2. Why discussing healthy relationships and consent with young people is important
These key messages on healthy relationships and consent are intended to support professionals communicate with young people, helping them to understand the importance of healthy, respectful, consensual and safe relationships. Whilst many of the messages are focused on relationships of a sexual nature, the basic principles of respect and consent are applicable to all relationships in young people’s lives.
All children and young people have a right to learn about their growing bodies, relationships, sexuality, sexual health and parenthood in ways that are appropriate to their age and stage of development.
Evidence has consistently shown that children and young people who are taught about these issues are more likely to delay the onset of sexual activity and experience positive outcomes when they do enter into sexual relationships.
The presence of healthy relationships in the lives of young people is vital to their health and wellbeing. Having good quality relationships can help us to live longer and happier lives and contributes to positive mental health and wellbeing. The presence of close, positive relationships in their lives can give young people a purpose and sense of belonging.
Why is learning about healthy relationships and consent important?
- An increased awareness of child sexual abuse and exploitation has emphasised the need to support young people to understand what constitutes a ‘healthy relationship’. Many young people want to know more about consent in sexual relationships and their right to provide or withhold consent in a range of situations.
- Children and young people are now increasingly conducting friendships and relationships online. Factors that young people have to manage in their day-to-day lives and in their relationships include self-presentation on social media, the sharing of intimate images/messaging and the potential for online bullying and grooming.
- Children and young people, regardless of intention to access it, now also have unprecedented free access to pornography, some of which features sexual acts which are violent and extreme.
- Aspects of popular culture, including pornography, promote unrealistic body image standards and sexual expectations as well as perpetuating gender stereotypes.
The key messages are intended to help professionals provide a supportive response to these challenges and communicate with young people a view of sexual activity that is framed as a mutually respectful, consensual and enjoyable experience.
This work links to many Scottish Government policies that support children and young people. More information can be found in Section 5.