A lot of young people feel pressure to start having sex; it might be from your friends or your partner. You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with and you shouldn’t expect your partner to either. There is no rule to say that you should have had sex by a certain age – it should be when it feels right for you (although legally you should be over 16) but remember it’s always ok to say no.
What does the law say about sex?
- The legal age of consent to have sex is 16.
- It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight or what age you are, it’s illegal to have sex without both people giving their full consent. So, even if you are over 16, you still have to give and get consent - if someone says no, it means no!
- It's not illegal to be given contraception by a doctor or family planning clinic, but the doctor must be sure that you understand the issues surrounding sex and contraception.
- Sex in public places is illegal. Whether it’s in an enclosed space like a toilet or open space like parks, if it’s a public place where passers-by may be offended then it’s illegal.
It is not illegal to ask for advice and get help to do with sex if you are under 16. This can be advice about sex, your sexuality, contraception or if you just have questions you need answering.
If you and your partner are having sex, you BOTH have the responsibility of making sure you protect yourselves against any risks. Unprotected sex puts you at risk of getting pregnant and increases both your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Because some infections don’t have obvious symptoms, you can’t be sure whether the person you are sleeping with has an STI.
- Condoms – these are probably one of the best-known types of contraception. Condoms will protect you from unwanted pregnancy and also STIs.
- Contraceptive pill – the pill is another popular contraceptive that will protect you against pregnancy. Taking the pill will not protect you from STIs.
- Where can you go to get them? – If you would like to go on the pill it is best to see either your doctor or go to a family planning clinic. Condoms are easy to get hold of. You can find them in supermarkets, chemists, garages, even vending machines in toilets. You can also get free condoms with the C-Card scheme.
- There are other forms of contraception that your doctor or family planning clinic would be able to discuss with you.
Find your nearest family planning clinic.
Emergency contraception can be taken by females up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex to try to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. As well as going to sexual health clinics for advice, you can also speak to pharmacists. There are pharmacists who are part of the emergency hormonal contraceptive scheme. This means young people can access free, confidential advice and help to do with emergency contraception. To find your nearest pharmacy, go to the NHS website. Remember to ‘narrow’ your search results to find the most relevant pharmacy for your needs.
If you have had sex, missed your period and think that you might be pregnant, you will need to do a pregnancy test as soon as possible. You can do this for free by either going to your doctor or visiting a family planning clinic. You can also buy from a pharmacy pregnancy tests which you can do at home. Even if you do a home test, make sure you go to your doctor or clinic to have your pregnancy confirmed. Don't forget to check out our pregnancy page for more information and support.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
The above video was a clip taken from Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies.
STIs are caused by germs (viruses and bacteria) similar to those which cause many other infections. One of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK is Chlamydia. One in ten young people between the ages of 15 to 25 years who are tested have it. Chlamydia often has no symptoms and can be easily treated by taking antibiotics but if left untreated it can cause long term effects such as infertility (being unable to have children). Even if you don’t have symptoms, if you are under 25 years and have ever had sex you can have a simple, free test to check for Chlamydia. The test is simple, painless and confidential.
There are lots of other STIs and if you think you might have one it's important to get help as soon as possible. If STIs are left untreated, they can go on to cause permanent damage to men and women. Most are easily treated so don't be too worried. It's best to get it sorted. Not all STIs have symptoms or they may take several weeks to develop, so if you’ve had unprotected sex, it’s a good idea to get checked out at a clinic.
Genito-urinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinics specialise in treating STIs. The clinics offer free and confidential advice. Some people are embarrassed to seek advice and treatment because STIs are transmitted through intimate sexual contact. However, the people who work in clinics are used to dealing with these issues and offer a completely confidential and free service to young people.
To find out more about visiting a sexual health clinic and where your nearest one is go to http://www.fpa.org.uk/helpandadvice/findaclinic or go to https://kentsexualhealth.nhs.uk/