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Relationships, Sexuality and Sexual Health

During the time your child attends school they are likely to go through puberty. This can be a difficult time for them and for you; as well as experiencing bodily changes their moods are also likely to be up and down. At this time, your child may also start to develop sexual feelings. These feelings may be for people from the opposite sex, from the same sex, or both.

It is normal for parents to worry when their child gets into a relationship. It is important that people respect each other and healthy relationships can bring lots of positive feelings and be good for mental health. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that it is still illegal to have sex with someone who is under 16 years of age and it should only happen when there is mutual consent. Having sex should be a carefully thought out decision and should always include conversations about contraception, and ideally children will talk to their parents about this. However, young people can access confidential support without the knowledge of their parents. It will therefore help if you are able to have a conversation with your child about their sexual health when you feel there is the possibility that they are entering into a sexual relationship.

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Sometimes young people get into relationships that appear to make them unhappy and which seem possibly abuse. When relationships become abusive they can be physically abusive, but also emotionally abusive. Sometimes they can also be sexually abusive.

Physical abuse can include:

  • Hitting.
  • Punching.
  • Slapping.
  • Holding someone down.

Emotional Abuse can include:

  • One partner getting upset/angry when the other person tries to see their friends.
  • One partner threatening to spread rumours about the other.
  • Putdowns, name calling, verbal abuse.
  • Pressuring a partner to send them sexually explicit photographs (being in possession of a sexually explicit photograph of someone who is under 18 years of age is illegal).
  • If someone is LGBT but not 'out' their partner may threaten to 'out' them.

Sexual abuse involves forcing someone to do any sexual act they don’t want to - this is rape or sexual assault and a criminal offence.

When a young person’s behaviour changes dramatically there might be concerns that they are being sexually exploited. Warning signs can include:

  • Child/Young person has become secretive, stops engaging with usual friends, changes peer group, has mood swings, becomes aggressive towards family members.
  • Child/Young person has started staying out late at night and/or not coming home. Has been seen in the company of unknown adults including getting in and out of cars. Being found in towns where they have no connection.
  • Child/Young person is acting in a sexualised manner, has a different musical taste, is using new 'jargon', is truanting from school, has new possessions e.g. jewellery and mobile phones.
  • Child/Young person is self-harming, has unexplained physical injuries, is using alcohol/drugs, STI’s/ pregnancy.
  • Child/Young person is receiving telephone calls, text messages etc. from unknown people.

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Disrespect Nobody


Becoming comfortable with their sexuality can be confusing and difficult for children and young people. It isn’t unusual for someone to be attracted to a person of the same sex at some point in time and so it is important for young people to fully explore their feelings before 'coming out'. When someone is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, it can sometimes take a long time to 'come out' or to tell anyone. It can be difficult for someone who is trying to hide their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and can have an effect on mental health. However, everyone should be able to be honest about who they are and feel comfortable in their own skin. When someone feels it is the right time to 'come out' they may benefit from having a family member or trusted friend support them with this. 

Six percent of the population define themselves as gay. However, as parents it can be difficult to come to terms with a child 'coming out' as gay, mainly because there might be concerns that their life is going to be more difficult e.g. legal rights in partnerships and having children of their own. The most important thing a parent can do is reassure their child that they still love them, that it doesn’t change how the parent feels about their child, that they will support them in telling others but also to be honest about some of their worries and fears.

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