Sunday 12th August marks International Youth Day, so this month especially, we’ll be looking at the issues around sexual health which specifically affect young people.
‘Don’t you do that every month?’ I hear you cry. Yes of course, although the article on HIV for instance is one that everyone should read, regardless of age. In fact, it’s so important, we’ll be revisiting the subject of HIV in the November issue of this (multi award winning) magazine.
So, where do we start when we consider sexual health and young people? For anyone working in sexual health, the first thing that springs to mind is education. Information, knowledge, understanding of risk – all make a great foundation when negotiating and having sex, and looking after your sexual health. Without this education, it’s like putting together an IKEA wardrobe without the instructions – something is bound to be put in the wrong hole, and the end result isn’t quite what you’d hoped for.
Terrence Higgins Trust have been campaigning for higher quality relationships and sex education (RSE) for many years, and in 2016 we published our Shhh… No Talking report, which detailed the experiences of RSE lessons from over 900 young people aged 16-25 across Britain. The report highlighted the inadequate or even non-existent provision in many schools.
We found that young people do want RSE but they aren’t always getting it – 99% of young people surveyed thought RSE should be mandatory in all schools , and that one in seven young people did not receive any RSE in school at all. The quality of RSE varies, with over half of those surveyed (61%) receiving RSE just once a year (or less in some cases). Half of young people rated the RSE they received in school as either ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’.
95% were not taught about LGBT sex and relationships – 97% thought RSE should be LGBT-inclusive.
When it came to learning about HIV, three out of five respondents either did not receive any information about HIV or did not remember receiving information about it in school. Worryingly, 75% of young people were not taught about consent.
RSE is due to become compulsory in all schools from September 2020. It was originally supposed to be September 2019, but in June of this year we were informed that this would be delayed by a year.
In February 2018, we submitted evidence to the Department for Education on what should be included in RSE lessons.
We asked that:
• Lessons are LGBT-inclusive
• Up-to-date information is given on HIV and sexual health, including testing, PrEP and treatment.
• Information on consent, safeguarding, the law, and healthy relationships be included.
• Young people are made aware of how to access services, both locally and online, involving sexual health practitioners in schools to help normalise accessing these services.
• Young people are involved in the design and evaluation of lessons, and that there is clear inspection criteria for Ofsted when evaluating the quality of lessons.
• Teachers receive training and development so that they can be confident when delivering lessons.
Where sexually transmitted infections are concerned, the two of the most common STIs among young people are chlamydia and gonorrhoea. They are passed on during vaginal, oral or anal sex. Left untreated they can cause serious problems in both men and women, including infertility. If there are any symptoms, they can include discharge, and pain when urinating or during sex.
Testing is quick and painless, and the two infections can be treated with antibiotics. You’ll be advised not to have sex until treatment has finished or you could pass on the infection. If you were given a single dose of antibiotics you will be asked to wait for a week to have sex.
You can get a test at a sexual health clinic, order one online at www.youngandfree.org.uk or from a Terrence Higgins Trust outreach worker.
Remember, you can have an infection without knowing, so regular check-ups are a good idea.
The Suffolk c-card scheme is a free condom distribution service, aimed at improving sexual health and condom access for young people living in Suffolk. It is free to any young person between 13-24 years old. The c-card scheme is easy to sign up to and there are loads of outlets across Suffolk from student services to pharmacies, which are usually identified by a poster or window sticker with the c-card logo displayed. For a map of outlets visit – https://www.icash.nhs.uk/contraception-sexual-health/c-card-scheme/c-card-suffolk
That’s all for this month, see you in September!