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SPACE sex: talking to young people about sex and relationships

Guidelines on safe and appropriate sexual behaviour

We worked with a group of young people to develop a set of clear, easy-to-remember guidelines for safe and appropriate sexual behaviour. These guidelines were based on values and principles of good practice set out by the  Sex Education Forum . The key principles use the words SPACE and CRAFT to identify what is needed for safe sexual relationships.

Children learn about the biology of sex as part of the school curriculum. But this is not always enough to keep teenagers safe. Many young people seek physical experiences before they understand the emotional and relationship implications. The more information and advice they get, the better prepared they will be.

Young people may want guidance and support from their parents but don’t know how to approach the topic. As a mum or dad, you may feel equally embarrassed or confused as to how to start and what to say.

The SPACE and CRAFT principles are one way of starting to talk about relationships and sexual intimacy. They may also help highlight the important messages you want to give your teenager to help them stay safe.

If you need information and advice on age of consent and teenage sexual behaviour see our web page on Teenagers and sex.

Find out more about:

What are the key risks to children?

Learning the mechanics of sex without understanding relationships

While most young people understand something about the biology of sex, they may not understand as much as we adults would hope or expect. They may need help to understand the important link between emotional wellbeing and sexual relationships. As a parent you can help this understanding to develop.

Confusion about what is acceptable sexual behaviour

Whatever their level of knowledge, many young people are not entirely sure about what sexual behaviours are okay, or what behaviours may actually be harmful and get them into trouble. Sex may be viewed as a rite of passage, a proof of adulthood or a competitive goal rather than part of a bonding experience. They may engage in bullying tactics to achieve a conquest, or find themselves ‘in too deep’ and feel unable to say ‘no’.

Seeking experience to satisfy curiosity

Most children are curious and want to try things out. If adults don't provide appropriate guidance, children will ‘work things out’ themselves from what they hear and see in the media, and from their friends. This may lead to confusion and errors of judgment.

Using the rules of SPACE sex to talk to young people

Choose a private moment to introduce the SPACE rules to your child. Be aware that your child may not want to talk at the time you choose, but if you indicate that you are willing to talk again when they are ready, they may come back to you. If it is difficult to find time alone at home, try to find somewhere else to talk where you both feel comfortable. Take the discussion at their pace and link with behaviour you see around you in order to show that sex is normal, not unnatural or weird.

The SPACE rules are clear and easy to remember and use: Safe, Private, Age, Consent, Every time.
Don’t have sex unless you know how to stay safe.
Don’t hurt others.
Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections and from pregnancy.

Sexual stuff should be private, but not secret.
If you’re not sure whether something is OK, check it out with someone you trust.

The law says that you have to be 16 years or older to have sex with someone else.
This is the same whether you are straight, lesbian, gay or bi-sexual.

You must both consent or agree and also understand what you’re agreeing to.
Remember: no one should have sex if they don’t want it, or aren’t ready for it.

Every time
Sex can be great, but only if we stick to the rules.

Explain to your child…

  • if you keep these rules every time you’re doing something sexual you are unlikely to get into trouble
  • the rules apply across the board to each and every one of us, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, cultural or religious heritage.

Your child may want to add their own rules, relating to their individual choices or preferences – encourage them to personalise these, as long as the basic SPACE rules are adhered to!

Download the SPACE rules.

If you have had success with the SPACE rules discussion, you may want to go on to discuss how to develop close relationships. The idea of ‘SPACE’ can be extended to include SPACE travel, which is only possible within a suitable SPACE CRAFT. Sex is best within relationships where there is Commitment, Respect, Affection, Friendship and Trust (CRAFT).

If your child is willing, you can work out what they can do to build relationships that have the CRAFT characteristics using a  CRAFT worksheet . See a  sample sheet  that has been filled in to give you some ideas of what you might discuss and record.

Where to find more advice

Family Planning Association advice to parents on talking to children about sex

Stop it now! Advice on talking to kids

BBC parental advice on talking to children

BBC: web article for parents offering advice on how to talk to teenagers about sex

NHS: web page for parents about how to talk to teenagers about sex

Sex Education Forum hosted by National Children’s Bureau, resources for parents

ChildLine 0800 1111

Are you a child?

Do you need to talk? Call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit us online.

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