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Sexual health and identity

Presenting data on young people’s sexual behaviour and how they identify.  Sections include what age young people start to have sexual relationships; contraception use; conception and birth rates for young parents; and sexually transmitted diseases.

In England, Wales and Scotland the under 18 conception rate has continued to fall since the 1990s

Developing a sense of sexual identity is a key task of the transition to adulthood. Staying safe, healthy and happy through the process is important. As a result, the sexual health and behaviour of young people is a huge topic in adolescent public health, with important ramifications for wellbeing, education and service provision. There is a lot that we know, but this is also a topic where there are many challenges in collecting regular and robust information.


Sexual identity

6.7% of young people aged 16-24 report being gay, lesbian or bisexual Overall in 2019, an estimated 2.7% of the UK population aged 16 years and over identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, an increase from 2.2% in 2018 (ONS, 2021). Chart 3.1 shows that among the 16-24 population this rose to 6.7%, the largest rate in any age group. This is likely to be an underestimate, as some respondents chose to respond “other” or “don’t know”, or did not give an answer.

Younger people are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual than older age groups

Sexual identity and gender identity are distinct, and data on gender identity in the UK are currently limited. There are no data, for example, on the proportion of young people who would identify themselves as transgender. The Office for National Statistics is researching whether and how to develop a population estimate. The tentative estimate is currently that there are approximately 600,000 trans people in the UK, but a breakdown by age has not been attempted (Stonewall, 2021).

In 2020/21 the NHS Gender Identity Development Service received 2383 referrals for children and young people. The NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is a highly specialised clinic for young people presenting with difficulties with their gender identity, established in 1989. In the 2020/21 year they received 2383 referrals from England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, the majority of which were 14-16 year olds. This was fewer than the previous year, possibly due to interruptions to referrals caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

All data correct as of 1st November 2021