It’s Sexual Health Awareness Week all this week, and the Family Planning Association is focusing on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Our expert Gill Leno has advised that the following information is suitable for young adults aged 14 and over, in keeping with sex education taught in the National Curriculum. If your child is of suitable age and you want to talk to them about STI’s, this article could be a good starting point for you both.

STIs is a subject that people can feel really nervous about, but there are lots of ways of making sure that your young person stays safe and avoids them. It all begins with knowing the facts.

The facts

STIs are just that – infections which are usually passed on during sex. That means that they are usually passed on in sexual body fluids, or by skin-to-skin contact. The bacteria, or viruses, that causes infections are carried in those fluids, so if they get passed from one person to another during sex they can pass on an infection. It’s the same with skin-to-skin contact. If there’s an infection on the skin of a person’s private parts, it can sometimes be passed onto someone else if the skin of their private parts is in close contact.

  • STIs can affect anyone who has sex – male, female, transgender, nonbinary, gay, straight, bisexual, disabled – if two people have sex together then they need to be aware.
  • Many people who have STIs don’t know that they have one.
  • You can’t always tell whether someone else has one either, so people shouldn’t risk having unprotected sex (even if it’s the first time).

Protecting against STIs

Luckily, there are ways of protecting against STIs. There are condoms, female condoms, or dental dams to form a barrier between private parts. These will help to prevent any direct contact, and to stop infections being passed on by body fluids. Barrier methods are free and can be obtained from places like Brook, the local sexual health clinic or young people’s centre, or from the doctor.

However, it’s important that young people are responsible and make sure that if they have any kind of sexual contact without a barrier method that they seek help and advice straight away. It’s also helpful if they have a good look at, and get to know, their private parts – if they know how they look and feel normally, they’re more likely to realise if there’s anything wrong in the future.

Information and communication

We hope this will help you to be informed enough to speak to your young person about their sexual health. Parents don’t always know everything, and sometimes we all need to update our knowledge, especially when it comes to sexual health.

Communication is the key with young people, although you may not feel comfortable discussing these subjects, the better informed your child is, the safer they will be. There are lots of useful resources out there to help you have these conversations. Some of the links below will help.

If you’re struggling to find the right words when you talk to your young person about sex and relationships, the NSPCC website has free, downloadable guides to help. There are guides for children themselves, as well as parents and carers. There are also separate guides for parents and carers of children with learning disabilities and autism.

Visit for more information.

How do you talk to your young person about sex and STIs? Let us know if you have any advice to offer other parents via, confidentially if you prefer. You can also follow Sexual Health Awareness Week on Twitter by following the #SHW16 hashtag.

Gill Leno is a specialist SRE teacher, writer and researcher working with learning, physical and sensory disabilities and autism spectrum conditions. Twitter: @sen_sre

Useful Links

A charity providing free and confidential sexual health and wellbeing services for young people.

BISH (for over 14s ONLY)
A guide to sex and love for anyone over the age of 14.

Family Planning Association
Help and information about contraception and sexual health. Includes a facility to search for local clinics.

Information and advice about sexual health.

National Autistic Society
Features information about social stories and comic strip conversations, to develop greater social understanding in young people on the autistic spectrum.