need it.

The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe, and sexually transmitted infections are increasing among young people. Giving your children support, information and help to feel good about themselves can lessen the chances of both.

In brief -

Warning signs
Young people won't always tell you if there is something worrying them. You need to be attentive to their needs, let them know you are there and be prepared to listen.

If you think that your child is sexually active, ensure that they know where to get the right information. If you think your daughter may be pregnant or if she has told you that she is, ensure she sees her GP.

What to say
When your sons and daughters are young, encourage them to ask questions and give them simple answers. As they grow older, use what’s in magazines and on TV to have more in-depth conversations with them about friendships, relationships, puberty, sex, contraception and pregnancy.

Make sure that your teenagers know about - and practice - safe sex. Remember it’s not just about avoiding unplanned pregnancy, but also to avoid sexually transmitted infections.


Find a local GP on the NHS Choices website (link opens in new window)

Connexions (link opens in new window)

Family lives (link opens in new window)
Helpline: 0808 800 2222

Family Planning Association (link opens in new window)
Helpline: 0845 310 1334

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