talkhealth meets... Dr Rebecca Foljambe
You’re inevitably going to have to have the chat about sex and relationships with your children one day. And, as laws around consent continue to be misunderstood and access to the internet means kids are learning more at a young age, the conversation can seem like a difficult one to tackle.
We asked Dr Rebecca Foljambe, GP and founder of the charity You Before Two some questions about how important positive conversations around consent and sexual relationships are to the next generation. Read on to find out more about her charity work and some top tips for parents…
What is You Before Two? Why did you set it up?
In 2010 I went to a lecture on population by Professor John Guillebaud and it changed my life. He is the patron of the charity Population Matters, of which I am a trustee. It’s an awesome charity and the reason that I am so dedicated to the concept of the ‘planned, wanted child.’ I had been teaching schoolgirls my structured 8-week programme on relationships, sexual and online safety, population, mental health for four years when I created You Before Two in 2019 to attract funding and credence.
What does the charity do?
We aim to give youngsters the tools to deal with the pressures that they are facing nowadays. We like to promote open conversations around the effects that unwanted and unplanned pregnancy can have on emotions, practical things like finance and the planet.
We want to empower young people to consider themselves (the ‘you’), before entering into any serious relationship or having a baby (the ‘two’).
Why is your work so important?
These topics are currently nibbled at in small pieces in schools, often in a disparate way that lacks any joined-up thinking. The new RSE government guidance is set to change this, but that will take time and these struggles exist now! Poor mental health is more prevalent in youngsters than it has ever been, especially in the wake of Covid-19. Also, child exploitation and sexual abuse rates are still alarmingly high which isn’t being helped by the rise of the internet and the potential dangers of the online world.
What is the concept of the ‘planned wanted child’?
Studies show that around 40% of pregnancies in the UK are ‘ambivalent or unplanned’, especially in women in their teens and twenties. There is increasing and compelling evidence that well-supported and educated women are more likely to choose to have fewer children later in life which is likely to result in better looked after children. These children are planned and wanted!
What is the key aim of your work?
It’s about teaching children to wait for sex until they choose, with a full understanding of consent as well as an intrinsic awareness of the law is the goal. But the main point for children to realise is: we all make mistakes. And that if they are ever frightened or worried, they know who to go to for help. After all, it is never illegal, at any age, to seek help, advice or medical attention if they are having sex or thinking about having sex.
Image courtesy of @popmatters via Instagram
Why is instilling knowledge of choice, consent and confidence so important for ensuring that younger generations have healthy sexual relationships?
Young people are often not aware of the choices out there for them. This requires a thorough and non-biased education without glossing over key facts or shying away from more delicate issues to protect them. I haven’t met a young person yet who fully understands consent. That neither shocks nor saddens me as I’m a doctor and I’ve had specific training on consent and at times it still baffles me! What’s important about consent is that young people understand that it’s theirs to own and that they can change their mind at any time. Also, and most importantly, that no one ever gives consent for them in sexual situations, ever.
Have conversations around consent and parenthood changed whilst you’ve been practising as a GP?
In my 10 years as a GP, I’ve seen a more open rapport between parents and children around sex. I frequently consult 15 and 16-year-old girls about contraception with one/both of their parents. This always fills me with hope, and I admire the pragmatic approach of these parents who realise that they can’t stop their children from having sex but if they can get them to have safe sex then their parenting role will be fulfilled. In my mind, this is superb parenting. I think that this development is because of more open conversations on TV, film, and social media. It is also due to better-trained health professionals who have learnt to make themselves more available and accessible to young people.
How do you think the internet and social media have affected the sexual relationships of younger generations?
The average age of children accessing porn online is now 12! Boys more so than girls. Because of this, there’s been a rapid increase in the number of young men in their twenties seeking medical attention for erectile dysfunction. In effect, their exposure to highly unrealistic and unaffectionate sexual practices on the internet makes them unable to function in a normal way with a naturally unenhanced young woman. This is desperately sad because psychosexual services are extremely hard to access. It is difficult for many men to admit that they have this issue, many don’t, and they often lack meaningful intimate relationships.
What are some top tips for parents who want to approach conversations around consent and sex in a meaningful and understanding way?
- Avoid asking your children to avoid the mistakes that you made, it’s about the child, not you!
- Remember how old your children are. If they have asked you an honest question about sex, they are old enough to hear the answer!
- Enjoy having open conversations and have a giggle! Share some funny stories so they know that making mistakes is normal, make sure that the timing is right and let your child know that if anything goes wrong, they can come to you.
- Make sure your child understands the value of contraception to healthy sexual relationships and a planned, wanted child. Teach your sons to take control of contraception too, they should think about supporting their girlfriend in finding what works as well as condoms.
- Remember, we are all qualified to have this conversation. No specific training is needed. If you are nervous, just listen, Google or signpost your child to some sensible websites like Sexwise or UCL’s Contraception Choices.
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 17 March 2021
Next review: 17 March 2024