Saturday, 21 January 2012

Discrimination with a HPV vaccine

Read this article about how the UK government is rethinking it's decision to only immunise girls against HPV.

When I read this article I obviously was encouraged that the government was even considering changing the policy. As a male SRE educator I have felt that the current system is deeply unfair ever since the BBC aired a documentary about this on BBC3. The logic of with holding a potentially life saving vaccine on the grounds of cost verges on the ridiculous. Now the body of evidence is growing and hopefully soon the problem will be resolved.

But even the original plan to immunise all girls to provide herd immunity seems to have a huge hole that in my opinion show discrimination at the state level. What about the male homosexual population?

Now when HPV was seen to be linked to cervical cancer it was also shown to be linked to penial and anal cancer. So they knew what risk they where taking. A community dogged for years with a reputation of higher STI rates was being intentionally exposed to a higher long term risk by being ignored by health providers. I can't help but see this as discrimination. It is impossible to believe that no one in the health department thought about this. So it must have been a deliberate choice.

The sooner this situation is sorted the better. All young men deserve the HPV vaccine to protect them from the cancerous threat both throat and genital. Also it will undoubtably speed up the herd immunity process and at the same time rebalance a blatant act of discrimination by policy.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Teaching 14-15 year olds about porn

76% of teenagers have not thought about how porn distorts what real sex is.
Figures come from my research in this trial run of lessons

Over the last few weeks and months I have been researching and writing a lesson looking at how the media distorts sex and relationships. Pornography has been a big issue to tackle and this week I have tested my lesson and I wanted to share my early results. I've posted the lesson plan, print out resources and powerpoint on my website, just scroll down to the Distortions of media section. The Lesson progresses through a foundation of media distorting what is beautiful, moving on to how films/TV distorts relationships and finishing with an exercise that shows how porn distorts sex and what the consequences of believing porn could be. At the end of the lesson i hand out a feedback sheet. one of the questions asks them to write down what words they associate with porn. I've made their results into a wordle for you. (the bigger the word the more people wrote it down)

I did put some suggested words on the feedback sheet and many young people choose just from these but some of the unique additions above are pretty interesting. The general trend at the end of the lesson was that they teenagers recognised porn as being an unreliable source of information about sex. I am very happy with this result. The lesson did not go into the ethics of porn or explore in any detail the idea it could be addictive (yet they did choose that word as associated with porn). Those issues are for another lesson, my aim was imply for the students to recognise that porn distorts what is normal sex and to remember in the future that it is a terrible place to learn about sex. 

Here is some of the feedback from the students 

"was a good lesson was worth listening to"
"It was helpful for my future sex life"
"It was awkward :$ But useful"
"the lesson was alright, I know more stuff"

At the start and the end of the lesson I always do some simple class polls to try and track if my lesson has had any impact. One of the questions I ask in this lesson is "Is porn a bad way to learn about sex" so far in each lesson we have seen an increase in people agreeing with this statement. From 42% at the start to 88% after I have finished teaching. 

From the small trial this week so far I think I can class this lesson as successful. Now I need to look at how I can improve both the content and the delivery. It has been interesting to note that compared to other topics like HIV and contraceptives the group was a lot more embarrassed by this topic. I think this may be because their is a lot more secrecy around porn then some other sexual topics and possibly some of the group were nervous I was going to find out if they did watch porn. Culturally porn is strongly linked to masturbation, it was one of the most common words associated with porn by students that did not originate from my starting list. So maybe feelings around porn influenced their attitude. It was great to see the class loosen up each time by about mid-way. The groups always got animated when discussing what lessons from porn are true information or false. This exercise really tapped into what young people want to talk about, "what sex is like". 

Out of all the lessons that porn teaches the ones that prompted the most discussion were:

  • It is normal for women to have hairless pubic regions
  • Sex is better when it is fast, forceful and rough 
  • All women enjoy threesomes 
  • Anal sex is clean and simple

Something about these topics really got the groups talking. This allowed me to bring in all sorts of facts and ideas. Such as how porn might put pressure on women to accept violent or degrading sexual acts, How they should look into anal sex carefully before trying it and to think carefully before attempting self bikini wax or shaving. 

I am looking forward to trying this lesson again and seeing how it can be improved. Hopefully more schools, sexual health workers and sex and relationship educators will start tackling porn in the future.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mums want us to teach on porn

Mumsnet survey reveals that parents think that schools should do Sex and Relationship lessons on sexting, Porn and the media.  (Click here to read their results)  

This survey was done in November last year (not sure when they announced the results) so again I am a little slow on reading it. But it is a great encouragement to be reading this the day before I teach my first test lesson looking at how media (especially pornography) distorts sex. To be honest I have been a bit suspicious of the mumsnet group. I assumed (wrongly, I apologise) that they would be against sex education of their children. I am so glad to be proven wrong. 

The results of this survey are a fantastic stamp of approval to my aims. With 80% of respondents agreeing that sex and relationship education should include "Sex education should explore sex and the media (to include subjects such as sexting* and pornography)." But when they break it down into age groups i was surprised to see that the majority 37% thought pornography should be tackled at KS3 (11-13 years old) closely followed by KS4 (14-16 year olds) with 33%. Sexting follows the same trend with 44% thinking it is a KS3 issue and only 24% thinking it should wait till KS4. Both my pornography and sexting lessons are aimed at year 10 (KS4) but I have taught the sexting lesson at KS3. The results of this survey make me consider if I need to aim younger?

Consulting parents in Sex and Relationship education is vital. One of my aims to develop my work in Chester is to do this directly with local parents but in the absence of this local data survey like this are very important. They help Sexual health workers to target their work better. Whilst we would never work only off parental opinion it is a mistake to ignore it as parents have such valuable information about what their children are dealing with personally. 

I am really looking forward to my first lesson on pornography tomorrow. I imagine it will be an eye opener for both myself and the students. I will write up a report on these lessons later in the week. 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Ashamed of sex?

In this TEDx presenation Alyssa Royse talks about sexuality and how societal shame about sex is causing lots of problems. How naming and trying to shame what is different is eventually self destructive. By pushing people away out of fear of being a part of their scary world would just damage your own view of sex. Limiting your possibility for sexual enjoyment. But by embracing what is different and accepting people your own self esteem improves. Working in sexual health I often feel myself falling into the trap of mainly talking about the possible negative consequences of sex (which yes is my job to explain STIs) but my job is meant to be more then that. My job is meant to be about helping young people develop safe and healthy sexual attitudes, that translate into safe and healthy sexual behaviour. Now I may not agree with absolutely everything Alyssa Royse says but the core message of acceptance is really important. 

One of the greatest privileges of my work is when I get to help young people when they are at some kind of key point in the sexual maturity. That may mean talking with someone about their concerns about the body image, explaining that they do deserve respect and can say no, helping a young person thinking about their first crush on someone or that they should not feel pressured into having sex. Although my job's aims seem to focus on negative prevention issues I hope I get to help young people develop healthy positive attitudes. Rejecting the idea of shaming someone's sexuality should be a core part of this.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Review of BBC 3 websex

The BBC is currently running a season on sex on its BBC 3 channel and the first show was a programme called web sex. You can watch it on iPlayer here  (If you live outside of the UK can get you around the country restrictions). 

The shows was trying to explore how young people are using the internet and mobile phones for their own sex lives. Now the programme starts with two interviews with a guy and a girl who claim that the interweb has had a very positive impact on their sex lives. The guy has a pretty rotten attitude towards women (in my opinion) with him using social networks to maximise the number of women he can have sex with. The 2nd interview talks to a girl who has found social networks as a way to build her personal confidence and improve her self esteem. 

The show moves on to the detail other ways social networks, mobile apps and websites are used by young people for some kind of sexual purpose. They tell the story of a girl who got addicted to meeting with strangers online for sex, a women who had private images she shared with a partner spread around and a women who was happy to do live sex shows on a webcam but wouldn't let her face be shown. 

Through out the programme I got a strong sense that the show was claiming that websex could be either positive or negative. This seems a pretty fair conclusion that technology as a resource is neutral and it is how people use it that is important. Near the end they have an interview with @EmmaKennytv who makes one of the most important points of the show that everything sexual you do online should be with a "trusted partner". Her advice focuses on the simple check that if you wouldn't be comfortable do an activity in front of someone in real life you should think twice about doing in via a webcam. 

The show also had some substantial research about websex trends by @profandyphippen  who detailed lots of very high rates of young people using the internet either to enhance their offline relationships and also for me surprising high rates of young people seeking out new partners online. I hope to get a look at a more detailed breakdown of the results in the future. 

Overall I liked this programme as a good introduction to what is happening in the emerging generation of young sexual beings. I do think it did a good job of highlighting some of the specific dangers/consequences that are relevant to websex. I hope that awareness of this issue continues to be raised for young people. Not because websex is bad, but people need to be equipped to make informed intelligent choices when they understand the risks.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Playing with figures of sexual health

A single research project can be reported on in different ways depending on what you want to do. Take the following two articles both reporting on the same research by the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. The research shows how many girls in the study thought the HPV vaccine also reduced their risk of catching other STIs. 

The daily mail report emphasis 1 in 4, I believe this is because they are trying to show how it is a big problem. Where as Health News states "show that a small percentage of girls" I believe this is because they are trying to show it is not a big problem. Both quoting the same study with the same figure of 23.6% of girls having the HPV vaccine believing it will reduce their risk of catching other STIs. 

Now this is a common occurrence in the sexual health field as many people reporting on it have an agenda. And it is true that no one can be completely free from agenda but sex news seems to be riff with agendas. People always seems to have an axe to grind. Which is why it is so important to carefully look at the sources and request figures when they are not provided. 

When I do small scale surveys I always try to be as clear and open as I can be about the methods I use and the details of the statistics. But I am sure my own bias and agenda (sub-consciously if not consciously) impact how I interpret my own results. But that is another reason to publish not only your conclusions but your workings. Share everything. If you care about finding out the true answer and not just supporting your own theory you will be pleased to welcome alternate conclusions as they can help balance your own findings.   

So what has this got to mean for the HPV study. Is this a problem or isn't it? I believe that even 1% would show that more education was needed. (But my agenda as a sex and relationship educator would encourage this). But the reporting in the Daily Mail goes on to talk about controversy in the USA about the claimed consequences of this vaccine. It seems like the article is trying to support the basic argument that HPV vaccine = bad with a new argument. HPV vaccine makes people think they are safe from other STIs and so take more risks therefore HPV vaccine = bad. 

Lets hope more balance will arise in all news (but especially sexual health news) by the rise in citizen journalism.  

Monday, 9 January 2012

Porn causing rise in Multiple Sexual Partners?

Please read this article about a research project looking at teenage multiple sexual partners 

Study of Boston Clinic Users Suggests Teen Group Sex Could Be Emerging Public Health Concern

I know this came out a little while ago but when recently working on the lesson looking at Porn impacts on teenagers view of sex the study floated to my attention again. I wish i could afford the full research report but one quoted section concerns me. "Strong association between exposure to pornography, having been forced to do things that their sex partner saw in pornography" 

I am very curious to find out if this is as causal association? Can we fairly say that porn causes people to engage in sexual activity with multiple sexual partners or is it a case that both higher rates of exposure to porn and MSP are both caused by a 3rd cause. 

Friday, 6 January 2012

What to learn from Porn?

I am writing a lesson plan looking at how the media (TV, Film and Porn) distorts our image of Sex and Relationships. First half of the lesson is focusing on relationships and seeing how soaps, sit coms, and rom coms portray them. Second half is focusing on how Porn portrays sex. 

One of my exercises will be handing out a collection of statements about what people can learn from porn. Their task will be to then decide if that think a lesson learnt from porn is true, false or some where in between. This is my list so far. Please let me know what you think, can you learn all this from porn and could you separate true from false

  • It is normal for women to have hairless vaginas
  • All men have big penises
  • Sex is better when it is fast, forceful and rough
  • Anal sex is clean and simple 
  • Penis shape can vary from one person to another
  • Nipples can get erect when people aroused
  • Males normally ejaculate about half a cup of semen
  • Sex is possible all over the place (not just in a bed)
  • Most people don't use condoms
  • Boobs are meant to be big
  • Sex normally lasts for hours
  • Real men always stay fully erect in the presence of a naked person they are attracted to
  • All women enjoy threesomes
  • There are hundreds of sexual positions
  • Sex normally happens under very bright light
  • Labia are normally quiet small
I hope this exercise will help young people start to recognise that what they could see in porn is not likely to match up to their own current or future sex lives. 

EDIT: just turned this list into the handouts I will be using. Including linking the lessons to possible consequences. PDF version of handouts