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Learning about your sexuality is a normal and healthy part of becoming an adult. When young people explore their sexuality it can be very exciting, but doing things for the first time can be worrying too. It can be hard to know how and when to develop a sexual relationship. You need to know someone well enough so that you both feel ready for sex. And many people will choose to wait until they are ready for marriage before they have sex together.
Masturbation is a normal part of sexual development. When you masturbate, you touch your genitals (your private parts) in ways that are pleasurable and sexually exciting. Masturbation allows young people to explore their sexual feelings and helps them to discover what they like about sexual behaviour. It is important that masturbation happens in private places such as your bedroom. This is because it is personal.
Understanding sexual feelings
It can be difficult to know when you are ready for sex. Two people may get along well, laugh together and have the same interests. They may find each other physically attractive. When two people fall in love, they often find that they want to spend a lot of time together. They enjoy each other’s company and care about each other. These loving feelings can sometimes become sexual feelings and the two people may decide they want to start a sexual relationship.
It is very important that both people have agreed to have sex. In fact, it is illegal to have sex with a person if they do not agree to it. Agreeing to have sex means that it is your choice and that you have not been forced or persuaded into it, and that you are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you have loving feelings towards someone and you think you might be ready for sex, it is important to know if the other person feels the same way. Talking to your girlfriend about your relationship is the best way to know if you are both ready for sex. You can talk through any worries or concerns you may have and you can decide together what to do. If you find that your girlfriend does not want to have sex or is not ready, it is very important to respect her decision. Talking about sex does not mean trying to convince your girlfriend that this is a good idea. Forcing someone to have sex is against the law.
If a couple do not want to have a baby but decide that they do want to have a sexual relationship, they need to use a form of contraception. There are lots of different types, including contraceptive pills and implants for women. For men, condoms are the main type of contraception. Condoms are a good type of contraception if they are used properly – it is important to learn how to use them. Some men find condoms difficult to use. Men have a responsibility to be aware of contraception if they do not want to become a father.
There are many changes in a child’s body as he or she grows from being a child to becoming an adult. In our society it can be hard to think about sexual changes - the ways in which a boy grows into being a man and the ways in which a girl grows into becoming a woman.
Most girls grow breasts as they become women. Most girls and women get hair under their arms and between their legs. They notice that they sweat more in these places. It also helps if they learn how to keep themselves clean and fresh. The most important new thing for most girls is when ‘good’ blood comes out of their vaginas, showing they are now able to bear children physically even if it is several years before they are ready. Mothers can help their daughters enjoy these new experiences, but if they are frightened or worried about them their daughters might find it harder.
Young people with learning disabilities experience the same milestones in their development as their non-disabled peers. But they may experience much greater difficulty in achieving adult status, for example remaining financially dependent on parents well into adulthood. Other issues such as physical assistance needed with personal care can mean that a young disabled person takes more time and support to live independently.
Parents and staff supporting people with learning disabilities are often reminded of the importance of encouraging them to make individual choices and decisions on all aspects of their everyday lives. Services may put ‘the right to choose how you live your life’ as their key objective for all service users. But the problem in promoting a blanket policy towards individual choice is that it can be very difficult to be clear about which choices you are referring to.
We all have individual preferences about how we wish to live our lives. Choosing between coffee or tea, the colour of the clothes we wear, our hair style and our friends are not controversial decisions. But other choices may have longer term consequences. It is important to understand when advice and support may be necessary to avoid the wrong choices being made. The individual concerned may not understand the consequences of his or her choice. Sometime the ‘right to choose’ may actually put a vulnerable person at risk and mean that families and other supporters are (with good intentions) failing to exercise a duty of care.
For example, the promotion of ‘choice’ around health and personal hygiene sometimes appears to set no limits on what is safe, reasonable and socially acceptable. If people do not understand the importance of brushing teeth to avoid unnecessary dental treatment, or of proper washing to avoid possible skin infection or food poisoning, they may neglect their personal care. Poor personal hygiene may have serious consequences, not only for general health, but also for the individual’s acceptance in local community activities and possibly for access to employment.
It should never be assumed that neglect of personal care, wearing dirty or inappropriate clothes or poor diet are automatically informed ‘choices’. We all have a responsibility to encourage healthy lifestyles and greater awareness about the importance of personal care.
Talking about personal care can be very difficult, but allowing people to attend to hygiene routines as they choose and without explanation and encouragement could be considered neglectful and overlooks the dismal personal and health outcomes they will have to face and the real risk of social exclusion.
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