Consent means that you say yes, and sexual consent is needed for any sexual experience - kissing, cuddling or having full sexual intercourse. To stay in control and protect yourself and the person you’re with you need to understand what consent means and what it doesn’t mean. Remember that it’s always ok to say ‘no’ and you can withdraw your consent at any time. There’s more to consent than just being legally old enough. You might not feel ready to have sex and it’s important that when you do do it it’s because you want to, not because you’re under pressure to, most people actually wait until they’re a bit older than 16.
As you grow up from a child into an adult your body will go through some physical changes and you’ll start to experience different feelings too. This is all perfectly normal, although it can be confusing at times. It’s puberty, and is something every girl goes through. Girls will usually start puberty earlier than boys. The average age is 11 years old but you might experience changes earlier or later than this, and that’s perfectly normal too.
As you grow up from a child into an adult your body will go through some physical changes and you’ll start to experience different feelings too. This is all perfectly normal, although it can be confusing at times. It’s puberty, and is something every boy goes through. There’s no set age when you start going through puberty – the average age is 12 but it could be anytime from age 8-14 years old.
One of the biggest changes for girls is the start of their period, as the body’s hormones start to establish a regular menstrual cycle (the monthly period where an egg is released into your womb). You’ll also experience changes in your breasts as they grow bigger and develop, hair growth in new places, and changes in your mood. It’s normal to start thinking about masturbation and sex around this time too.
Some of the changes you’ll go through include: growing more hair in new places, like your chest, face and genitals; a drop in your voice as it deepens; your penis and testicles getting bigger; and more muscles developing. You’ll also start getting erections, and begin to think about sex and masturbation.
A healthy relationship, whether it’s with your best friend, your teacher or your partner, will be based on trust, respect and kindness. A romantic or intimate relationship should be good fun and make you feel good about yourself. If you don’t feel quite right about a relationship or if your partner does or says things that don’t make you feel good, then it’s probably not something you should carry on with. It might help to talk to someone you trust. It’s important to make sure both you and your partner are ready for sex, and want to get intimate together. Ask each other if now is the right time, and right place. Make sure you’re having sex for the right reasons, not because of any pressure from other people. You should always talk about and sort contraception too, to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.
Gender identity and sexuality
Your gender identity and your sexuality influence how we feel about ourselves and who we are attracted to. It can take time to explore these and work out what feels right for each of us, or you might be clear and know how you feel and even if you do know who you are and who you fancy, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are ready to have sex. It is illegal for anyone to engage in sexual activity with someone under the age of 16, but if you are having sex at this age, and it’s consensual (you both agree), you can get confidential advice and contraceptives from sexual health services.
Stay safe online
The internet is amazing you can play, learn, create and connect - opening up a whole world of exciting possibilities. But with the digital world changing all the time, you need to make sure you are staying safe. There are a number of ways you can do this; don't share any personal information with anyone; think before posting photos and videos that can be used illegally; whenever using online devices, make sure that it has its privacy setting on; avoid meeting people you only know through the internet or if you plan to, inform your parents/guardian about it; be careful and considerate to other people’s feelings when posting anything online.
Contraception is a method that you can use to prevent pregnancy. There are lots of different ones and a sexual health nurse or doctor will help you choose the one that will work best for you. Not all methods of contraception protect you from getting a STI – condoms do, which is why it’s often advised that you use these as well. Using contraception and condoms is about keeping yourself and your partner safe - safer sex is important!
If you think you might be pregnant, take a pregnancy test as soon as possible. Whether you’re shocked, worried or happy about it you might need time to think about what it means and what you’re going to do. It’s a good idea to have a pregnancy test done at a sexual and reproductive health service as then you’ll be with somebody who you can talk to about your options and who can support you to make the decision that’s right for you. That might be continuing with the pregnancy and keeping the child, continuing with the pregnancy and placing the child for adoption or ending the pregnancy and having an abortion.
If you’ve had unprotected sex or recently changed your sexual partner, you should get checked out for any sexually transmitted infections and make sure that you are in the clear. R U Clear will send you a free testing kit, straight to your home, if you’re under 25 and live in Greater Manchester (except Bolton where you can access a test from your GP or sexual & reproductive health clinic). Just enter your details and you’ll receive a confidential, unmarked kit to test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea
Sending or receiving sexual messages under the age of 18 is illegal and can have serious consequences.
Some people may start sending sexual messages to their partners or someone they fancy, or even share sexually explicit pictures or videos, (such as nude or semi-nude selfies) when they are talking to each other. This is known as sexting. It might seem harmless but sexting can have many serious risks.
Once you have sent a text or picture to someone, or shared an image or video via an app, it’s out of your control. You don’t know who will see it, who will copy it, or who will share it with other people. It could be used to embarrass, blackmail or bully you, and can be extremely distressing. Sexting can even lead to grooming and exploitation. It might seem like many young people sext, but research shows that isn’t true. You should never feel pressured to send anything you don’t want to.
Before you decide to have sex, or engage in any kind of sexual activity, you should always make sure you have contraception available and you know how to use it. There are many different types of contraception to prevent pregnancies, including ones you must remember to use or take regularly, and ones you can forget about.
As well as preventing an unwanted pregnancy, contraception can stop you getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Contraception is available free from lots of places in Greater Manchester. You can get it from most GP surgeries, special sexual health clinics, and community contraceptive clinics, as well as some young people’s services and centres.
Visit one of the healthcare places mentioned above. Any discussions you have with doctors or nurses will be confidential, as they help you to understand your options. They won’t tell your parents you’re getting contraceptives and having sex, as long it’s consensual and you’re not at risk.
If you have sex without protection, you could be at risk of getting pregnant or getting an STI. It doesn’t matter what position it was in, whether you ‘didn’t finish’, or whether it was your first time.
Accidents can happen too, like forgetting to use protection or taking your pill, or a condom splitting or slipping off. If anything like this happens, emergency contraception can stop you becoming pregnant. You can get it at sexual and reproductive health clinics, most GP surgeries, some pharmacies, and some young people’s services. The sooner you get it, the better, as it’s only effective if it was less than 5 days since you had unprotected sex.
Remember that an emergency contraceptive will not protect you from any sexually transmitted infections, so you should also get tested for these.
Whenever you speak to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist – at any sexual and reproductive health clinic, drop-in centre, or GP surgery, everything you talk about is completely confidential – even if you are under the age of 16.
For young people over the age of 13, any sexual health service is free and doesn’t need to involve your parents. So you can come and talk openly about your sex life, about the right contraception for you, and get tested for any STIs without the worry that your parents will find out.
Your parents would probably understand anyway – they’ve been young people too remember – and you might be encouraged to tell them. Doctors and nurses will never speak to your parents without you knowing, or tell them anything you don’t want them to.
But if the doctor or nurse thinks you are in trouble, and they’re concerned about your safety, they may need to tell someone. They would talk to you about it first and would only do this if they had very serious concerns.