Sexual Health Week 2020: Getting the information we need

Sexual health week is run by #iwill partner Brook, the UK’s leading sexual health and wellbeing charity for young people. This week is focused on “Get your RSE in gear!”, all about making sure young people are getting the quality sexual health and relationships education they need. In our feature for #SHW20, we share reflections from #iwill Ambassador Joana on current RSE provision, as well as the latest updates to the government’s social distancing guidance for young people in England. 

Why are young people, particularly girls and young women, still so let down by sex ed?

“Sexual health is a taboo subject. In schools, we are taught the barebones of reproduction, sexual health and menstruation. In my experience, boys and men are still incredibly uncomfortable at any mention of the word ‘period’, and I would be lying if I hadn’t had conversations with a number of women explaining to them that condoms are to prevent STDs as much as they are for contraception.

In failing to teach young adults – most of whom inevitably will at some point get tangled up in the world of sexual relationships (whether that be discovering they do or don’t enjoy them) – we are relying on them to magically teach themselves this essential knowledge, and then blaming them when things go wrong. This is much like the conversation we have seen around coronavirus, where young people are now suddenly being blamed for the rise in the virus, whilst not getting any specialised or targetted communication from government about how to stay safe.

Not only this, but the holistic lack of education surrounding sexual health disproportionately affects certain groups who time and time again are failed by our education system. Women in particular, for example, will always be worse off when young people experience poor sexual education – not only in the gaps left out of the education, but also in the systemically sexist manner in which sexual education is taught. The focus on biology and pregnancy often emphases certain sexual acts whilst minimising others which are an essential part of health sexuality for girls and women. This leaves young women thinking that their health and wellbeing are just not as important as those of men.

If we are able to teach English and Science and all the other subjects kids learn at school, why do we find it so hard to teach sexual education, and to teach it well? Sexual health is incredibly easy to maintain and celebrate, if only we made it more of a priority.”

Joana, 19. Read more from Joana here.

Updates to social distancing guidance: 18th September 2020

Read the guidance here

The government guidance to young people in England regarding social distancing in romantic and sexual relationships has been updated this week. Previously, the guidance warned against getting within 2m of your any romantic partners.

The guidance update this week reads:

If you have a partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, and you are planning on being close (hugging, kissing or having sex) you should discuss how you can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Without talking openly about each other’s risk, it can be difficult to make safe decisions. This means having conversations about:

  • how much contact you are having with other people
  • letting each other know if you have symptoms (however mild) or need to self isolate
  • whether you are clinically vulnerable
  • whether either of you live with clinically vulnerable people who could be put at risk

If your relationship is in its early stages, you should be careful to follow social distancing guidance. Those in longer-term relationships do not need to distance. More advice is included in the section on getting the care that you need, such as contraception and sexual health services or mental health and wellbeing support.

A group of young people, including #iwill Ambassadors and NHS Youth Forum members, were involved in editing and re-wording the government’s all ages guidance to make it more youth friendly. When working on the guidance, they took a range of considerations into account, including:

  • Having to work within the legal frameworks of the government guidance, which means that some things cannot be changed for a youth audience.
  • How to make the language inclusive of young people of a range of ages (including those who are not be sexually active), different types of relationships, different sexualities or gender identities. For example, the group discussed the question of whether “boyfriend or girlfriend” could be less inclusive to LGBT+ people, but the gender-neutral term “partner” may not be as familiar to younger teenagers as a way to describe their relationships.
  • How to emphasise trust and communication, which are important parts of any relationship. The same trust and communication underpins healthy conversations around consent and contraception.
  • Linking to advice and guidance around sexual health and wellbeing.

To find out more about the youth-facing social distancing guidance and how it has been developed, check out this blog from the guidance writing group.