Young people and sexual health: Keep talking, teaching and learning

If we can speak about sex to each other in an open informative positive way, keeping communication open, then that will encourage respect and enjoyment. Dr Abu-Rajab blogs for PINS.

As a doctor working in sexual health I have been seeing young people in sexual health clinics for almost 20 years, yet I am still regularly surprised and often a bit saddened in their knowledge of their own bodies and of their understanding and enjoyment of sex.

Frequently young people come into the clinic but can’t explain why they are there or what is wrong as they are so embarrassed. Often people decline being examined for the same reason. Here are some of the situations or things that young people have said that give some insight as to why it is so important to talk, to teach, to discuss, to learn. When asked if they had seen or felt any new lumps on their genitals I have been told: I can’t even look down there let alone touch myself. And I am asked questions like: Which hole does his ‘dick’ even go in? Is it the same one that I pee out of? Do you actually blow when you give someone a blowjob?

Based on this I thought it would be useful to write down a few things that I think it would be useful to know, things to perhaps discuss when you have the opportunity with a young person:

  • They need to understand what their bodies look like, what is normal for them and to be able to accurately name their body parts.
  • They should be able to speak to their partners about what they are doing together, what they like and don’t like.
  • That sex is supposed to be enjoyable and what they can do when it is not.
  • Many young females report having anal sex rather than vaginal sex. This may be to avoid pregnancy; it may be because it has been ‘glamorized’ in pornography. However it is often more painful with the increased risk of STI transmission if there is trauma. Young people need to have the confidence to discuss what they like and want with their partners.

If we can speak about sex to each other in an open informative positive way, keeping communication open, then that will encourage respect and enjoyment.

It is important for young people to know what sexual health clinics offer and what to expect if they have to visit a clinic. Sexual health clinics provide contraception, testing and treatment for STIs, emergency contraception (as do pharmacies) and vaccination for Hepatitis and HPV infection. Sexual health clinics will see young people aged 13 and over. Most of the clinics have specific services for young people so there are only young people attending when they are there. Some clinics allow you to drop-in at certain times of the day and some require you to make an appointment which can be done online or by telephone.

Each of the health boards in Scotland have their own sexual health clinic websites. Some services also use:

  • Informative apps with sexual health advice and clinic information.
  • Apps that are for condom delivery by post.
  • Social media giving information on clinics, local outbreaks etc.
  • Online facilities where people can ask questions.

Get to know what is available in your own area so you can let your young people know about them and do not hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions.

Dr Abu-Rajab is Consultant Genitourinary and HIV Medicine Clinical Director for Sexual Health and HIV, NHS Forth Valley

Twitter: @NHSForthValley

*COVID19 update: As we publish, sexual health services are currently only providing urgent care. Young people or support staff can phone a local sexual health service to check what they are currently providing and how best to access support and information. More information and booking can be found here: