Understanding Sexual Behaviours in Children and Young People in the UK

Project lead: Dr Sophie King-Hill

Three young people jumping into the air, silhouetted against an dusky skySexual behaviours in children and young people (CYP), aged 13-18, is an unexplored research area within the UK context, and no assessment tools for these behaviours currently exist that are underpinned by UK focussed research. This study will gather data from a range of sources including young people themselves in order to create evidence-based definitions of normal, problematic and harmful sexual behaviours in CYP in the contemporary UK context. The data will be used to develop a tool to assess sexual behaviours in CYP. Keeping pace with trends in sexual practices is necessary to safeguard young people's health and to support them with their sexual well-being. As a result of this study, healthcare and rehabilitation professionals, policymakers, parents and carers will be able to draw on evidence in order to understand problematic, harmful and normal childhood sexual behaviour that takes account of rapidly changing digital as well as real life influences. It is intended that this project will lead to the development of an assessment tool based on the UK context that can be used by all CYP practitioners as a first response to understanding sexual behaviours in CYP aged 13-18. 

We are currently running a survey about young people’s (aged 13 to 18 years) sexual behaviours in the UK. For more information about the study, please see:

This study has been approved by the University’s ethics committee and a Data Protection Impact Assessment has been carried out.

This project is led Dr Sophie King-Hill and is funded by the ESRC New Investigator Award. The research team includes Dr Willem Stander (Research Fellow) and two young advisor steering groups who are supporting the project (one group aged 13 – 15 years and the other aged 16 to 18 years old).

Research objectives

What are the range of sexual behaviours that are evident in children aged 13-18 in the current UK context and how can they be assessed?

The Research Question (RQ) emerged as a direct result of research completed by King-Hill and also discussions with Brook, NOTA and the LFF Foundation (key stakeholders in sexual behaviours in CYP) which demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge about the sexual behaviours of CYP in the UK.

The RQ will be addressed by way of four interlinked objectives:

  1. Synthesise knowledge on sexual behaviours in the UK in relation to online and offline behaviours.
  2. Analyse what constitutes normal sexual behaviours in CYP in a UK context
  3. Evaluate what constitutes problematic and harmful sexual behaviour in CYP in a UK context
  4. Develop a sexual behaviours assessment tool for professionals to use with CYP aged 13-18.

Research outputs and impact


The research will advance new knowledge in a range of fields, such as social work, psychology and criminology. The findings for will be published in academic journals. Summaries will be available on the project webpages for researchers, policymakers, parents, practitioners and children. Briefings, reports and academic articles will be available as the project progresses. A podcast of key findings, aimed at service users and practitioners, will also be available. The findings will be given at international and national conferences, such as NOTA, ATSA and HSRUK. Key success criteria will be measured through the number of organisations using the tool and the uptake of the research by policymakers and practitioners. The knowledge gained through the study, establishing an indicative sexual behaviours baseline for 13-18 years olds and the development of a tool will contribute to decision making about provision through the engagement of key stakeholders such as the LFF, Brook, Barnardos, HUT and the NSPCC. The findings will be disseminated to all stakeholders in the area to impact upon their working practice ie DfE, NSPCC, Brook, LFF, Barnardos.

This study will provide a unique contribution to knowledge as no current data on sexual behaviour or methods for researching sexual behaviour in CYP currently exists in the UK. A key impact the project will have is on approaches to sexual behaviours through sharing information with schools, health organisations, charities, service providers and social entrepreneurs, indicating what normative sexual behaviours are currently, in the UK. The quality and cost-effectiveness of public services and organisations providing support in the area of sexual behaviour in CYP will be improved as approaches to sexual behaviours, and assessment will be context specific to the UK. This has both short term and long-term implications for support services and the justice system as reports of HSB in CYP are rising.


Policy making in this area will be improved as no national strategy currently exists at the moment, ensuring that policy-makers recognise and provide the support that is required for CYP in relation to sexual behaviours. Policy-makers, from the DoH and the DfE (civil servants and MPs), local government organisations, think tanks, charities, as well as journalists, will be informed about the research findings. It will contribute to policy and practice decisions around the recent changes in the national curriculum in which RSE is compulsory and impact on a micro-level within schools and the approaches and information that is taught. The findings will also impact upon policy and practice relating to social media and online sexual behaviours, giving insight into these behaviours and how these can be best addressed, on a national level with CYP. This will be carried out by supporting policy makers in designing interventions, requiring social media platforms to examine their policies and support schools in the teaching of online safety and support healthy online behaviours.

Further research

The findings will contribute valuable knowledge to an area where there is little research. It is the intention that this work will also lead on to research that will ascertain what sexual behaviours are present in the under 13s. Whilst culture and gender are not explicit components of this study it is intended that the results from this research will also form the basis of further studies in these specific areas.

Research team

Partner organisations and sponsors

  • ESRC New Investigator Grant