Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Review of BBC3 "Unsafe Sex in the City"

BBC3 takes a frank look at how a sexual health clinic operates in Manchester. Following a n
umber of young people as they go through the process of testing, waiting, getting results and then if needed getting treated. Mixing true life stories and high quality sexual health advice this show has the power to do some good.  Revealing some shocking attitudes in the youth. Especially in regards to condom use. By both males and females. Plus the voice over guy has some great one liners. You can see the shows official page here and if you live outside the UK and want to watch this show have a quick look at TunnelBear . 
"I love dripping willies, 
because  then you know what they have"
For me the best part of the programme is seeing how the staff are professional and friendly. I really hope and believe that this programme will help increase the number of people going as now they have an idea what will happen. The mystery of sexual health clinics keeps so many people from darkening their doors until it is really bad. Even when breaking the worse news possible they stay professional, friendly and nonthreatening. 

The format of the show is to follow a number of people through the stages of getting tested at the clinic and then seeing what the results are both medically, socially and emotionally. All the people are very sexually active and I guess are not an average representation of all people in Manchester. Whilst the actually behaviors might not be average I bet lots of the attitudes from the show are common/average.  

Kelvin and Joe

"First one night stand, first time! First time for Gonorrhea ... Now needle in my ass"
Quote from Kelvin

Both Kelvin and Joe are shown as young people who enjoy a big night out and Joe is shown as being very cock sure and very confident in his attitude to women, he even writes a blog teaching other guys to act like him! He claims to have slept with 80+ women. Kelvin on the other hand starts the show in a long term relationship, then he admits he had a one night affair, which he catches Gonorrhea from. They show how he gets tested in graphic detail. For an over confident guy he is pretty scared of the needle they inject in his arse to cure the Gonorrhea. (no tablets for Gonorrhea, higher doses of antibiotics now needed to tackle the risk of drug resistant Gonorrhea). 

Kelvin comes back later in the show to double check he is now clear, he brings Joe to be checked. Joe, over confident as ever, makes jokes with nurse Lauren. Nurse Lauren was awesome, couldn't be phased by anything and gave some great dead pan looks at cock sure Joe. By the end of the show Kelvin had been dumped for cheating on his girlfriend and Joe had been given the STI all clear. Kelvin seemed to have learnt from his experience and might make a change in his behavior, Joe I don't think will change one bit. 


Possibly one of the most shocking attitudes in the show came from Courtney. This 17 year old claims to have had with 33 sexual partners, lost her virginity at 12 years old and is aiming to sleep with at least 7 people in the next 3 months. her Mum is exasperated by the risks her daughter is taking by consistently not using condoms and getting drunk and going back to strange lads house. 

Quotes from Courtney 
"I don't use protection because it don't feel as good." 
"If I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it" 
After a STI scare when asked if she will now use protection. 
"I will try and use it a lot more, I can't say for definite coz you know"

Her risk taking is huge, both with STIs and physical dangers of being drunk and going home with complete strangers alone. Sadly she seemed to relish in the possible self destruction and risks she is taking. 


One of the most emotional stories was Tim, a guy who is living a high risk life style is getting a regular point of service HIV test. A 30min quick turn around lets people quickly find out if they are HIV+. Tim regularly gets this test but this time the results are different. 

"You HIV test has come back positive." 
"Has it really? Has it really?"

Tim couldn't believe the result and went into shock. We find out he deals with the news by getting a big bottle of Vodka and getting drunk. Tim's blood is sent away for a more accurate test to confirm the result. Later we find out Tim got a false positive, a very rare event. The nurse did say that this was the only time she had known it to happen. Tim did seem to be strongly impacted by the experience. 


This show has great potential for raising the profile of sexual health issues, my fear is that the show will normalise/validate some of the less then healthy attitudes expressed by the people on the show. Their risk taking is huge! The sexual health clinic staff are awesome and good at challenging the attitudes but not sure if it is enough. I can't wait to watch the next episode next Wednesday. I think this is good information being spread in a relevant format for our culture. 

#unsafesexinthecity became a trending topic on twitter and it was interesting to read that most of the comments were very judgmental and even aggressive towards the people on the show. Only Tim seemed to get any sympathy but even Tim got some abuse. I have selected some tweets from the stream of comments. 

Of all the comments I was most worried about this. 
It shows a fundamental misunderstanding that HIV in the UK is a death sentence. That is an outdated attitude from the 80s. HIV should be seen as a serious life long condition not a death sentence. Hopefully this will be addressed in future episodes. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Notes from Esteem Conference

Please make use of all these notes/links from my session today at the Esteem Resource Network Conference looking at the topic "Let’s talk about porn"

Firstly my presentation

Why talk about Porn? on Prezi

Sheffield Centre for HIV and Sexual Healthwith Brook, FPA, The National Youth Agency

People and Pornography - A Briefing for Workers

NSPCC sexting study

Summary report of the qualitative study
Full report of the qualitative study 

McAfee The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents 
Digital Divide

BBC Newsbeat Survey 
Men worried about Porn

Sex Education Vs Pornography statistics taken from show episodes, they are currently unavailable but you can find useful stuff at their sexperince website 

Youtube clip from Friends episode about the need to turn off the porn

I may not agree with everything in these books but they have some interesting bits.

Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain 
William M. Struthers 

Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality
Gail Dines

Virtually You: The dangerous Power of the E-personality

Elias Aboujaoude

You can read more about the results of the first time I taught this lesson to a year group, here. I hope you find these sources helpful and if you attended the conference, please let me know what you thought of my session in the comments.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

50 Shades of Grey reading by a Sex and Relationship Educator

Thoughts on how SRE workers may have to respond to it with young people. 

I have just finished reading 50 shades of grey. As a youth worker and sex and relationship educator I felt it was important to have an informed opinion before September when teenagers/young people might ask me questions in lessons and youth clubs. I'm a little behind the trend but spending 12 weeks travelling did take me out of touch. I have always thought it is crucial to read a book itself before commenting on it. So even though it is not my typical book I thought it was important to read it. 

To be clear this book was not written for young people, it is not meant to be read by young people and I don't believe E. L. James would be happy for young people to read it. But in my experience young people love to consume (watch, read, listen) media that adults do not want them to read. Either as a form of sexual exploration or out of rebellion or for many other reasons young people have always wanted what is banned. The New York Post also has posted this story about Teenagers reading 50 Shades. I don't know if any young people will ever ask me a question directly about this book but I would be very surprised if I don't start getting more questions about bondage, discipline and submissive sex by some young people. 

This is not a literature review their are many blogs that have done that (for example Terrible line from 50 shades and Book Review), this is about how I believe this book represents sex and relationships and possibly how young people might be impacted by it. Just like visual pornography I am concerned that young people viewing material created for adults can have a negative impact. 

For those who have not read the book, Wikipedia offers this summary "Set largely in Seattle, it is the first instalment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism." Anastasia is presented as a virgin who has never even been attracted to a man but falls madly for Christian. Christian is presented as a strong willed successful business man with intimacy issues. I have picked out a few points that concern me.

Saying "yes" when the mind says "not sure"

Early in the book Anastasia had just given her first blow job in her life to Christian Grey and she thinks. "Ehh I'm not sure about this but one look at him and I don't care." This stands against what we teach as healthy relationships. Sexual acts should not be a case of doing something you're not sure of to try and please your partner. The impression that it is "OK" or even desirable to sacrifice their own concerns/worries in an attempt to get or keep a partner is dangerous. We try to encourage young people to make intelligent informed choices, not letting their hormones rule their head. I choose one quote but this theme flows through the story. 

This is different to someone being certain about doing something they don't really enjoy, for their partners benefit. For example, going to a social event or doing a sexual activity. Compromising and doing things for a partner can be part of a healthy relationship if the person is certain they are happy to do it. But when a person is uncertain, unsure, worried and confused that is not a time to compromise and do sexual acts to try and get or keep a partner. 

Childhood sexuality  

The next morning Anastasia describes the start of another sexual experience "He runs his fingers down my pigtails. "You look so young with these," he murmurs and moves forward." Sorry what? looking young childlike is a turn on? I am not happy at all with this and if you read through other blog reviews I am not alone in noticing this. The details of the sexualisation debate are on going but we all recognise that something is not right with current cultural representations of sexuality/childhood. Throughout the story, Anastasia is presented as naive (Author Jennifer Armintrout picks up on this) and childlike. This is not presented as a problem but as an aphrodisiac for Christian. I really don't want young people to read this and think that childhood is to be embraced as a sexual turn on. I worry about the possibility of under age girls trying to act younger to please older partners reinforcing this potentially dangerous idea. 

Not a good representation of safe fetish sex

Reading through the news reports and blog post one issue keeps cropping up. For example 
What is wrong with 50 shades from a submissive viewpoint by the Daily Mail. E. L. James did not set out to write a "how to" guide for fetish sex (People like Violet Blue have done this) but it is acting as a teacher to many people. Practically speaking  the first time Christian spanks her things do not go well. Instead of a gentle introduction the spanking was so hard she needs to take pain killers. For a recent virgin new to the bdsm scene you should expect a better introduction. In a Channel 4 documentary on 50 Shades at the 26 minutes mark they are interviewing a dominant submissive couple and the submissive says "It's such a freedom because I have this amazing loving caring nurturing base, where I am very safe accepted for exactly who I am and the person I am."  This description of a submissive's relationship appears very different from the 50 Shades of Gray. 

With fetish sex, by its definition, being on the edge of society peoples encounters with it often are hidden and they will not ask advice about their worries/problems. Good healthy fetish sex is possible but is not simple. Media which presents unrealistic or bad fetish sex is not good because people may believe it and then make dangerous mistakes. Especially as it is a form of sex that has intrinsic risk. Young people could end up getting hurt emotionally or physical if they only draw on bad media bdsm portrayals like this.

Is it all bad?

It would not be fair to say that this entire book portrays bad negative sexual practices. The most positive thing I can say is that this book always makes pains to mention the use of contraceptives. The use of condoms, mini pills and sexual health screening are all included. This is in sharp contrast to the common approach in porn (and most mainstream media, where condoms in particularly are only ever included to make a joke/pun). Whilst the information may not be 100% correct it was good to read that the use of contraceptives was presented as a necessity not an option. If any young people read this book I hope they pick up this as one positive thing from the book.  

No meaning no

Anastasia is talking to her room-mate Kate
"I sent him an email." Anastasia 
"Asking him to drop by?" Kate
"No, saying I didn't want to see him anymore." 
"And he turns up? Anastasia that's genius." 
"Well actually, it was a joke." 
"Oh. Now I'm really confused." 
Patiently, I explain the essence of my email, without giving anything away. 
"So you thought he'd reply by email." 
"But instead he turns up here." 
"I'd say he's completely smitten with you."

Or he is a creepy abusive man that doesn't take no for an answer and came round to "use sex as a weapon" (author's words not mine) to exert his power over Anastasia. Regardless of the intention of Anastasia to make a joke, the author makes it clear Christian believes it is a genuine rejection. His response under that belief is not acceptable. It is only after he has had sex with her does he clarify and find out it was not a genuine no. Anastasia does not seem to think there is anything wrong with this (and even Kate who is constantly on guard about Christian does not see an issue). This is never OK. I think this is potentially the most worrying theme from the book. Girls (and guys) should always feel that if they say no it should be respected. No does not mean yes and I can not fail to see this scene as an act of abuse. I would hate to think that a young person may uncritically read this and think that it would be OK to treat someone like this or be treated like this. Even if you argue her responses indicate she consents, he goes to the house with the aim of sex with someone who he believes has just rejected him. From my reading the intent is abusive. 


These are not the only points I have noticed in the story. For example Anastasia thinks this after crying "He’s in my bed… I don’t quite understand why. Maybe I should weep more often in front of him." Not convinced this is a healthy view of a relationship but I couldnt fit everything into this post. Many people are calling the relationship an example of domestic abuse. If you would like to read more about this, here is a good collection of links

For adults who can read this and recognise it is a destructive relationship it may not be a large problem. I do not think media should always show perfect relationships, stories regularly don't have perfect or even good people because that is the plot. Many classics, from Shakespeare to Wuthering Heights have bad men acting badly, these characters are recognised for doing this and not celebrated.Christian Grey should be recognised for what he is. Personally I did not enjoy this book but if you did I do not assume that makes you damaged, abusive or wrong in some way. However, I believe this relationship should not be celebrated as a good example for adults and especially for young people. 

Overall 50 Shades of Grey is not a good educator for sex, relationships or bdsm. Just like visual porn I believe that this book provides a false example for young people. A false example that can distort young people's expectations and lead to emotional, relational and physical damage. Whilst some under 18's may have the ability to discern this is an unhealthy relationships, I fear others will not have developed those skills and then may believe this book is a good guide. Sexual health educators and youth workers should be prepared to challenge, educate, inform and support young people who have questions about the many issues raised in this book.

For something a but light hearted. During researching this post I came across this light hearted (with some serious points) musical parody of people reading 50 Shades of Grey. 

(all images used are royalty free from 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

BBC report lack of HIV awareness - dangers

I was reading this article today Campaigners say the young don't know enough about HIV on BBC Newsbeat. This is a key concern for myself in my work and not something that should be quickly ignored. From my experience awareness of HIV is dropping, even in just the 5 years I have been teaching on HIV. I talked about this in a blog post in February. Young people really don't seem to have a decent level of understanding they mistakes and myths they believe have two dangerous consequences. 

Consequence one - stigmatization

Stigmatization of HIV+ population continues. It is the simple everyday myths that can do the most harm. "HIV can be passed by sharing cutlery/cups/bathroom/holding hands". When people think HIV is infectious like the common cold they get scared, combined with fears of AIDS being terminal this fear turns to stigmatization. Pushing HIV+ people (or suspected HIV+) away from mainstream society. As levels of awareness remain low then communities will continue to suffer this fate. We need to keep educating young people to prevent the persecution of groups and individuals. 

Consequence two - risk taking behavior

At the other end of the spectrum low awareness of how people can be infected with HIV leads to people taking dangerous risks. For example I have worked with young people who did not think that you could catch HIV from a female. They believed females could catch it but not pass on HIV. Others thought that you could only catch HIV if you were gay. So males and females take risks with sexual partners. The most common misunderstanding I encounter is that HIV can be cured. All the good news in the press about new treatments get mixed up in peoples heads so that they think if they caught HIV they can just be cured. This reduces their likelihood of using a condom. 

To tackle the lack of awareness amongst young people will take a coordinated approach between multiple agencies to provide a consistent message across platforms. Online, at school, in the media and at home. The consequences if we don't are just too severe. 

Monday, 30 July 2012

Sexual Health issues in Thailand and the UK

Pattaya - the Thai city of sin?
Both Thailand and Great Britain share a number of the same issues in Sexual Health but these issue express themselves in different ways. I want to learn from the situation in Thailand, especially how people are responding, to improve my work in the UK. I have just returned from a 12 week trip around South East Asia as part of this trip I visited a number of projects in Cambodia, see previous posts and I spent a month in Thailand. In Thailand I visited three projects all tackling different sexual health issues. "The House of Grace" A HIV orphanage, "The Tamar Centre" helping people who wish to leave the commercial sex trade and "ACET Singburi" a schools based prevention programme and HIV+ home visit team.

Traveling around South East Asia I became aware of a number of cultural differences that permeate society and impact sexual health in complex ways. I cannot claim to understand the social sexual health situation from such a short trip but I have taken note of a few things.

The commercialisation of sex
Sex sells, or so the advertising industry would have the world to believe and the full media force in Thailand acts just like the UK blasting women and sexual images across almost all adverts from phone networks to cars. Beyond advertising sex is boxed up, packaged and sold in various ways. From pornography, to live sex shows, i lost count of how many ping pong shows I was offered in Pattaya and Phuket, and prostitution the commercial sex industry turns over millions in Thailand. In Pattaya we visited the Tamar Centre a project helping people leave the commercial tourist sex trade. 

Now prostitution is illegal in Thailand but it still happens and prostitution is illegal in the UK but it still happens. Yet in parts of Thailand it is openly sold, in Britian it is more hidden but the negative side of this is it is easy to ignore the issue. Organizations like The A21 campaign are tackling the problem but they are need more support. 

The underlying issue is that sex has become a commodity that can be packaged and sold. The extension of this is that people, especially women, can be packaged and sold. Reinforcing sexism and gender inequality. How men treat women in the commercial sex trade can make inroads into general social issues. Of course this also links into the sexualisation of society debate.

Sex as a short cut to happiness
One of the saddest thing for me to hear in Pattaya was the number of girls and "lady boys" who go into the work out of a choice. A desperate choice because they may feel trapped in poverty. Not being trafficked into the work (which still goes on as well) but people looking at their life, and the life of their family, and thinking this is the best option. Money is the draw, money is what makes people go into this work. Like the american dream they go into the work to firstly financially support their family and with the dream of meeting a rich man who will transform their life. There our thousands upon thousands of prostitutes in Thailand and only a certain number of foreign men ready to buy a Thai bride and transform their life. Because of the difference in cost of living a man does not have to be very rich (UK standards) to make a big difference to a young Thai girl and her family. 

Singburi School team who taught us the term "Gik"
The idea of becoming rich through marrying someone is also a part of the UK culture with girls especially aspiring to get with a sports star or celebrity. I have worked with girls who's aim in life is to marry a footballer. In the UK many young people fell unsatisfied with their life. They feel sad and may be dealing with complex emotions. Sex can provide a temporary relief from this, it is a way to have a physical high that distracts from their concerns from life. Working with the SingBuri  school team we learnt about the Thai word "gik". Which could be closely related to the western term "fuck buddy". A sexual partner who is not an exclusive partner. Not a girlfriend or boyfriend but a "gik". This youth casual sexual attitude is in both cultures and is shaping the landscape of health for a generation.

It wont happen to me
Along with a more sexually promiscuous society this attitude could spell disaster in the continuing fight against HIV and other STIs. Talking in the schools in the UK the threat from possible sexual health concerns seems distant to most young people. Especially at the younger age groups they have rarely if ever meet anyone (who admits to) have caught an STI. Standard teenage mentality translates this as evidence that "proves" it wont happen to me. Visiting the HIV orphanage and the HIV+ home visits made me really contemplate how to get young people to face the reality of the risk. With advances in HIV care young people will not face the visual reminders of previous generations and the lie will be reinforced. School education is one way to help tackle this myth in both the UK and Thailand but it wont be easy. 
Me at the HIV orphanage 

Sexism, girls should say no but its ok for boys to ask.
It is harder to put my finger on where and when I concluded this was an attitude to some people both home and abroad. In fact now I have noticed it, I am spotting this attitude sneaking into my own work. A ton of SRE focuses on empowering women to be firm and make intelligent and informed choices. I can identify two good reasons for this; they may have to face directly the physical, social and emotional consequences of an unintended pregnancy and around the world the gender in-balance has meant that more women don't have a choice then men. Empowering women to say no is about tackling gender inequality. 

But is the result we slip into a different type of sexism where we don't spend as much time talking to males about why they shouldn't be asking or possibly forcing/coercing women. This attitude is sharply demonstrated in the related issue of domestic violence. Think of any case of domestic violence you have heard of by a man against a women. How many times have you heard "why doesn't she leave him?". What? not "why doesn't he stop hitting her?" Not "why doesn't he leave the relationship?" No we put the emphasise on her, she should do something, she should say no more and leave. As a male this attitude drives me nuts. Of course we should empower women to say no when they are facing pressure of any type but lets not forget to tackle the males. Men should be challenged. 

In Thailand as I went around the country I found this attitude impacting projects, people and policy. Same story in the UK. Women are often so dis empowered we identify the need to build them up and help them. We forget to challenge the men, or maybe it seems like an impossible task. Many projects are set up for women and lady boys wanting to leave the sex tourism industry in Thailand but I heard of only one project tackling men who come to Thailand for sex. Maybe we should be spending more time focusing on challenging and educating men in Bangkok on how to respect women and not giving them a free pass.  

(please let no one take this as a personal comment on their project or work, everyone I meet with for a short or long time was doing an amazing job meeting real needs. I am just exploring some wider issues and sharpening my own personal attitude to SRE in the UK. The first man standing project had a major influence on my thinking.) 

Travelling to Thailand/Cambodia was amazing and taught me so much much about how people around the world are tackling sexual health issues. I have barely scratched the surface of what I have been thinking about. I have not mentioned everything I learnt about practically working in these communities about the growing impact of technology in shaping sexual attitudes and specifically the role of Pornography. I am very grateful to both my employees giving me the time to go abroad and all the welcoming projects that shared their time with me. 

Please leave any comments about this below or email me at

I have hope for the future, working together things can be better

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Thailand "safe snax" t-shirt

Something a bit differant today. I'm in Thailand visiting a HIV orphanage and education project that is also linked with my work with ACET in the UK. I'm going to post a full account later. But today I just wanted to share with you this image. Walking through a Thai supermarket we found this tshirt. "Practice safe snax, always use a condiment" I found it funny, Michelle loved it and so did our hosts. A married couple both over 70, missionaires who have been in Thailand 40+ years and who have spearheaded amazing HIV prevention and care work. Inspiring people to stay with.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Empowering sex workers who want to leave the industry - Daughters of Cambodia

The final Project I visited in Phnom Penh was Daughters of Cambodia a organization reaching out to victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Looking at this project and the two other sexual health related projects in Phnom Penh has made me think about writing an awareness resources for use in British school. Not sure if this would be a lesson, a part of a lesson or an assembly. Need to put some thought into it but I'm sure it would be positive for young people to gain a broader perspective.  

Daughters of Cambodia looks to work with individuals who want to get out of the commercial sex industry but feel themselves trapped. The project outlines two areas of need for those wanting to get out of the industry, internal capacity (Emotional healing, self esteem and confidence) and external resources (being able to still provide food for a family for example). Using this two pronged approach Daughters of Cambodia seeks to help women (and a number of male ladyboy prostitutes) who want to leave the industry, to be able to leave by their own effort. This is seen as a more sustainable approach then making them dependant on charity hand outs. 

We meet Heather from Daughters of Cambodia at their shop/cafe/spa. This premises is a key employment option for the people in the project. The shop is stocked with clothes, ornaments and jewellery made by people from the project. The cafe is staffed with women from the project who are being trained in catering and hospitatly and the spa is operated by women trained in health and beauty care by the project. It was a lovely place to have lunch (great burger!). Their are a variety of employment options, all with training, to ensure the people have future job opportunities. Michelle loved the shop and bought some pretty things. 


The commercial sex industry is not a pleasant thing to be in and many of the women have suffered through some very cruel situation with the ladyboys in the project sometimes suffering worse then others due to social prejudices. Many of the victims of this industry are sold into it by their family  (due to extreme poverty). In a few cases women may be ticked into being sold to a brothel by a boyfriend or close friend. Sadly a family will sometimes sell their daughter into the sex industry because she has been raped, once she has suffered that trauma she is then seen to have lost her 'value' as a potential wife and is now 'worthless'. Treatment within the brothels can be horrific. The Daughters of Cambodia website has a picture drawn by a 12 year old victim detailing some of abuse she suffered. Along with the practical training the project provides counselling and support for the victims. Helping them to recover psychologically and emotional from the abuse they have suffered. 

Please visit the website to learn more about this amazing project and the good work it is doing for women and men in Cambodia desperate for a way out of the commercial sex industry. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Two sexual health projects in Cambodia

Chab Dai is a project that instead of being just a single project, works as a coalition. A coalition of over 50 projects all working with the issue of Human Trafficking

We walked back from the Chab Dai
offices under a glorious (hot) blue sky
The issue of human trafficking is not limited to one country or continent but is a global issue, yet in each country it will have its own specific styles and issues. In Cambodia poverty is a huge driving factor in people ending up being trafficked. 

The sensationalised media accounts of trafficking usually shows people being snatched and dragged away in chains. This is far from the common way people end up in the trade. Helen Sworn (the coalitions International director, who we got to meet and talk with) estimated that less then 2% of trafficked people have that sort of experience. Most trafficked individuals are trapped by much more subtle approaches. 

For example, a recruitment agency may be set up in Cambodia that will send out recruiters into the countryside, to poor rural villages. When at these villages they will talk to families about all the good money their children (usually but not exclusively female) could make by working as home help in Malaysia. The recruiter will promise to get the girl trained, organise VISAs, transport and set them up with a paid position in Malaysia. Only after they have finished their long recruitment enticement will they mention that the girl must be 21. This then leaves the parents to choose if they wish to fake their daughters age on paper work or by using an aunts I.D. If they agree the girl should be recruited the parents will be given a $50 payment, which is a substantial amount of money for rural areas. The girl will be taken to a "training centre" in Phonm Penh were they will be given a few basic training sessions with hundreds of other girls. They girls are locked in the compound where hundreds of individual's are now unable to leave. There are a growing number of reports of the terrible conditions in these holding centres, wide spread accounts of physical abuse, neglect and even sexual abuse. If the parents try to get their child back, maybe if they heard that the training may be something else then they were promised, something dangerous, they can come to Phonm Penh. But they can only get their daughter back if they pay $800 to cover imaginary training costs, transport and administration, no one has this much money! The girl is now trapped. 

After the victims paperwork has been sorted out transport is arranged to get them into Malaysia. The victim on arrival will have their passport taken away by the agency for "safe keeping" and sent to work in a house. She now has no I.D. in a country she doesn't know and a language she probably cant speak. The conditions for these trafficked girls vary depending on where they end up. Some will be neglected and abused. Some physically abused, some sexually abused. The exact work they will do depends on many factors but can include sexual exploitation. All are trapped, unable to come home with no rights, working hard for tiny amounts of money. If they try to escape they may be picked up by gangs who will sell them. Either selling them back to the original agency or possibly to brothels and into the commercial sex trade. 

This example is just one way people may end up in the human trafficking trade. It is a good example of how people may be tricked into it. With the level of restriction increasing at each step and with options of escape being cut off. All this for the sake of profit! 

The Chab Dai coalition aims to

"address human trafficking and exploitation through coalition building, advocacy and research. "

They do an enormous amount of good by helping dozens of agencies working in Cambodia. Helping with training, aid with writing policies, encouraging coalition and more. They do a vast amount of monitoring and evaluation and are currently undertaking a 10 year research study into the risk factors that lead people into trafficking and sexual abuse. It has been great to meet such a well structured and forward planning project. I think that many UK organizations both christian and secular could learn a lot from the way Chab Dai looks at long term strategic development.  

For more information please take a look at their website 

Today we also visited a pregnancy crisis centre called Mothers Heart, which is a part of the Chab Dai coalition we visited this morning. The project has three broad aims. 
  • Providing crisis pregnancy counselling in Cambodia
  • Empowering women with choices
  • Supporting every woman facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

When visiting the project we learnt how that in Cambodia having an abortion is often seen as a form of contraception, due to people being told that contraceptive pill is 'bad for the womb' and condoms are just not used by men. Also there are economical factors here for example In Cambodia the poorest and most disadvantaged make a decision of having an abortion as a decision about if they can afford to feed themselves and the baby or not, it is seen as a choice between an abortion or starvation. 

The women who this crisis centre specialise in working with are the women who have been outcasts by their family. Especially if they have been raped or as part of the commercial sex trade have got pregnant. The women's pregnancy is perceived to have brought shame on her and the family. So the family may not be there to help. 

It is important to note her that the women using this service want to keep their babies but do not see it as a choice that they have open to them. The Mothers Heart pregnancy crisis centre offers another option, they run a scheme that gives desperate women the chance to keep the baby and get the practical support they need. A principle aim for the women who join the project is that by the time they leave the project they will be able to independently financially support themselves. The projects helps this happen by providing training and work schemes. For the first year they also provide free day care and even provide bicycles for the women to get to places of work. After they have had their first year with the project the organisation works hard to make sure they are in a secure place to move forward. For example linking the mother and child with other projects that can continue to provide free/cheap day care. 

The projects work is not limited to this approach. Sometimes the project will work with a women to facilitate a family reunification. The project also provides free training on in-depth child care for these women. Once women have completed their first year directly with the project they continue to get the offer of these free training sessions. For all women who they work with it is a clear aim to provide them with the necessary training and information to raise a healthy child. For example teaching why and how you should sterilise a babies bottle. Cambodian child raising has significant gaps in knowledge. Partly this is a result of the civil war. Large sections of a whole generation are either orphans or have lost contact with their family. They have not had the chance to learn from anyone how to be a good parent. Also with everyone they work with they provide the opportunity for counselling. 

Pregnancy crisis, abortion and single mothers is a sensitive subject in Cambodia and we feel this project does a good job at meeting some of these complex needs for very vulnerable young women. 

For more info please visit their website:

P.S. If you want to read more about my travels around south east Asia please visit

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Naming modern SexEd. Does the name matter?

What's in a name?

I regularly run into the problem of giving a concise but comprehensive name to the work I try to do about sexual health and wellbeing (see I just tried to summerise it in 4 words) but every term I use seems to fall short of fully explaining the field. Every worker in this field of knowledge of biological, sociological, emotional, technological and probably some more -icals related to reproduction has their own personal favourites.

My favourite is Sex and Relationship Education. Short and simple but not necessarily very complete in covering all I work on when I have lessons covering individual self esteem, sexting and the distortions of pornography. Most names in the field have a history and reason for their particular emphasis. For example my favourite name for my work emphasis a core approach that I will only talk about sex as part of a larger curriculm which includes discussion on healthy relationships. I fully believe this is a key learning point for young people.

Thinking of some over common terms (especially in the USA) "Abstience Only" "Abstience Plus" "Comprehensive Sex Education". By someones chosen name you can oftern guess alot about their approach.

So when I read this article from The Guardian I wondered what is the history of this name? What does the name tell me?

"Comprehensive Sexuality Education"

Now education is pretty straight forward and comprehensive is often uses to explain the principle of "more then just bare bones of biology". The more unique term is sexuality. Last year I attended a sexual health training course ran by ACET NI in central Asia. They had a day focusing on what they called Sexuality. This term got lost in translation as the russian term used seemed to mean soley orientation. The ACET NI tram wanted to explain something more complex about the universal human condition of seeking contact with others. Expressed in a multitude of ways. Another term for this could be relationality.

So when this article says sexuailty are they using the term primarily for orientation or a more larger idea. If it is just orientation why have they identified this as a significant enough single topic to single out? If it is wider then orientation what point are they making with the name? Personally I have found peoples reactions to this term so mixed and confussed I avoid it whilst covering the material others would title sexuality.

I think that naming sexual health educational work will continue to be a mixed bag. But the universal need we have all identified is that the SexEd of the past is not enough. Young people deserve more and what ever you title it we have a duty to do better.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

New Preventative HIV drug approved in USA

I was interested to read this story on the BBC website. The idea of
preventing HIV with drugs is something some HIV researchers have been
looking at for years with the holy grail; of an effective HIV vaccine.
Some may see this as a step in the right direction but it is lacking
some key things to make it have the global impact we need. Firstly it
is not cheep this will not be an option for the thousands of people
living lives of risk across the world who do not have the income to
afford this drug. Secondly the regime needed to be effective is 100%
adherance (an impossible standard) and thirdly I think any method of
preventing HIV needs to be instigated world wide to all at risk people
at the same time. This drug will not produce herd immunity. It will not
protect the most vulnerable. I also think it will increase
misunderstanding about HIV. All in all im not a fan

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Sexting? Blaim Parents and tech companys

Read this artcle on BBC newa about facebook and age limits and I was a little surprised to see it went on to talk about sexting. The stream of the article seems to flow along the lines of. Tech companys have released dangerous tools and should do better to protect people and parents are failing to help their children deal with these modern issues.

Now firstly I agree tech companys should have some level of responsibilty and seeing them invest in prevention advertising would be great (or even better support charities working with young people with this issue). However, its not all their fault. Blaiming parents seems like a particulary easy cop out for the government. That way they get to publicaly acknowledge the problem but dont have to do anything.

No where in this article does it mention the role schools could play in educating young people and the idea of young people taking responsibilty for their actions. I passionatly believe that schools can be the perfect place to make an inmpact on young peoples attitudes and behaviour. Youth clubs equally can be powerful avenues for influencing attitudes not just providing information.

The question of facebook age is interesting. I've lost the exact quote but I'm sure I read Mark Zuckerberg saying he wanted to lower the sign up age but then put in extra security features. I think he said that for younger people they would not have the chance to share publically they could only ever share with friends. Small things like this could make Facebook safer for young people who lie about their age currently.

I think that Facebooks wants the whole family on Facebook so it will find a way to lower the age and restricted accounts may be the way to go. I think parents could get actively involved if they allowed parents to set up the childs facebook page at any age but for however many years maybe until they are 11 they can only interact with their parents and siblings. So a very restricted mini network before they move to a wider network of their friends before finally being able to go public at 16? 18? This wouldnt be perfect but could be better then the current situation of young people lying about their age with 12 year olds pretending to be 17 and connecting with lots of random adults they should not be talking with.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Love in the Hunger Games

Fighting for love?

I love dystopian future stories. I don't know maybe there it is the part of me that loves to watch how things might fall apart. From the bleak Joss Whedon Firefly and Dollhouse TV shows or the amazing Metatropolis anthology to this new trilogy of books and 1st film the Hunger Games. By Suzanne Collins this triology explores a bleak near future where America has collapsed and ruled with an Iron Fist the capital city holds 12 districts under its thumb treating them as slave labour. Barely able to survive, working back breaking jobs the vast majority of the population serve the few rich capital city dwellers. As part of the capitals drive to keep the districts under heal and broken they city forces each district to select 2 young people to fight to the death in a televised event called the Hunger Games. The games themselves unfold in a very similar way to the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale but the world they are set in is significantly different. Sarah Hall has written a great summary article about the wider social themes the books/film comment on. And TearFund has made this resource about The Real Hunger Games of world inequality and poverty. 
I have run a quick youth session exploring the social issues and have written a quick blog review about it.

But I want to have a brief look at how the 1st book and film deal with that important issues of love and relationships. I will try and suggest three discussion points to use with young people who are interested in the Hunger Games

*******Spoilers Alert*********
I am going to try and avoid giving away any of the great surprises and especially the ending but if you read the next few paragraphs you will learn things you may not want to know if you haven't read/watched the film yet.

The Hunger Games series is already being compared to both Harry Potter and Twilight. True they have a similar target audience and true like Twilight the Hunger Games has a principle heroine making tough choices. Katniss (the heroine) even has two potential partners but personally I think that the Hunger Games does a much better job of exploring love, relationships and trust. 

Scary sacrificial love 

The whole story ramps up and gets excited when Katniss and her Sister Primrose face the random selection process. The selection lottery is not an equal chance for all but weighted so that the older and poorer you are the more likely you are to be chosen. Primrose being only 12 is the least likely to be chosen yet fate pushes her into being the chosen district tribute for slaughter in the Hunger Games. Katniss who has taken over the role of primary bread winner for the family when her father died takes the extreme step of volunteering to take her sisters place. Katniss knows that her 12 year old sister is certain to die in the games. Being only 12 and with no physical skill (unlike Katniss the bow and arrow hunter) she is sure to be killed brutally in the Hunger Games. Katniss knows that with odds of 24:1 and being just 16 her own chances are not that much better. But Katniss' love for her sister overrides self preservation and she takes the opportunity to offer her own life to save her sisters. This kind of sacrificial love has been explored hundreds of times before in stories but usually with characters older then Katniss 16 years of age. Katniss is presented as skilled but vulnerable and in my eyes realistically filled with teenage worries. Yet this scary sacrificial love is poured out by her on her sister and show cases how young people are capable of extraordinary actions of love when faced with hard choices. Thankfully most young people (in my work) wont face life and death choices but they will often face opportunities to put the needs of others first. Katniss is a supreme example of putting the needs of others in front of your own. 

Learning to trust

From Wikipedia
When Katniss finally makes it into the Hunger Games she is alone. 1 out of 24 people ready to kill each other. She is alone for the first few days, hiding from killers and battling the elements. But after a particularly dangerous close call she meets Rue who saves her from a natural danger that could have ended her life. The two meet away from immediate danger and make a tough decision. Team up and face down the shared enemies or try and kill each other. They attempt to trust each other, both scared, both meant to fight each other, both unsure if this is a trick a bluff to take advantage. They have to learn to trust each other. It is not easy and a shared enemy is not enough. They share experiences and share stories. Trust builds up as the become more intimate with each other and risk more of themselves. They start a friendship they know wont last, they know that it will either end with one of them being killed by another tribute or by them having to try and kill each other. Yet they embrace the friendship for what it is, a temporary connection that stops them being alone. Talking with young people it is useful to discuss the idea of starting new relationships and friendships. New connections take risks of trust. True honest relationships need people to expose themselves and risk intimacy. The mutual give and take, gradual and slow is the strong foundation of a relationship. There relationship is a wonderful exploration of this in a condensed time. Time is condensed by the extreme situations of the Hunger Games but it is also worth asking young people what situations with short time scales could they start a new relationship in.

Love and relationships are not simple

Within the Hunger Games Katniss meets up with her fellow district 12 tribute and has to deal with trying to form another uneasy relationship. This time not just based on what could be called share enemies and mutual self interest and shared backgrounds. This relationship is for the benefit of the cameras to illicit sympathy and gain an advantage from added sponsors. The relationship becomes complicated due to the other Tribute Peeta expressing public love for Katniss. Katniss does not know if this is genuine or part of Peeta's game plan. But she plays along for the sake of the games whilst in personal turmoil about her own feelings for Peeta. Again the Hunger Games have condensed this natural question into a short sharp incident. "Does she/he really love me?" This entire story element is a fantastic conversation point with young people. How do you know if someone really loves you? Are words enough to prove love? Can actions prove love and will people ever fully know or does it come down to trust? The darker side of this story element is the issue of people manipulating relationships for their own personal gain. In the Hunger Games it is the manipulation to stay alive but in our world do people manipulate relationships for personal gain of sex or social gains? 

What next?

Relationships in the Hunger Games are a treasure trove of discussion points. If the books and film continue to gain momentum and influence I believe they will be a useful resource for all sex and relationship educators. My suggestion is we should all have a closer look at the Hunger Games and the relationships it contains.