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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


Use of contraception is important both for preventing conception and also for protecting against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The majority of young people use contraception during heterosexual sexual intercourse. For example, in the English 2018 Health Behaviour in School Aged Children survey, 68% of boys and 46% of girls (age 15) reported that the most common form of contraception used at time of last sexual intercourse was a condom (Brooks et al, 2020). Similar proportions (60% of 15 year olds) were reported in the equivalent Scottish HBSC survey (Inchley et al, 2020). The Exeter Schools Health Survey 2020 demonstrated that 50% of Year 10 girls and 57% of year 10 boys knew where to get condoms (Balding & Regis 2020).

Data from Natsal-3 showed that young people aged 16-24 who had vaginal sex in the last year reported that they were most likely to obtain contraceptives from general practice (young women), and retail outlets (young men), but both genders used a range of sources (Geary et al, 2016).

Community clinics are also an important source of contraception to this age group. Chart 3.2 shows Public Health England service data on the proportion of young people who have been in contact with reproductive health services in the last year, in comparison with the whole population aged 13-54. Females aged 18 to 19 were most likely to use a sexual and reproductive health service, with 13% of the age group having at least one contact. Men rarely visit community contraceptive clinics according to these service level data. This is a drop on the previous year but the data collection may have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Females aged 18-19 are the most likely to use a sexual and reproductive health service

Chart 3.3 shows that the most common reason for visiting sexual health clinics is contraception, followed by general sexual health advice. Other reasons include pregnancy related issues, emergency contraception and advice on sexually transmitted infections.

The most common reason for young people visiting sexual health clinics is for contraception

According to official statistics, use of emergency contraception is not common in young women. Chart 3.4 shows that rates in 2019/20 were, on average, 1% for 13-24 year olds. Within this age group rates were highest among 18 and 19 year olds (approximately 2%). However, it should be noted that this is likely to be an underestimate. Some young people, for example, will ask others to purchase it for them. 

Use of emergency contraception is not common in young women

Girls age 13-15 are three times more likely to have emergency contraceptives in areas of greater deprivation (NHS Digital, 2020).

All data correct as of 1st November 2021