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New Guidance: Young People, Healthy Relationships and Consent

The following blog is written by Jo Sykes, Coordinator of our Wave sexual health service for young people in Highland.

Sexual health & relationships is an enormous, complex subject – one that can be difficult to teach with a blanket approach as everyone is different and has different life experiences at different times.

It is always important to remember that this topic area is not just about safe sex, using condoms and preventing STIs. Many of the messages that are often too quickly slotted into the RSHPE (relationships, sexual health and parenthood education) category instead of embedded into wider health and wellbeing approaches, are ones that are hugely influential in shaping many areas of our lives.

From the moment we start learning, the information we receive – from education, societal attitudes and inherited values – about diversity, sex and consent help to shape our identity, our levels of self-worth and the relationships we build.

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government published their ‘Key Messages for Young People on Healthy Relationships and Consent’.

Knowledge about what consent is and being confident in giving and withholding consent, arms young people with confidence in their decision making and reduces their risk of being exploited or entering into harmful relationships. The document clearly outlines the importance of emphasising that consent can change and be withdrawn at any time, and that consent must be mutual and come from both partners.

Increasing young people’s confidence, in both consent and how to identify and build healthy relationships, helps to limit the impact of negative experiences in their lives, such as bullying, grooming, and viewing extreme online content (such as porn).

It is absolutely fantastic that this document talks about young relationships being ‘positive’ and ‘enjoyable’. Within Waverley Care, SX and Wave services, we take a sex-positive approach to all conversations with service users of any age, as we know first-hand that talking about pleasure within sex and relationships allows people to have fun and reduces anxiety around sex. It often improves people’s relationships with their own bodies and increases confidence levels too, empowering people to make safer choices when entering into new relationships.  This confidence enables people to communicate their consent clearly and helps to address power imbalances within relationships.

By talking to young people about consent and, teaching them about sex and relationships in a positive way, we are normalising positive attitudes to sex while cultivating healthy relationships that are based on respect, communication and shared values. This in turn reduces the stigma that prevents people from accessing services for support by minimising feelings of fear, guilt or shame.

By publishing these key messages and introducing a new RSHP curriculum later this year, the Scottish Government is recognising that more emphasis is needed in both supporting our young people with these issues, and also supporting professionals that work with young people. This does not just include teachers, but also youth workers, charities, medical staff, police – anyone that has significant contact with young people.

The resource, whose messages are intended for young people from secondary age to young adult, asks for professionals to use their own professional judgement to determine when the messages are age and stage appropriate for the individuals they work with. It supports professionals with information about underage sex and the law and, talks about the best approaches to these potentially difficult conversations.

Download the new Scottish Government resource here.

Messages around consent and pleasure are strongly tied to U=U campaigns – read more about U=U here.

Please note: Professionals having any conversations about relationships and sexual health with young people should have up-to-date child protection training and clear pathways in case of disclosure.

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