We know there are lots of practical things to think about when having sex – like protecting yourself from STIs and pregnancy.

But there are also things you need to know in order to protect yourself physically, mentally and emotionally, and to stop yourself ending up on the wrong side of the law.

In this section, you can find out more about staying safe when it comes to sex. We talk about technology and how to use it safely, the law around underage sex, and the risks of having sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol. We also provide information on reporting abuse, and where to get help from in the Highlands. Stay safe people!

Reporting abuse

Abuse and violence within a relationship is never OK and is never your fault.

There are many different forms of abuse, including verbal, physical, sexual and emotional.

Some forms of abuse are harder to recognise than others and it can be hard to admit that you are in an abusive relationship, whether with a family member, a friend or a partner.

Some warning signs of an abusive relationship include:

  • Does your partner text and call you all the time?
  • Do they want you to spend ALL your time together?
  • Do they get jealous when you chat to friends and other people?
  • Do they make you wear clothes they like?
  • Do they pressure you to take the relationship further?
  • Do they try to humiliate you when you fall out?
  • Do they use emotional blackmail – for example do they say they would kill themselves if you left them?
  • Do they get violent with you?

It can be very hard to talk about abuse as you may be worried about what will happen, both to you and the other person involved.

It is important to remember that there’s lots of help out there and that once you decide to talk to someone, they will believe you and work with you to make sure that you are safe and supported. You can also get support on how to help someone else that you think is being abused.

Here are some links to organisations you can talk to if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse:

Consent

Consent is when a person gives their permission or freely agrees to something that they know about and that they understand.

In the UK, both partners must consent to having any sexual contact for it to be legal. That means that both partners need to know and understand what kind of sexual activity they are agreeing to.

Consent is something that can change at any time and even if you have agreed or consented to something, you are still able to change your mind.

Likewise, just because you have consented to one thing, doesn’t mean you have consented to others. For example, just because someone consents to being touched, does not mean they consent to sex.

Consent does not have to be given verbally but should be indicated clearly, through noise, body language, facial expressions, nodding etc.

The law says consent cannot be given when:

  • Someone is asleep or unconscious
  • Someone agrees because they are unlawfully detained
  • Someone agrees because of violence or threats
  • Someone agrees because the other person is pretending to be someone else
  • Someone else agrees on the person’s behalf
  • Someone is under the age of 13
  • Someone who is in a position of trust has sex with someone who is in their care and aged 17 or under
  • Someone with a learning disability cannot communicate, understand or form a decision as to whether to engage in an act

If you have been pressured into doing something without giving your consent, it can sometimes feel like it’s your fault or you could feel embarrassed. It’s important to remember that being forced or pressured into doing something is never your fault and there is help available.

For more support, here are some useful links:

Sex and the law

All professionals who work with young people in Highland have a common goal – making sure that all people under 25 are safe and not at risk of harm when it comes to sexual health and relationships.

A lot of young people have underage sex (aged 15 or under). Police Scotland do not want to prosecute or punish people for having sexual contact under 16, as they know it can impact on other aspects of young people’s lives – such as mental health, relationships and even getting a job.

However, the law is black and white and there can be consequences for breaking it. Therefore, it is helpful to know what the law says about young people and sex.

The age of consent

In the UK, people aged 16 or over are legally allowed to have sex. This is the same for everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality.

In the eyes of the law, there are a number of scenarios where underage sexual contact will represent a criminal offence:

  • It is a criminal offence for anyone who is 16 or older to have any sexual contact with someone aged 15 or under – even when consent is given.
  • It is a criminal offence for anyone to be involved in any sexual act with anyone under the age of 13 – the law states that under 13s cannot give consent.
  • It is a criminal offence for two 13-15 year olds to have consensual vaginal, anal or oral sex.
  • It is NOT a criminal offence for two 13-15 year olds to be involved in other consensual sexual acts – e.g. sexual touching, kissing.

Cases are dealt with on an individual basis and police are more likely to prosecute if they think one or both partners are in any danger or at risk of harm, or if one or both partners are being pressured or forced into the sexual contact.

Child protection guidelines in Highland, known as the HUSP or Highland Underage Sex Protocol, recognise that sexual activity between 13-15 year olds happens. The guidelines set out the steps that professionals should take to assess whether sexual activity between 13-15 year olds is safe, there is consent and that neither partner is at risk of harm.

Rape

Rape is when someone forces their penis into the mouth, vagina or anus of another person who has not given, or is not capable of giving their consent (see consent section above).

Only someone with a penis can commit rape but both men and woman can be victims of rape.

Sexual Assault

There are several types of sexual assault and they can be committed by all genders. This includes any kind of unwanted and non-consensual physical contact, as well as being forced to do a sexual act or to view or watch indecent images.

Examples of sexual assault include:

  • Being forced or pressured to have sexual contact you don’t want.
  • Penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus that consent has not been given for using a body part or any other object.
  • Being touched in a sexual way that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable, including through clothes.
  • Being forced to masturbate.

Position of Trust

It’s illegal for anyone in a position of trust to have sexual contact with anyone aged 17 or under who is in their care.

Someone is in a position of trust if they have responsibility for the care or wellbeing of anyone aged 17 or under. This includes teachers, youth workers and sports coaches among others.

For more information about sex and the law, here are some useful links:

Online saftey

It can be hard to stay safe online and know how to protect yourself and your privacy. Here are some top tips and useful links to help you:

  • Check the privacy settings on the apps you are using – Make sure your profiles are set to private so that only people you know can see what you post.
  • Do not post anything you wouldn’t want your parents or granny to see! – If you’d be embarrassed for them to see your images, do you really want other people to see them too?
  • Once you’ve posted something online, you cannot always control who sees it or what that image is used for – Imagine if a selfie you posted ended up on a porn site? Check out the user agreements for the apps and sites you are using to find out what rights they have over your posts.
  • Think about who you add as a friend and consider only adding people who you know – This way you know that the people viewing your posts won’t use them to bully you, or to force you to do something you don’t want to.

Visit ThinkUKnow for lots of useful information and videos about how to stay safe online.

Other sites with helpful info are:

Alcohol, drugs and sex

Many young people believe that having sex while drunk or on drugs makes sex easier. This is because both alcohol and drugs can relax you and make you worry less about sex.

However, having sex under the influence of drugs and alcohol can increase the risk of something going wrong. So why do it?

It’s always worth thinking about why you feel like you need to take drugs and alcohol before having sex. Is it because you are unhappy with your body? Or maybe because it makes you feel more confident talking to your partner about what you like or don’t like?

If you are in the kind of relationship where you feel like you need to take drugs and alcohol to feel confident, you probably aren’t in the right relationship for you. You should be able to feel happy and confident talking to your partner about sex and relationships without being under the influence.

Drunken sex or sex on drugs can also lead you to take unnecessary risks. In the heat of the moment, you might be more likely not to wear a condom, to rip the condom when opening the packet or to put it on incorrectly. Mistakes like these can make it more likely for someone to catch an STI or become pregnant.

Alcohol and drugs can also make it hard to actually have sex, making penises less likely to stay erect and vaginas less likely to get ‘wet’ enough for sex to be comfortable. Sex under the influence can also be rougher and more painful, as there is less co-ordination and care taken.

For more information about the risks of having sex under the influence, check out this great article from Bish UK.

There is also excellent information about drugs and alcohol from Crew2000.

Sexting

Sexting involves sending sexual or naked photos of yourself to somebody else.

It can seem like harmless fun, but if the person you’re sending to isn’t trustworthy, or who they say they are, things can go wrong quickly.

Once you’ve sent a photo, you can’t control who sees it, and it can be sent on to others or posted online. This can be embarrassing and stressful for you and can have a big impact on your life.

Always think before sexting:

  • Think about your relationship with the person you’re sending the image to – How much do you trust them? Why do they want a sexual photo of you anyway?
  • Think about why you are doing it – If you didn’t send it, would it change your relationship? If it would, is the relationship a good one? Are you being pressured into sending images of yourself that you don’t want to?
  • Think about whether you would do it face to face – If you do not feel ready to have sex, are you really ready for sending naked photos? You are in charge of the decisions you make about your body and sex, be kind to yourself and don’t do anything you don’t feel ready for.
  • Think about whether the consequences are worth the risk – What if half of your school end up seeing your photo? How will you feel if someone makes fun of you? What if your photo ends up on the internet? How do you control who sees it? Thinking about what could go wrong might help you to keep yourself safe.

Check out this video from ThinkUKnow that shows some of the consequences…

Remember:

  • Taking and sending a sexual image of yourself is illegal if you are under 18, even if it’s to a long term partner
  • It’s also illegal for you to expose another under 18 to indecent images, so by making an indecent image and sending it to your partner you may be breaking the law twice
  • It’s illegal for your partner, or whoever you send the image to, to have it stored on their phone or tablet – so they are breaking the law by having it.

If you are worried or stressed because of sexting, support and advice is available. We would always advise speaking to a friend, a parent or someone at school to help you. But if you don’t feel able to speak to someone face to face, there is online support and text services to help too.

Here are some helpful websites with more information and advice around sexting…