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This article was contributed by NHS Choices

NHS Choices is the online 'front door' to the NHS. It is the country's biggest health website and gives all the information you need to make choices about your health. NHS Choices is looked after by HSCIC.

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Teen sex and contraception: what’s legal?

Image: Susanne Nilsson

A parent's guide to what your teen can and cannot do once they become interested in sex

Teen pregnancy rates are dropping. In fact, they’re at their lowest level since records began in 1969.

The Office of National Statistics believes that this is due to a range of factors, including a shift in young women’s ambitions towards education and a career and, notably, better sex and relationship education in schools. 

What’s legal?

The age of consent for any form of sexual behaviour is 16 for both men and women, regardless of sexual orientation. It’s illegal to have sex before the age of 16.

The average age that young people in the UK start having sex is 16 for both genders.

While it's legal to have sex from the age of 16, those under 18 are still legally classed as children, which means they can't send naked or semi-naked images of themselves to others until they are 18, even if they are in a loving, consensual sexual relationship (including marriage.) See our article on sexting.

Can my child get contraception without my consent if they’re under 16?

Yes, they can, as long as the health professional is satisfied that it’s in the young person’s best interests, that they have sufficient maturity to fully understand what is involved, and that they’re likely to continue having sex anyway, with or without contraception.

Health professionals will try and persuade the young person to tell their parents or carers that they’ve sought contraceptive advice, but if they don’t want to, the appointment stays confidential, unless the health professional feels the child is at risk. 

Tips on talking to them about sex, relationships and contraception

Although teen pregnancy rates are dropping, the UK still has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in western europe.

The more information your child has on sex and contraception, the better, especially when they hear it from someone they love and trust.

‘Teaching young people about sex doesn’t increase their likelihood of engaging in sex at a younger age’

Talking to your son or daughter about contraception can help keep them safe and prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Teaching young people about sex doesn’t increase their likelihood of engaging in sex at a younger age, which some people have wrongly claimed in the past.

Try to speak to them about contraception before they start having sex, so they’re armed with all the information they need beforehand.

  • Approach the subject little and often. This makes it less of a daunting topic for both of you.
  • Ask them what they know already, from lessons at school, or from other sources. This is a good time to bust any popular myths they may have heard, such as ‘you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex’.
  • Be clued up yourself. Make sure you have all the information on contraception and protecting yourself from STIs so you can answer any questions they have. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so and suggest you look into it together.
  • For more tips on speaking to your child about sex, have a look at our other articles from Brook and Bish
  • For more information on what to do if you find out your child is sexually active, click here. 

Further reading

Brook  

Provides free and confidential sexual health and wellbeing services specifically for young people. https://www.brook.org.uk/

FPA Family Planning Association

Sexual health charity providing advice and support to people of all ages in the UK. https://sexwise.fpa.org.uk/contraception

NHS

The NHS choices websites has some fantastic information on contraception.

https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/contraception-guide/Pages/what-is-contraception.aspx

British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas)

Advice and information on pregnancy and contraception and options if you become pregnant https://www.bpas.org/

NCA-CEOP

Advice for teens on what's legal and not, online and off.

 

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

First published: June 2015

Updated: May 2018

 

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