6th August 2021
Sexual health is about your physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sex and your sexuality.
Whether it’s your first time or you’ve had it before, sex should be something you enjoy and can have safely. Make sure you feel ready and can take responsibility for your own sexual health and well-being.
Gender refers to the way you think and feel about yourself, and the way you live your life. Your gender may be different to the ‘sex’ you were given at birth. Some people with a penis feel female and some with a vagina feel male, and some feel like a mix of both or may not identify with either.
Sexuality is how you express yourself in a sexual way. Your sexual orientation refers to who you find attractive and want to have sex with or fall in love with.
Penetrative sex (intercourse) is when the penis enters the vagina (vaginal intercourse) or rectum (anal intercourse). Oral sex is when you use your mouth to stimulate your partner. Mutual masturbation is when you touch your partner’s genitals.
Vaginal intercourse carries a risk of pregnancy and all types of sex have a risk of picking up or passing on a sexually transmitted infection, the risks vary depending on what you do and whether you use protection.
Confidentiality and sexual health services
All services offer free and confidential care, which means we won’t tell anyone anything about you without your permission. The exception to this is if you tell us something that makes us concerned for either your safety, or someone someone else’s. For example if you are being abused or exploited. If we need to seek help on your behalf, we will always try and discuss this with you first unless we think you are in immediate danger.
If you are under 18 we need to ask you a few questions to make sure that you are safe and not being abused or exploited.
If you are under 16 we will encourage you to talk with a responsible adult such as a parent, relative or friend - this is to try and make sure you have all the support you need.
If you are under 13 and having sex, then we are required to inform social services and/or the police in order to protect you. Sex with someone under the age of 13 is considered to be statutory rape.
Health professionals in the UK may provide contraceptive and sexual health advice and treatment to young people under 16 if, in their clinical judgement, they believe it is in the young person’s best interests and the young person is able to give what is considered to be informed consent.
Your GP also follows the same rules about confidentiality and it is often helpful for them to be involved in your sexual or reproductive health care.
The law and consent
Consent means agreeing to take part in a sexual activity. It is important to make sure that everyone involved wants to engage in the sexual act and is free and happy to choose. If you don’t want to do something, you have every right to say no, even if it’s at the last moment.
If you’re not sure that the other person is consenting or if they are not able to make a clear decision (such as if they are drunk or intoxicated) you need to stop and ask them. If ever a person says ‘no’ then you must respect their wishes.
In the UK the age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women. The age of consent is the same regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender. The laws may be different in other parts of the world so it is worth bearing this in mind if you are travelling.
Legally, although it is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16, the guidance is clear that there is no intention to prosecute teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age.
It is an offence for a person aged 18 or over to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 if the older person holds a position of trust (for example a teacher or social worker) as such sexual activity is an abuse of the position of trust.
The law provides specific legal protection for children aged 12 and under who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity. There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape, assault by penetration, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.
It's a really good idea to get to know your body as a way to look after your sexual health. If you know what's usual for you, it can be easier to figure out if something's wrong.
As a part of this, it's important to educate yourself on different aspects of the body and how they work. Brook have provided a range of resources to get your started, no matter what your gender identity or sexual orientation is. Click here to access their website.
Sexual wellbeing also involves learning about what feels pleasurable for you, so that you can communicate this to partners. Click here to see resources from Sexwise about sexual pleasure and wellbeing.
Choose your partner carefully - delay if you want!
Talk about STIs - have you and your partner been for a check up recently?
Use condoms or stick to safer sex (kissing, touching, talking etc) unless you are sure you and any partner do not have a hidden infection.
Talk about contraception - it takes two to get pregnant!
Using online dating is getting more and more common as a way to find new partners. However, it's important to take steps to stay safe.
Click here for some top tips from Yorkshire MESMAC for keeping yourself safe online.
There are different types of abuse and some people use a combination of these or may move from one type to another. If you feel that any of these are happening to you - or to someone else - confidential help is available.
Verbal abuse - when someone threatens you, shouts at you or says hurtful things to make you feel bad.
Emotional abuse - when someone users their power to control or manipulate you.
Physical abuse - when someone is physically hurting you.
Sexual abuse - when someone forces you into sexual activity or threatens you if don’t have sexual contact with them. This includes vaginal, oral and anal sex as well as any unwanted touching.
Financial abuse - when someone is controlling you through money - either taking or withholding it, telling you what you should or shouldn’t spend or being forced into doing something illegal.
Abuse is never OK and it can be stopped. If you don’t feel in control talk to someone you trust. Here are some free and confidential services that you can trust to help you: