Relationships and Sexual Health

Relationships and Sexual Health Introduction

All children and young people have a right to learn about their growing bodies, relationships, sexuality, sexual health and parenthood in ways that are appropriate to their age and stage of development.

In 2006 the World Health Organisation defined Sexual Health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

In defining Sexual Health, we must also consider sexuality, which underlies important behaviours and outcomes related to sexual health. Sexuality can be defined as “a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.”

To help young adults to have healthy intimate relationships requires them to have learned the building blocks throughout childhood. Many of these building blocks are not exclusive to RSHP, they apply across the CfE and are taught in the context of friendship and communication skills in the earlier stages of learning. Themes that help to build children’s learning about relationships throughout childhood include:

  • Emotional wellbeing and help seeking behaviour
  • Equality and inclusion
  • Bodily autonomy, consent and protection from harm
  • Parenthood and families
  • Relationships and friendships

Relationships & Sexual Health Health and Wellbeing Information

Sexual health: Risk taking and STI's infographic

For more information on the Free Condom Service visit the website by clicking here

Find information, resources and the nearest sexual health clinic for young people here

Relationships & Sexual Health and Education

Health and Wellbeing has an integral role within the Curriculum for Excellence. Provision of full and accurate information about relationships, sexual health and parenthood is a key priority to equip children and young people with the knowledge and skills with which they can make informed decisions and choices about all aspects of their health and wellbeing.

Research shows that in order for young people to be able to grow into healthy and responsible adults, able to assert their rights in relationships and to protect their sexual health, learning needs to start at the youngest age in an age appropriate way. This learning should be layered as they group up, in developmentally appropriate ways. This is most effective when learning at school is reinforced by parents and carers at home.

Children and young people should be encouraged to understand the importance of consent, dignity and respect for themselves and the views of others.  They should be encouraged to recognise the risks, the physical, emotional and moral implications of their behaviours, and to accept the need for both partners to behave responsibly.

Learning experiences should encourage discussion and critical thinking about children and young people’s rights and to promote questioning of gender stereotypes and gender inequality. This will also help to challenge some of the negative gender norms that exist in society which place unnecessary pressure on children and young people.  Use of gender neutral and non-judgemental language is good practice and is highly recommended to ensure that pupils always feel included as full members of the school community.

Practitioners, children and young people should feel comfortable raising issues in a safe, open and transparent environment that is considerate of their needs and background.

Vulnerable children and young people who have additional, diverse needs would benefit from extra support in terms of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood education. Practitioners should take account of current personalised support plans to meet their needs.  Additional support needs can arise for any reason. Children and young people with a disability must, as with all pupils, be included in Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood lessons in order to develop their knowledge and understanding of healthy, safe, respectful and loving relationships.

To explain more about the importance of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood education and how it benefits children and young people a series of short video clips are available to view in the national resource for RSHP – you will find this under the Curricular Resources tab.

Early Protective Messages (EPM)

EPM is designed to deliver on Scottish Government policy/strategy on a range of healthy relationships and equalities issues. EPM aims to reinforce the following key messages:
Alt Text for early protective messages image Helpful Messages for Young Children •Being touched is your choice, not another’s •The parts of your body under your swimsuit/ underwear are private and should be covered in public •The private parts of your body are called penis/ vulva, nipples and bottom. •You only touch your own private body parts in private (at home in your room) •No-one should touch your private body parts and you shouldn’t touch someone elses’s private parts •You don’t keep secrets about touching

Find out more about related training in the CPD Courses section of the app.

Gender Friendly Nursery Programme

The Gender Friendly Nursery (GFN) programme involves staff training on gender equality and equity, and reducing gender stereotypes. This includes links with a range of other issues, including gender based violence, mental health, education, and the gender pay gap. Staff will consider current practice, celebrate and understand the importance of the gender equality work they already do, and identify areas for further development, leading to GFN accreditation. Feedback from the training shows that the programme is inspiring new thinking leading to changes in practice.

Training is currently being delivered using a combination of pre-recorded and live sessions via Microsoft Teams and Zoom until a return to face to face training is possible. Further information can be found here 


This is an image of the Gender Friendly Nursery Nursery Support Pack front cover.


Young People’s Relationships

Children and young people have very easy access to and exposure to pornography often from upper primary school age. This distorts ideas and thoughts of what constitutes typical healthy sexual behaviour and plays out in real life experiences with the enacting of often harmful tropes learned through exposure to pornography. This includes widespread experience of “choking” behaviour.

Sexually aggressive and harassing behaviour is widespread and experienced especially by girls and young women in all parts of society especially in online spaces. This can range from groping, sexualised name calling, pressure to generate and share nudes to more extreme forms or coercive and abusive sexual behaviour.

Young People have crucial gaps in their knowledge relating to consent in intimate relationships and for many, even if they do understand this, they lack the language and confidence to put this into practice and assert their rights.

This context is occurring at a time when the important adults in children and young people’s lives including parents, carers and staff that work with young people in a range of settings, can be increasingly unsure of how, when and what to say in discussing relationships and sexual health with them. This uncertainty and lack of confidence in adults is now also being negatively affected by campaigns of deliberate misinformation designed to stoke such concerns generated by a range of extreme pressure groups.

This context places a greater need for factual information to be delivered in an age and stage appropriate way within schools as part of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education. You can access the resource via the Relationships and Sexual Health Curricular Resources tab below.

Priorities for Relationships and Sexual Health

Public Health Scotland have established a National Incident Management Team to respond to the significant increase in diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections, especially Gonorrhoea, observed in young people across Scotland. Cases of gonorrhoea were steadily increasing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but have increased rapidly since the end of 2021. There has been an 80% increase in infections among young men and women aged under 20 between 2018 and 2022. A briefing has been issued to the Association of Directors of Education (ADES) by Public Health Scotland for distribution. You can view the briefing here . Secondary schools should prioritise learning about sexually transmitted infections for third and fourth level learners as part of the delivery of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education as early as possible. Access the RSHP resource in the 'Relationships and Sexual Health Curricular Resources' tab below and click here to view upcoming CPD opportunities in relation to RSHP. We would also suggest referring to the Multiple Risk Health & Wellbeing – Sexual Health section of the app for additional information in relation to this topic. Click here to view. 

The short video below highlights some priorities for supporting young people around Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood. 

Practitioners should be fully supported and trained in all aspects of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education to facilitate a confident delivery of high-quality learning experiences using educational materials that are up to date, age and stage appropriate and evidence based. This will ensure that children and young people avoid seeking inappropriate alternative methods to gather information about sexual health and relationships, such as pornography.

Young people told us about what works best to support their RSHPE learning. This included:

  • approaches that are participative and that facilitate group discussion and working together on tasks
  • using ‘real life’ scenarios to give context to the learning
  • and approaches that provide opportunities to ask questions in or out of class

To find out more about these and other key messages about young people and sexual health please click here 

In July 2019, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Lothian, asked the University of Edinburgh to carry out research with young people aged 16-19 years about sexual consent. They wanted to understand what helps young people to communicate well about sexual consent and about how young people know when a sexual experience is going well and everyone is enjoying themselves. The researchers were helped by 4 youth advisors and talked to a total of 58 young people in Scotland across different genders and sexualities. A summary of the research findings can be found here   
The 'Awkward Moments' campaign has been developed by a partnership of NHS Boards, Youthwork organisations and young people. The campaign aims to help Scottish people (aged 16-19) to recognise what good consensual intimate experiences can look like. The objective of the work is to provide support and increase confidence to start the important conversations around positive and mutual consent. Further information can be found here 

Young people’s views on their school based Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education (2015)

This evaluation was conducted in Lothian. It captures the views of young people in mainstream secondary schools. The following poster summarises in a visual way young people’s views of what a “best lesson ever” would be like.

Alt Text for Best Lesson Ever Young people attending High Schools in East Lothian, West Lothian, Midlothian and Edinburgh have been taking part in a consultation about their views on the learning they do at school about relationships, sexual health and parenting. Over 700 young people completed a questionnaire and 150 of them took part in an additional exercise designing the best ever lesson where they would learn about relationships, sexual health and parenting. This poster describes what that best lesson would be like.  The role of the teacher and relationships with the teacher. •The teacher is confident and happy to teach PSE and these topics. •A regular teacher – not a stand in. •A teacher who knows about social media. •Opportunities to ask anonymous questions. •A teacher with a sense of humour. •A teacher who knows what they are doing. •Someone to talk to if you have an issue at home. •A teacher who answers questions or helps you find answers. •A teacher who plans the lessons. •A teacher who has discussions with us. •A teacher you can relate to.  Content: What is covered in the PSE lesson. •More on relationships including advice about being young and being in a relationship. •Puberty in more detail (what it is and how to deal with it) •Talking about our feelings. •How to get contraception and condoms. •How to speak with your parents about these topics. •Learning about topics that aren’t covered at all or enough; secual intercourse, sexual abuse, keeping yourself safe, saying no, social media, rape (female and male), lgbt relationships and equality, gender equality, equality in a relationship, wet dreams, circumcision, pornography, self-esteem, self-harm.  •Less repetition (especially about STI’s) •How to handle a pregnancy if it’s not what you want. •Talking about becoming and being a parent.  The atmosphere: what it feels like to be in class. •Young people are mature about learning about these topics. •Everyone listens. •No-one is embarrassed. •Everyone is able to give an opinion and not be judged. •No fear when it comes to asking a question or giving an opinion.   The approach: how we go about learning together. •Agreed rules for the class. •Small classes. •Experienced visitors who know about the subjects. •Opportunity to do research on a topic. •No repeating the same subjects and seeing the same programme/ DVD’s. •Makes use of real life stories and scenarios (positive and negative experiences). •No worksheets. •A lesson that is informative but not too structured – so there is space to talk. •Time is spent getting to know each other. •Class discussions – but no pressure to speak and no-one is put on the spot. •No bias, no negativity, no nagging – look at the positive aspects of friendships and relationships. •Resources that are up to date – dealing with issues and problems young people have now. •More time in PSE to cover the topics properly – with a teacher who can give detail in ways you understand. •Interactive activities and work in groups (that you can pick sometimes). •If you share something with the teacher it is confidential (unless they get your permission to share).  Research carried out by TASC (Scotland) for NHS Lothian Healthy Respect.

Relationships and Sexual Health Curricular Resources

The following resources have been developed and/or quality assured by the Glasgow City HSCP Health Improvement Team. 

Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood

Stage: Early Years to Secondary

Description: The resource provides a comprehensive set of learning activities for use in early learning settings, primary and secondary schools, ASN settings, colleges and in community-based learning. The resource is structured in line with Curriculum for Excellence Levels. The learning activities support learning on a number of key themes, including physical changes, sexual health and sexuality, the role of parent/carer, and positive relationships.

Link to resource: Relationships, Sexual Health and Relationships 


Scottish Catholic Education Service – Health Education Resources and Guidance

Stage: Early Years to Secondary

Description: Over a number of years the Scottish Catholic Education Service has developed materials to offer support to parents and teachers on how to provide appropriate teaching, in line with the teachings of the Church.

Link to resourcehere  


Keeping Mum

Stages: P5 - 7

Description: Keeping Mum is an educational film aimed at children in Primary 5-7 and the professionals who work with them on the impact of domestic abuse. Based on the play, Gold Stars and Dragon Marks (developed in 2008 by Baldy Bane Theatre with Scottish Government funding), the film was produced in 2018 with NHS Endowment funding. Keeping Mum, by Soundsmove Production, stars Still Game’s Mark Cox and Jane McCarry. It follows three children as they learn secrets about each other’s lives and negotiate the consequences of telling and not telling. It also looks at appropriate responses from parents/carers and professionals.

The Keeping Mum video is complimented by a teacher support pack which includes a lesson for pupils to accompany the film and further supporting resources and information. Teacher twilight CPD training on the resource is offered by Health Improvement.

Link to film resource and teacher pack: Gender Based Violence Resources - NHSGGC



Stage: S3

Description: Crush is an educational film aimed at S3 young people, addressing relationship abuse and exploitation.

When does care become control? Based on the stage play, Crush, which was developed in 2008 with Scottish Government funding, the film features four young people. It follows the development of an abusive relationship, looking at early warning signs, the role of bystanders and the impact.

The Crush video is complimented by a teacher support pack which includes a lesson for pupils to accompany the film and further supporting resources and information. Teacher twilight CPD training on the resource is offered by Health Improvement Link to film resource and teacher pack: Gender Based Violence Resources - NHSGGC

Relationships and Sexual Health Other Resources

Hey Girls: My Period

Stage: Upper Primary to Secondary

Description: My Period is a new resource to help schools have positive conversations with their pupils about periods. The resource includes free lesson plans and activity ideas. If you would like to organise teacher training please contact: 

Link to resource: here 

LGBT Inclusive Education

Stage: Primary and Secondary

Description: A one stop platform for teachers to access quality approved materials, resources, and professional learning linked to Scotland’s Curriculum to support the implementation of LGBT Inclusive Education.

Link to resource: click here

Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance: Equally Safe at School: A Whole School Approach to Gender Based Violence Prevention

Stage:  Secondary

Description: Equally Safe at School has been developed to complement the ongoing Sexual Violence Prevention Work that is being delivered in schools across Scotland, from local rape crisis centres. The project aims to equip schools with the tools to challenge gender based violence and stereotypes, and promote equality.

Further information about the intervention and contact details can be found here

Sandyford for Young People Campaign 2023

This targeted campaign is aimed at 13-17 year olds in the Greater Glasgow & Clyde area. Our aim is to raise awareness of the sexual health services Sandyford provide in an approachable manner, to encourage young people to reach out to us for support. We would encourage share this information with young people informally or as a part of a structured input. View the campaign pack by clicking here

Talk PANTS resources 

Stage: Primary and Secondary

Description: NSPCC have created these free Talk PANTS resources, which can be used to teach children the Underwear Rule to help keep them safe from abuse. The resources include a range of leaflets to help those with additional needs.  

Link to resource: PANTS resources for schools and teachers | NSPCC Learning


Relationships and Sexual Health Strategy/Policy Links

The Glasgow City HSCP Health Improvement Team have pulled together a list of key strategy and policy links regarding children and young people. These documents should be used to inform planning and delivery within your classroom and school community.

These documents are a useful resource to build a knowledge base around current priorities and work around relationships and sexual health in Glasgow and across Scotland. Please note that clicking on these documents will take you to external websites.

Conduct of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood Education in Scottish Schools

Equally Safe: Scotland's strategy to eradicate violence against women

National Action Plan to Prevent and Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation Update (2016)

Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 2021

Pregnancy and Parenthood in Young People Strategy 2016-2026 

Sexual health and blood borne virus action plan: 2023 to 2026

“Someone to talk to and someone to listen” – Supporting young pregnancy women and young parents in school

Supporting transgender young people in schools: guidance for Scottish schools  


Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 31/03/2023