Respect for each other and strong, trusting relationships, based on sound values, are at the heart of our national, community and personal wellbeing. The nurturing of these priceless assets begins at an early age and, as developed in the stable environment of family life and parental guidance, they help to equip us for the challenges of later life. Sexual wellbeing is firmly embedded in this system of values and relationships and, pre-eminently, touches on our responsibilities as individuals, on respect for the feelings and values of others, and on trusting relationships.
Sexual health is a controversial subject, where deeply held views on moral issues meet cultural and lifestyle diversity and a tradition of tolerance. It would be easier to focus our public health efforts elsewhere. But with teenage pregnancy rates amongst the highest in Europe and rising rates of diagnosed sexually transmitted infections across all ages, such an approach would not be responsible. That is why we have chosen to act. This document is thus both a strategy and plan for action. It sets out our proposals in a way which is respectful of both children's rights and parental and personal responsibility, and which recognises religious, cultural and gender diversity. We will do this within a framework which promotes a culture of respect and responsibility and through action to help prevent sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies and provide better services.
The development of this Strategy and Action Plan has been informed by the work of an Expert Reference Group and an extensive and inclusive consultation exercise on its proposals. I am grateful to the Group and everyone who responded to the consultation. Their contributions have been carefully considered. Not surprisingly the consultation expressed a diversity of views but the themes of respect and responsibility were widely supported. These concepts of respect and responsibility are exemplified in strong and stable relationships, with marriage remaining a key part of our national life.
This strategy is firmly based on the principles of self respect, respect for others and strong relationships. Respect and responsibility are also key messages that are passed on by parents and families in shaping the lives of their children. But the right focus for us in the Scottish Executive in the action we take to promote sexual health, is on the quality of relationships rather than on family form or on issues of legal status. Abstinence, or sexual activity which is delayed until a mature, loving relationship is established, are approaches we support.
Our approach recognises the diversity of lifestyles in the population of Scotland and aims to improve access to information and services. It is important that people are able to make informed decisions in the areas of sexual relations and that they have access to good, high-quality services on an equitable basis.
Strong national leadership will be provided by a National Sexual Health Advisory Committee, which I will lead, and which will bring together the key stakeholders to give impetus and drive to the implementation of the strategy.
Health Boards will be clearly responsible for leading these improvements with their partners and they will be able to adopt locally appropriate structures and arrangements to do so.
The strategy is but the beginning of a process which I earnestly hope will lead to better sexual health in this and succeeding generations of Scots. But it will require the concerted efforts of us all - including parents, healthcare workers, faith groups, teachers, voluntary organisations and critically, each one of us as individuals - to drive home and practise the message of respect and responsibility, if we are to succeed.
Minister for Health and Community Care