What to do when things go wrong

I don’t care who you are, but the fact is you will make mistakes and things will go wrong no matter how intelligent, careful or responsible you are. No one is perfect. The thing is as adults we often like to pretend that when young people make mistakes it is because they are reckless and it is a sign of their youth, inexperience and immaturity that things go awry.

Unfortunately, the truth is some what different. When it comes to sex and relationships, us adults are still trying to find our way and don’t have all the answers either – we often make the same mistakes as young people do.  There are plenty of adults that get drunk and get off with someone we really shouldn’t; they get caught up in the moment and forget to use a condom; we have our own pregnancy scares. We get jealous for no reason; we put pressure on our partners; we get caught having sex and probably do even worse – The only difference is that we don’t have to go home to our folks and get an earful!

The fact is that 45% of all pregnancies – not teenage pregnancies, are unplanned. The age range with the highest percentage rise in sexually transmitted infections since 2000 is not the under 25s it is the middle aged old folks from 45-55! Two thirds of all young people under 25 surveyed will use a condom when having sex for the first time with a new partner where as only a third of 35+ bother to use a condom with a new partner. Ridiculously, it is not unheard of for colleagues of mine to be asked to go deliver sexual health chats about STI prevention at old peoples homes these days as the old dears are all catching and passing on Chlamydia to each other as they have no idea that they might still need to use condoms!… so who are the reckless ones?

The thing is sex and relationships don’t get easier with age.

Anyway, my point is that no matter how careful and conscientious you are you will make mistakes from time to time and probably time and time again! And there is nothing wrong with that, however what is important is that you are mature enough to: A- learn from your mistakes and B- take responsibility for them.

The important point for us as educators is to ensure that we don’t get caught in the trap of having the holier-than-thou attitude…

AN essential part of development for teenagers is giving them the skills and abilities to deal with things when they go wrong – we call this resilience.

We can help to build young people’s resilience in all the work we do as this is what separates those who can cope from those that fall apart is the ability to put bad experiences, or challenges down to experience. Teaching young people that rather than playing the blame game or wallowing they think about what they need to do to sort things out. There is no point hiding away from your mistakes or from getting stuck, unable to let them go – it won’t make things any better.

More often than not, resilience comes from the knowledge that it is ok to make mistakes, and the awareness that when things do go wrong you have a network of support behind you – to bounce your thoughts off and will stick by you no matter what – without judgement.  – There is no emphasising the freedom that kind of support brings.

Furthermore, it is about self esteem. We all know those people that things tend to come so easy to. They are confident and no matter what the situation they seem able to handle things and just go with the flow. No matter what appears or what pitfalls are presented they always seem to land on their feet. Some people have all the luck. The fact is that this may be how it looks from the outside, however no one is inherently lucky – but some people have a certain self respect that means they are not so hard on themselves all the time – no one puts pressure on us like ourselves – this is why building young people’s confidence and self esteem is so important. – See the All about me section…

But the final part of the jigsaw is knowledge… after all knowledge is power. The more you know about yourself, what you want and what options are available the better. Unfortunately when it comes to our sexual health we all tend to be re-active rather than proactive!

Encourage young people to go find out where their local sexual health services are – what they offer and how you make an appointment – Don’t let them wait until they need them to find out. Encourage them to think through their support networks and who they can go to for a chat – think about who is the best person for them to go to in different circumstances.

Below is a young person’s guide to what to do: (to have it as a pdf fact sheet So you’ve had unprotected sex…)

So you’ve had unprotected sex, now what do you do? 

So let’s assume you’ve had sex and for whatever reason you didn’t use a condom. It doesn’t matter if it was because you were drunk or that you got lost in the moment or that you were careful and the condom simply split – we’ll come back to the reasons why it happened later – for now the most important things is dealing with the situation – so what do we need to do first?

Obviously the first thing you might need to worry about is unwanted pregnancy – (assuming you have been sleeping with a member of the opposite sex). If however, you’ve had unprotected sex with a member of the same sex, don’t worry – two men or two women having sex together can’t make babies by themselves so talk amongst yourselves for a moment or skip on to the next step whilst I cover this…

Step one – avoiding unwanted pregnancy from unprotected sex.

Now, just because you have a penis does not mean that you don’t need to think about this – if you are involved in the sex you are responsible for what happens next.

If you are on some form of other contraception other than condoms, such as the pill or implant, then you will not have to worry about pregnancy – however you will probably still have to skip on to the next step. If you didn’t use a condom or it split and you had no other form of protection, read on.

Now, don’t even think about the word abortion yet – having sex does not always end in pregnancy if it did there’d be a lot more little people running around and probably far less sex going on. Anyway, your first stop should be to consider going to get the emergency contraceptive pill – or as it is better known the morning after pill.

Emergency contraception:

The reason we don’t like to use the term the Morning-after Pill is because it is a bit misleading as the emergency contraceptive pill (to give it its proper name) can actually be used up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex. However, as with any form of contraception it is not 100% effective and despite the fact that it is usable for up to 72 hours, the more time that passes since you had sex the less effective it becomes.

Indeed there is a relatively new Emergency contraceptive product on the market called EllaOne which is actually effective for up to 5 day after having unprotected sex, but isn’t available everywhere.

Don’t be waiting until Monday morning just because it happens to be the weekend –pull your finger out and get down there. There are plenty of places where emergency contraceptives are available regardless of the day of the week, so like we said earlier – find out where your local services are sooner rather than later – don’t wait until you need it to find out – as all scouts know be prepared!

However, the emergency contraceptive pill is just that, and should only be used in emergencies, when you’ve not used a contraceptive or your regular form of contraception has failed. It is not designed to be used every time you have a night out on the town. It is not a regular form of contraception. If you want one of those, flick back a few pages and have a nose at the pages of contraception, which is why you will not find the emergency contraceptive pill listed there.

Remind young people that emergency contraception is free if you are still in education, from a variety of services including some pharmacies. So find out and make a note of where your local services are and remember to find out which are open at the weekend too.

On to step two – Sexually transmitted infection screening.

No matter what your sexual preference there is still the possibility of catching or passing on a sexually transmitted infection – and remember just because you are using another form of contraception, unless it is a condom or a femidom –you won’t be protected so in future: suit up!

It is possible to transmit infections through all types of sexual contact, although it is far more likely if you are having penetrative sex. However, there needs to be a route of transmission for the infected fluid to make it inside another person’s body; for this reason many people are under the impression that two girls having sex together would be immune. Whilst it is less likely, there are still clear routes of transmission through oral sex, sharing fingers during manual sex, sharing sex toys or through tribbing – so be aware.

How do you know if you have caught an STI?

Common symptoms include: unusual discharge (remembers a girl’s discharge may change naturally throughout her cycle – so it means unusual for you), a change in colour, amount, consistency or smell – normal discharge doesn’t smell bad; lower abdominal pain, or pain whilst urinating, pain during sex; itching, visible sores or warts etc.

However, many of the most common STIs such as: Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and even HIV, rarely carry any noticeable symptoms to begin with. Unfortunately, with stats showing that 1 in 10 people under 25 who are sexually active have Chlamydia – you do the math!

So, if you have ever had unprotected sex it is best to get yourself checked out – regardless of whether you actually have any symptoms or not. It is better to be safe than sorry as they say.

If you want a thorough check up to screen for all types of STIs then you will more than likely have to visit your local GUM clinic (Genito-urinary Medicine clinic)

And Step 3 – assess the emotional damage

This is the bit we all seem to forget about – when in actual fact it is probably the most important part and quite often leaves the most damage. Whether you’ve had a pregnancy scare, caught an STI, or merely had a worrying few days whilst you waited for the all clear – slept with someone you wish you hadn’t or they didn’t call you afterward – no matter what it was, it is essential to deal with the emotional wreckage.

As we keep going back to again and again – the best way of dealing with our feelings is to talk about them with someone we trust. I know I keep harping on about it, but it’s true – sharing your misadventures, whether you’re laughing or crying over them it doesn’t matter – the most important thing is to get them off your chest, it can get rid of a lot of baggage and also help to put them in to perspective, which can be difficult if you keep it all inside your head. Share them and learn from them.

Indeed, it is ok to make mistakes, but it is essential to learn from them, otherwise we will simply keep repeating and reliving the same messes time and time again. Look at what has happened and think about how you could do things differently in the future. Think about always carrying condoms (they make some great ones shaped like a credit card that slip in your purse or wallet where your debit card and bus pass fit, so they’re not obvious), perhaps drink less – or next time take your mates advice and don’t go near them with a barge pole!

Anyway, we often forget that our emotional health is just as important as our physical health, so whilst you’re running around peeing into little plastic bottles and picking up your prescription for the morning after pill, remember to give your feelings a thorough going over too.

Sometimes we look back and think how the hell did I get away with that?! Phew! Self reflection is important, as this is how we learn from life and grow. Assess how you feel about what has happened, and see what you can take from it. However, don’t get hung up on past mistakes – instead use them to see what you could have done differently. Looking back or blaming other people will not change whatever has happened and will not make anything better.

Although that being said, sometimes we look back and we wouldn’t change a thing – sometimes messing up can be the best thing you’ve ever done and it is worth the risk (probably shouldn’t say that but hey it’s true).

Oh, and finally the most difficult part – take responsibility for any damage you have caused and for anyone else you may have hurt in the process. Saying sorry and meaning it can go a long way.

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