Sexual Health

Sexual health information and support

People need information on STIs, contraception, sexuality, relationships and pregnancy. Often the basics of 'how to do' sex are also needed, as is a reassurance that sexual feelings are normal and that there is someone who will listen to their problems sympathetically. 

Family Planning Clinics and GPs usually provide information people need about contraception, but sometimes people find out that they are not as well informed as they hoped. Even though many people feel shy talking about contraception when they're younger, by their late teens and early twenties most feel reasonably comfortable


There have been instances in which young people we interviewed have not felt well supported by health professional when dealing with issues to do with reproductive health. Natasha was told that she has an odd shaped womb that not only limits her choice of contraception but that can impact on her fertility.

Detailed information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be harder to find - and more embarrassing to ask for. Most of the people we talked to knew the names of the main STIs and would be concerned about  an unusual discharge or smell, pains, urinary symptoms, lumps and bumps. 

But there's often a lack of awareness of what symptoms go with what disease, or how serious they might be. People may even not talk about STIs with good friends - which adds to secrecy and feeling of stigma.  
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However, those we interviewed who overcame their fears and had an STI test encouraged others to do the same if they had any reason to suspect a problem (see 'STIs' ideas about risk and decisions to test'). 

Talking with friends about sex can be very entertaining, reassuring and helpful, but sometimes leaves people feeling inadequate. They can be a source of practical advice and support, but, unlike doctors, nurses and NHS Direct, they are not always trusted to have the correct information. People we talked to did feel they could talk to health professionals, but weren't always certain what to ask them. 


Some people we spoke to liked using the internet for information because it is anonymous and private and can be used when issues seem too embarrassing to raise face to face. Young people also use the internet to gather information before discussing a particular issue with health professionals or, to complement the information provided by them. Young people we spoke to advised others to search official sites such as NHS Choices and Brooks website.

Mothers are often an important source of information for younger people, and most are happy to give advice, although some people don't like to ask, and others find their mum's don't always want to talk. Some people we interviewed talked to their mums about relationships, but avoid details of their sex lives, which both might find it embarrassing to discuss.
Magazines like Just Seventeen (for young teenagers) and Cosmopolitan were an important source of 'sex tips' for the girls we interviewed, which they discussed with friends. Boys whose sisters had copies of girls' magazines lying around the home usually took a peek and wondered how men without sisters manage.

According to the women we talked to, young men varied in their knowledge of contraception, with some being aware, other's being relatively 'clueless'.

Both boys and girls need to know about each other. Good sex education is needed in schools as well as mass media advertising about safe sex and contraception. Different approaches are needed to ensure everyone finds out what they need to know.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated January 2016.

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