Accessible information about sex for deaf young people is important but not always easy to find. Formal sex education lessons are now statutory in schools, but this isn’t the only way for your child to find out about this topic and learn how to stay safe. Although conversations with your child about sex aren’t necessarily easy, accurate information is vital in helping your teen avoid potentially unsafe sources or incorrect information.
We’ve spoken to parents of deaf teenagers and put together some tips on how to help your child access information about sex.
Sex education is legally required at secondary level and your teen’s school or college must make sure their sex education programme is accessible to everyone. Speak to teachers about how they intend to make the lessons inclusive. This might mean using captions on videos, booking interpreters and making sure your child can ask questions if they need to, anonymously if preferred. This is particularly important if the school uses external providers to teach sex education – the school should make those providers aware of your child’s needs.
Open communication with your teen’s school or college also means you can help support your child’s learning at home. One parent shared how they work with the school and build on what’s taught with their deaf daughter.
“Our daughter’s school lets us know what's being covered in the Sex and Relationships Education classes and this provides a good springboard for age-appropriate discussion at home.”
A formal conversation about sex might work for you and your teen. However, everyone is unique, and you might want to try different ideas or take different approaches. There are lots of opportunities to talk about sex and relationships and you can get creative. One parent shared how they discuss these topics with their teenager.
“Our daughter is growing up in a time when there’s much more open discussion and recognition of diversity, and it's important we do our best to keep pace so our conversations are broad and informed. Stories in the news, books and films are good starting points as well as sharing our own and friends' dating experiences. We recently watched It's a Sin together and this sparked many discussions about friendship and love. We also have a couple of Growing Up books she can refer to privately if she wants to spare the blushes.”
It’s also important to anticipate the possible emotions that might come up for your child during these conversations. This can help you prepare and support your child when discussing sensitive topics.
There are practical considerations for these conversations too. Find out more on our page about having difficult conversations.
There are certain topics that your teen needs to learn about so they can stay safe. This includes knowing how to report something they feel uncomfortable with, protecting themselves from potentially abusive or harmful relationships, and maintaining good sexual and mental health.
You can support your teen in learning what good relationships and unhealthy relationships look like. Childline has great age-appropriate information on healthy relationships.
Consent needs to be both given and received in any kind of relationship. In the UK it is illegal to have sex with someone under 16 years old.
Your teenager may be feeling pressure from their peers or the media to have sex or do something they don’t want to. If they already feel isolated because of their deafness, they may think they have to do things they don’t want to in order feel included. It’s important to make it clear that consent isn’t just about sex but also about other behaviours even before it has happened.
If your child feels that they have been pressured into a situation that they’re uncomfortable with or didn’t give consent for, or if they’ve been sexually assaulted, they can visit a sexual assault referral centre (SARC). They can be referred by their GP or you can find your nearest service using the NHS website. They can also contact Childline for support.
Contraception and STIs
There are lots of birth control options that young people can consider. Brook has a great tool to help young people work out which one is right for them and their partner. NHS Choices also shows you where to get free condoms.
Looking after your sexual health is as important as looking after your general health and your child needs to know how to maintain their and a partner’s sexual health, and what to do if they think they might have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
SignHealth have also produced a British Sign Language (BSL) short film about getting tested for STIs.
Understanding conception and dispelling myths around it can help prevent unwanted pregnancy. If your child thinks she might be pregnant, she should take a test as soon as possible and book a doctor’s appointment if this is positive. You can talk to your child about their options and help them get medical advice. Childline offers information on pregnancy for young people.
Gender identity and sexuality
Exploring issues around gender identity and sexuality is important for young people, whether they are clear on their sexuality and identity or not. Your child can find out more about gender and sexuality on the Childline website.
GPs and sexual health clinics offer services and support to look after your sexual health. They provide free contraception, check-ups, tests and treatments as well as advice and information. Sexual health services are available to everyone, including those under 16.
Visiting a sexual health clinic can be nerve-wracking. Deaf young people may have practical concerns too. If your child needs communication support, they should book an appointment in advance and let the clinic know what they need to help them communicate with staff. They can also take someone with them for support if they want to.
If the clinic provides an interpreter your teen may feel embarrassed about speaking in front of someone they don’t know. Remind them that this person is a professional who will not judge and will keep everything confidential.
When going to a walk-in session, your child may not have access to communication support. But there are things they can do to help.
- Tell staff that they are deaf.
- Ask staff to face them.
- Ask people to speak clearly.
- Ask people to repeat or simplify things if necessary.
- Record conversations, write things down, or ask someone else to write things down for them.
It’s the clinic’s responsibility to make sure deafness doesn’t get in the way of accessing sexual health information or services.
Your teen will probably have lots of questions about sex. There are plenty of places they can go to for advice or information, including: