Why we do what we do…
We believe that by engaging young people in frank, honest discussion and by actively encouraging them to ask the questions that are on their minds, we can give them the tools to make their own positive choices. It is all well and good to show young people how to put on condoms and where they can access them for free, however this amounts to very little if we do not first explore the difficulties of negotiating their use in real terms with a partner. If a young person does not have the confidence or has not had the opportunity to explore their own boundaries and feelings then we are setting them up to fail.
We believe that allowing young people the opportunity to talk about sex and relationships, to explore their own attitudes and behaviours and how they are influenced by those around them, we can prepare them to deal with not only the realities of sex, but importantly how to cope when, inevitably things go wrong.
Unfortunately, many young people are not proactive in terms of their own emotional and sexual health, and merely seek help reactively when mistakes are made. We want young people’s attitudes to change and for them to take control of their lives and decisions.
For us this begins with the attitudes of the professionals who work with them, ourselves included. Teenage sexuality is usually spoken of in terms of risk and seen as highly problematic. We however, take a sex positive and rights based approach believing that this allows far more scope for professionals to engage with their young people and make a real difference to their attitudes and relationships.
Sex education is not merely an explanation of where babies come from and how to prevent pregnancy – Biology and reproduction have that covered. Real sex education, SRE, RSE whatever you want to call it – should be a full exploration of a person’s sexuality and I don’t mean merely their sexual orientation. A person’s sexuality covers who they are, how they feel, how their body works, their attitudes, values, behaviour, relationship and personal boundaries.
For us teenage sexuality is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. If a young person has a question and is brave enough to ask it, however weird or wonderful – they deserve an open and honest answer. There is nothing to be gained by trying to keep young people in the dark – ignorance and innocence are not the same things. Unfortunately, it is our experience that if young people are not getting the answers they want from the adults around them, they instead look to less reliable sources such as the internet and pornography.
Young people have a right to understand how their bodies work, to be curious about their sexuality and be given room to make mistakes. However, most importantly they should also be credited with the full range of human emotion and not belittled or told that they are too young to fall in love, to feel angry confused or upset.
As adults we haven’t got all this sorted yet and we understand that with everything that’s in the media about our young people being sexualised so young it can be scary. However, all the evidence suggests that the more we talk about it and the more we give young people the time to explore these issues – the later they tend to become sexually active and more importantly the better decisions they make when they do.
We have no issue with young people engaging in sexual activity if they feel they are ready; the thing that worries us, is those young people that are having sex because they feel they have to or because they don’t know how to say no. The real question should not be are our young people having sex? It should be are they enjoying the sex they have?
And if not – why not.
Teenage sex does not have to be problematic. It won’t be perfect, but wouldn’t it be better if it was a good start?