Brook Education and Wellbeing Specialist Francesca Fiennes, urges anyone homeschooling to think about the sex education conversations you could be having with your young people, and offers top tips on where to go for trusted information online.
Amidst the panic of Covid-19, we must remember that other health services and education must persevere. Given that government advice is to stay inside and limit non-essential interaction with others, it is safe to say that our sexual lives must also adapt. As adverse as our current predicament may seem, it is also an opportunity to quietly reflect and prepare for when some form of normalcy returns.
At Brook, we are aiming to continue educating and empowering young virtually, and want to ensure that they can still access information and advice about safer sex during this time. Usually this would be delivered directly to young people by Education and Wellbeing specialists (like me!) in schools. However this is not currently feasible.
We therefore want to urge parents and teachers to highlight the continual running of sexual health services and to maintain creating safe spaces to discuss these topics with young people.
Sexual health services
At Brook we have done everything we can to ensure that our clinics are still running for those who need us. We are operating primarily through phone consultations and we are protecting appointment times for those who are most vulnerable. See our official Covid-19 response here. You can use our Find a Service tool to find a service near you.
Now, more than ever we need to promote condom use. Some condom distribution schemes are still operating and can distribute condoms to young people in pharmacies and other community settings (it is advisable to contact them in advance to check).
STI home testing kits, contraception and emergency contraception can all be accessed online from trusted sources such as SH:24 and Fettle. See Brook’s page on free STI home testing kits. By calling a Brook service we can ensure that young people are accessing the information, advice and treatment they need.
While Covid-19 has not been sexually transmitted so far via semen or vaginal secretion), it is found in nose and mouth secretions so it can easily be passed by kissing, and there is also evidence of oral-fecal transmission. Along with touching infected surfaces, it is possible to transmit Covid-19 during a sexual encounter.
Let’s talk about sex
The extra time you might acquire during lockdown with your young people could be a perfect opportunity to start a conversation about sexual health. This might seem daunting but you can start by asking them to reflect on the following:
- What have you already learned in school about sex and relationships?
- What topics were covered? (STIs? Contraception? Puberty? Body image? Mental health? Healthy relationships? Different types of sex?)
- What are they keen to know more about?
- If you can’t answer their questions, where could you direct them to?
If we reflect on these questions, we can help to ensure that young people turn to sources they trust for all things sex education-related, rather than to unreliable information from peers or online.
This could also be a great opportunity to tailor sex education in an inclusive and accessible way. Take a browse on our Brook resources page which includes handouts, videos and more! Or register for free for our online learning courses on a whole range of topics from puberty to pleasure. Courses include a ‘learn it’ section and a ‘teach it’ section to improve your confidence, plus lots of tried and tested activities.
Staying safe online
As a result of the pandemic, young people are relying heavily on technology and social media more than ever to keep in contact. It is therefore crucial at this time to convey the concept of consent to them, and ensure they are staying safe online.
A significant law to highlight is that the possession and sharing of indecent intimate images of anyone under the ages of 18 is illegal. Further, discussing sexual activity or encouraging image-taking can cross over into an offence. Read more about staying safe online on Brook’s website.
By directing young people to trusted and reliable sources of relationships and sex advice, they are less likely to turn to easily accessible pornography. Our Ambassador Hannah Witton has a whole host of YouTube videos about different topics, and Brook’s website covers everything from pregnancy to coming out.
With relationships and sex education becoming mandatory in schools from September, now is the perfect time to start these conversations.
My advice is: keep it positive! It is important to steer away from scaremongering conversations that may intimidate young people about their sexual health. Now is the time to empower them in their decision-making, for them to reflect on what a healthy relationship will look like for them, what the laws are, and how imperative sexual health is.