Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Porn on the Brain Channel 4 Documentary Review

My view of the channel 4 show "Porn on the Brain" which is all about how teenegers might be being impact by watching porn online.

I have just finished watching "Porn on the Brain"  (if you live outside UK Tunnel Bear can let you watch this) a Channel 4 British documentary by a previous editor of Loaded (lad mag) Martin Daubney. In this documentary Martin looks to try and find out what is the situation of porn and teenagers. Now sometimes the show becomes a little sensationalist with phrases like "The internet brought about the end of innocence" but behind some hype is some interesting stuff. With Martin spending 15 years of his life dedicated to (soft core) pornography with his work in loaded his perspective on the porn industry is not naive, he describes himself as an "wanking expert". Early in the show he makes a judgment of how he views the changes in the porn industry. 

"Porn has lost its sense of humour and become something macabre" 

Don't let the alarmist sensationalist tone of this documentary distract you from the core message, below I have bullet pointed the key points from my watching I think this show makes. I finish with a couple of paragraphs on my views of these key points 

  1. The type of porn being consumed by teenagers has drastically changed in the last 10 years. 
  2. Their study using a Functional MRI scan of 20 self declared porn addicts showed an identifiable addiction response similar to substance misuse disorder. 
  3. The special nature of the teenage brain that makes it particularly vulnerable to addiction. 
  4. If porn addiction is real teenagers are super sensitive/vulnerable to porn addiction due to brain development and natural hormonal levels of puberty. 
  5. Their is a longstanding difficulty in proving connection between porn use and a rise in sexual violence. 
  6. No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender. but clinically we are sure of a connection. 
  7. Internet filters always have holes, they are never perfect. They have some value to help parents reduce exposure but "we can't rely on filter"   
  8. Lots of young people turn to porn because their sex education doesn't meet their needs
  9. Parents of secondary school children need to have the "porn Chat" 

  1. The type of porn being consumed by teenagers has drastically changed in the last 10 years. 
    I think this has been clearly evidenced when you look at the history of the porn industry.   Porn Land by Gail Dines (who is featured in the show) does a brilliant job of explaining the historical changes in the industry over the last 50 years. The Sex Education Show vs Pornography show (also by channel 4) showed the same. Teenagers are experiencing porn that over 25s have not even heard of or imagined.
  2. Their study using a Functional MRI scan of 20 self declared male porn addicts showed an identifiable addiction response similar to substance misuse disorder. 
    I have no reason to dispute the findings of this study showing that these 20 people showed an addictive brain response to hardcore pornography. However, the scientist in me must highlight that a study of 20 people is not a large scale investigation. It may be a true representation of a significant proportion of the UK population or these 20 individuals may represent a tiny % of uk population. In summary whilst the results of this study are interesting a larger scale study is needed to prove the hypothesis. In particular I think a study would need to look at people across the spectrum of porn use. Equally i would be interested to see if any such addictive response could be identified in consumers of written erotica or is this just a visual stimulation addiction.

  3. The special nature of the teenage brain that makes it particularly vulnerable to addiction. 
  4. If porn addiction is real teenagers are super sensitive/vulnerable to porn addiction due to brain development and natural hormonal levels of puberty. 
    This section builds on a much broader scientific base, looking at teenage brain development and the fact that young people develop their reward centre before their risk control department is widely accepted. From my study and experience I believe this is undeniable, young people are predisposed to take risks and therefore may risk engaging in more addictive behaviours. But to say that they are at greater risk of porn addiction does require the acceptance that porn addiction works the same as other addictions/risk taking. The shows study was not broad enough to make this concrete but I believe it is likely. Again more study is needed but ethical issues arise when trying to create a scientific study of the impact of porn on children.

  5. Their is a longstanding difficulty in proving connection between porn use and a rise in sexual violence. 
  6. No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender. but clinically we are sure of a connection. 
    I believe scientifically this is the weakest part of the show and the show resorts to anecdotal evidence and emotional stories. This is a real shame as it could be seen to undermine any scientific base the show was trying to build up. I believe the real difficulty with this topic is exploring what kind of connection exists. I think it would be hard to deny some form of connection, but is it a strong connection or weak. Key to this is the important scientific fact that causation and correlation are not the same thing. I believe their is a correlational link between violent porn and sexual violence but at this point I do not believe we can scientifically say that the link is also causational. It may well be but we have not yet proven this. If and when a causational relationship is proven we will still need further study to understand the scale and scope of porn's power. Are all consumers of violent porn on the path to becoming sexually violent and it is just a question of the timetable for when they become violent? Or are only a proportion of the population going to become sexually violent by watching violent porn? Sexual violence existed before internet porn and clearly this is a very complex issue. I am glad the show touched on this topic and was honest enough to say "No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender." but equally we could be watching a growing problem emerge.
  7. Internet filters always have holes, they are never perfect. They have some value to help parents reduce exposure but "we can't rely on filter"   
    It was a short section of the show but i am glad they made it very clear that whilst internet filters have some advantages, they are blunt tools that never work 100%. For example I am writing this in Starbucks who have an internet filter. That filter blocks out this blog, so I can post new blogs but cannot view my own website. However, it let me watch the complete channel 4 od show which included lots of nudity and porn (I was in a corner, no one could see my screen, I had headphones in and I had the show playing in a small window). Internet filters are dumb, blunt and full of holes. Therefore they should be used with caution and not presented as a magically technical fix for a technical problem. I fear the governments focus on ISPs making filters the default is more of a popularity stunt then a genuine help to most young people. It is a great way to look like you are tackling a problem without having to tackle the underlying issues of bad Sex and Relationship Education in schools and a lack of some parents helping young people make sense of sex and relationships. Its much more popular to blame the internet companies then look at our school system and parenting in the UK.

  8. Lots of young people turn to porn because their sex education doesn't meet their needs
    This claim in the show lacks the scientific base of the shows beginning but it is such a constant reality of my work I can not help but agree. Outside of the show we do have significant evidence of the failings in the UK's Sex and Relationship Education. The Sex Education Forum does a great job of researching and collecting evidence of the true sex and relationship experience of most UK young people. It would have been great if the channel 4 show made reference to this body of evidence. I think it is telling that every sex educator I know actively tackling pornography has a common theme, BISH UK talks about how on Planet porn things are different than real life, on the show Jonny Hunt  talks about a skewed view of sex from porn and my own lesson is titled "distortions of the media". It's no coincidence that 3 sexual health educators have approached the topic the same way. From the ground there's a desperate need to give young people the tools to recognise Porn for what it is. a Blurred example and a bad teacher of happy healthy sex and relationships.
  9. Parents of secondary school children need to have the "Porn Chat" 
    I kind of agree with this point but dislike the attitude of having a single one off "Chat" instead I believe all parents need to be willing to have an ongoing frank sex and porn dialogue. It is not a one time hit and run job but a constant and consistent attitude of openness and honesty. Easy to say difficult in practice for many parents. 

In conclusion I think this show did a good job of raising an important issue. It was great to see some new scientific evidence (even though the study was small scale) of the nature of porn consumption and the brain. Lots of the arguments about greater SRE in schools have been repeated again from previous shows, news stories and the mouths of school based educators but they do not diminish by repetition. This message must be repeated and repeated and repeated until communities take it seriously. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

New National Curriculum from a SRE perspective

This is my initial thoughts in response to the governments launch of a new National Curriculum. But before we get into the details its important to remember that not every school in the country will need to follow the curriculum, academies do not have to follow the curriculum. As with every curriculum their will also be a fair amount of school interpretation for any part of the curriculum that does not make it onto a test. So I believe this National Curriculum should be seen as the governments rough idea of what it thinks should be happening. I think locally things will be delivered differently depending on Head Teachers, Heads of Subjects etc. This is my quick skim through with a SRE perspective please correct me if I make any mistakes of miss something important. 

***UPDATE 09-07-13***

The Sex Education Forum has released this short response  it does a great job of providing a clear summary of the key points, much more concise than my ramblings. It also says "the Sex Education Forum will issue a full statement shortly".


All the missing bits - the really Bad news
Below I have listed all the words which are completely missing from this National Curriculum. As a SRE worker I believe all of these topics/words should be mentioned within the framework. In no particular order

  • HIV
  • Consent
  • Sexuality (or anything like Lesbian, Gay, LGBT etc)
  • STIs
  • Abuse 
  • Romance
  • Contraceptives
  • Porn
  • Condoms
  • Virus
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Faithfulness 
  • Sexting
  • Marriage 
  • Self Esteem
  • Body Image
  • HPV
  • Abstinence 
  • Honesty
  • Intercourse 
  • The Pill
  • Managing Risk (apart from financial risk) 
  • Love (of anything other then reading or cooking)

A long list that shows just how out of touch I feel this National Curriculum is. 

But some Good Bits

Page 4 
It is clearly stated that  "All state schools are also required to make provision for ... sex and relationship education to pupils in secondary education." I am very happy to read AND Relationship. Not just Sex education. Not something necessarily new but very happy to see it is in here. 

Page 162 
Within the science guidelines (Non-statutory) for year 5 (9-10 year olds) it says 
"Pupils should find out about different types of reproduction, including sexual and asexual reproduction in plants, and sexual reproduction in animals." Because this is non-statutory we could find sexual reproduction in animals slipping lower on the agenda and by stating animals and not humans we could find lots of children hearing about fish, bird and lizard but ignore mammals especially humans. But the option is there and I trust some schools to teach human reproduction in this section. 

Page 174
In science/biology curriculum for KS3 it states the following "Pupils should be taught about reproduction in humans (as an example of a mammal), including the structure and function of the male and female reproductive systems, menstrual cycle (without details of hormones), gametes, fertilisation, gestation and birth, to include the effect of maternal lifestyle on the foetus through the placenta." Great to see this here but sadly I know this can be taught in a very abstract way and give some clear medical biological details whilst leaving some huge gaps like "How many holes does a girl have?"

Page 190 
In the computing section of the curriculum for KS3 it says pupils should "understand a range of ways to use technology safely, respectfully, responsibly and securely, including protecting their online identity and privacy; recognise inappropriate content, contact and conduct and know how to report concerns". I'm pretty confident this will be used as the time to teach about online safety around social networks etc and the term "recognise inappropriate content" could well be used as a way in to start the discussion about porn and sexual content online but equally a teacher could understand this to mean just online bullying and avoid anything about relationships or sex. This topic is repeated in KS4 but with the same possible problems and opportunities  "understand how changes in technology affect safety, including new ways to protect their online privacy and identity, and how to report concerns." KS1 and 2 also make use of the term "use technology safely," with similar positives and negatives. 

Some Worrying Bits 

Page 141 
within the science part of the curriculum for year 1 (5-6 year olds) it states "Pupils should be taught to identify, name, draw and label the basic parts of the human body and say which part of the body is associated with each sense" Some great teachers will use this time to also make sure all children understand correct vocabulary for their genitals and emphasis that these are private bits of our body. (read this NSPCC campaign, Launched today, about how important it is for children to understand the concept of private body parts). But the government seems to have intentionally avoided this opportunity to protect children by giving the (Non-statutoryguidelines of what body parts should be named. "head, neck, arms, elbows, legs, knees, face, ears, eyes, hair, mouth, teeth" but not penis or vagina. 

Page 146 
Again within Science Curriculum for year 2 (6-7 year olds) in the guidelines about reproduction and growth we get this sentence. "They should also be introduced to the processes of reproduction and growth in animals. The focus at this stage should 
be on questions that help pupils to recognise growth; they should not be expected to understand how reproduction occurs." Information on how reproduction occurs is core to helping children and young people stay safe.  

Page 163
Still in science Curriculum now up to year 5 (9-10 year olds). It says in the statutory side "Pupils should be taught to describe the changes as humans develop from birth to old 
age." but I think they have sadly pushed the most important part of this for this age group into the Non-Statutory section. "They should learn about the changes experienced in puberty." If this isn't statutory some skills will miss it completely or cover it very badly. 

Overall I'm disappointed. From an SRE perspective I think the Government has missed an opportunity to bring SRE into the heart of the curriculum. The best steps forward have been in recognising the need for online safety but even these sections are weak, failing to clarify the need to cover how the online world is shaping and influencing young people's view of sex and relationships. 

I wonder if now is the time for professionals in the SRE field to rethink our approach. With this curriculum and the growing number of academies who can just ignore this curriculum is statutory SRE in schools what we should be chasing? Should we take all the energy we have put into pushing for national high standards of statutory SRE and redirect that energy. Should we focus our energy on local SRE guideline. County wide or even school by school should we be offering to help shape the local agenda for SRE. Most school recognise the need for something but many just do a bad job (for many reasons). Should we focus all our energy on helping schools implement strong, holistic and evidence based SRE initiatives. Would this be a better use of our time and energy OR am I being defeatist?    

Friday, 5 July 2013

Update on myMP opposing compulsory SRE

After getting a brush off answer to start with I'm starting to get better response from my MP about why he does not vote for teaching young people about Consent. 

This is just a short update on my previous post on my MP (Stephen Mosley) voting against Clause 20 which would have made SRE compulsory and explicitly made it clear we need to educate young people about Consent. 

This sentence is at least a genuine answer, he is claiming their was not sufficient evidence and reasons. Now immediately after reading his reply I wanted to push all the evidence I could find at him so he could realise how wrong he was and how right it would have been to vote Yes and if wants more evidence I can direct him to loads. When tweeting about this the Sex education Forum replied offering help.

The Sex education forum even has collected evidence on specifically why making it compulsory is a good idea http://www.sexeducationforum.org.uk/policy-campaigns/hands-up-for-sre.aspx. But instead of flooding him with the vast array of evidence I have chosen to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he has read and understood lots of the evidence. Maybe he thinks the current evidence is lacking? Or maybe the key is in the term "sufficient reasons". So this is my reply. 

Dear Mr Mosley, 
Thank you for our second letter, it is a much clearer response to my question and I was happy to read a plain English answer. You do not believe their was "sufficient evidence and reasons" for Clause 20. Now I'm sure you can tell already from previous comment that I disagree. When I read your letter I was tempted to flood with you with a broad sweep of every drop of evidence I could find.
However, I am hopeful that you have read lots of the evidence put forward by the Sex Education Forum, Brook, National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and Mumsnet. But you seem to believe this evidence is not sufficient. Therefore, I would like you to tell me what evidence would you require before you would vote yes to making SRE compulsory and give the issue of consent the same level of importance within the statutory curriculum as HIV has been given? What evidence do you need? Do you need more evidence of the damage of non consenting sexual activity? Or do you need more evidence of the effectiveness of school based SRE? Or do you need more evidence of the need to make it compulsory? Please help us to help you find the information you need. On the issue of "sufficient reasons" can you clarify what reasons are you looking for in decisions about what should be included in the national curriculum? 
Kind Regards

P.S. I noticed in the letter you switched to the plural "We were therefore unconvinced". Can I ask was the vote of no decided as a group decision before you entered the debate? 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My MP doesn't explain why he opposes teaching consent in SRE

On the 11th of June the commons voted against making Sex and Relationship Education a compulsory part of the national curriculum and specifically this amendment including the following
"(1) For the purposes of this Part, personal, social and health education (“PSHE”) shall include
sex and relationship education, including information about same-sex relationships, sexual
violence, domestic violence and sexual consent. "
My MP for Chester, Stephen Mosley was one of the MP who voted against this clause. You can read a good briefing on why this clause was so important here by the sex education forum. This was a key opportunity to get SRE into the heart of what schools need to be providing. But MPs voted not to help young people on this issue and my MP was one of those who voted against. If you want to read more about the no vote, what it means and why it matters you can read Brook here or read this blog post exploring how the clause may still have life in it and the process that is needed.

Today I am writing about my experince in trying to ask my MP why he voted no. It started on Twitter
after a few more tweets, I got this reply
Notice how he says "I will reply in depth". So I sent the following email. (Personal details removed)

Dear Stephen, 
My name is Gareth Cheesman, I was the person tweeting you @blindfishideas about you voting against SRE. For your information you may be interested to know I work for a Christian charity called Chester Schools Christian Work. I regularly deliver Sex and Relationship Education lessons in the 6 high schools in Chester, we would go into more if we had more time/money. 
We deliver lessons on everything from Self Esteem, body image, puberty, healthy relationships (we wont work in schools if they do not want the relationship lessons), STIs, HIV, Contraceptives, Sexting, The distortion of the Media (including porn) and other topics by request. The sexting and porn lessons have gained national interest with over 10000 downloads of my lesson plans and interviews by The Times, The Guardian, TES, BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC radio 5 Live and BBC world service.  
We provide lessons for free to schools. Some of the above schools have had staff trained in SRE and found that this training did not give them the confidence to tackle the subjects themselves. Other schools have had no help in meeting the needs. So they have asked us for help. I am happy to explain more about my work if you have any questions. All my lesson plans are open to be viewed at www.SREstuff.com and the NHS supports the work providing free materials for our lessons.  
Please can you explain why you voted against SRE being promoted in the new PSHE curriculum. Why did you think young people across the country did not deserve to be taught about  " same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent." Why should they be denied a chance to learn about these topics? 
Sadly our adult community has so many confusions about sex we can not rely on parents to equip young people to deal with this difficult subject. So why do you not want schools to tackle SRE? 
I look forward to your reply,

Kind Regards

I have put in bold what I consider the core paragraph of my letter. Why did he vote against this clause? I asked on twitter when I should expect a reply he said he aims for within 10 days. 

Yesterday I received a letter from him dated 21st June, exactly 10 days after the vote. Sadly this letter falls short in answering the simple question why did he vote no. The letter goes to great length telling me all the good things the current government has done. Many of these I support and am very thankful for. But they are not an answer to the question why did Stephen Mosley vote against this new clause in the national curriculum. 

Mr Mosley also makes some simple mistakes showing his lack of knowledge on the subject. For example Mr Mosley writes "As you may already know, sex and relationship education (SRE) is compulsory in maintained secondary schools". This shows how uninformed his information is. Some Sex Education topics are statutory within the Science National Curriculum but Sex AND Relationship Education is not afforded the same status. quoting from the Governments own website https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/other-compulsory-subjects
Some parts of sex and relationship education are compulsory - these are part of the national curriculum for science. Parents can withdraw their children from all other parts of sex and relationship education if they want.

The Sex Education Forum makes it crystal clear for anyone who makes the effort to do the research. 

The most up-to-date legislation relating to sex and relationships education (SRE) are contained within the Education Act (1996) and the Learning and Skills Act (2000). The requirements are that:
  • It is compulsory for all maintained schools to teach some parts of sex education i.e. the biological aspects of puberty, reproduction and the spread of viruses. These topics are statutory parts of the National Curriculum Science which must be taught to all pupils of primary and secondary age.
  • There is also a separate requirement for secondary schools to teach about HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. 
The government does make strong recommendations to also includes topics such as relationships but they are not given the same importance as HIV. To be clear, I am funded by a HIV charity and think it is key that we teach young people about HIV and devote an entire lesson to this one STI. However, in the UK the HPA believe there are about 96,000 people with HIV, about 0.15% of the population. Yet "almost a third (29%) of 16-18-year-old girls say they have been subjected to unwanted sexual touching at school," (statistic from EVAW) but Stephen Mosley voted against making teaching about "sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent" the same legal requirement as HIV. 

Strangely in the letter Mr Mosley says that "The Government does expect teachers to ensure that all pupils develop an awareness of the issues around physical violence and abuse as a part of SRE". If they Government expects that why not make that explicit in voting yes on this clause? His get out clause is "The Government believes that teacher's professional judgement should be trusted to do so appropriately". I would suggest that with the current Governments focus on Results Results Results few teachers will use their professional judgement to risk their jobs by devoting any time to a non statutory topic. A topic they feel under resourced and under supported to deliver. The fact that schools in Mr Mosley's constituency currently invite outside speakers (me and my team) to cover the statutory aspects, such as HIV, should be a clue. We need to have some statutory requirements if we are serious about helping young people. 

The debate about making SRE truly statutory for all young people (academies, free schools?) will rage on and whilst it is happening young people will suffer from not being given the chance to learn about and discuss these vital issues. 

What is most disappointing is that Mr Mosley did not give an answer to the simple question. Why did you vote no? I grew up watching Yes Minister and reading the letter sounds like a reading a speech by Sir Humphrey Appleby. Wading through the words, statistics, misdirections and self congratulations I find not an answer to a simple question but an attempt to avoid providing an answer. There are legitimate arguments against New Clause 20 but Mr Mosley did not offer a single argument or explanation. He just avoided the question. I am writing to Mr Mosley again today. Hopefully this time if I am concise I may get a concise reply, in 10 days of course. 

Dear Mr Mosley,   
Please can you explain why you vote against New Clause 20 on the 11th June? 
Kind Regards
Gareth Cheesman

Monday, 20 May 2013

Starbucks response about blocking Sex Education Websites

This blog is blocked in Starbucks free WiFi, I had a little poke around and found a few other SRE sites blocked (some of which now seem to have been unblocked). I sent an email to Starbucks about my concerns and today I received this reply. Always nice to get a reply but sadly it doesn't seem to actually say that much. Why is Sex and Relationship Education information blocked? Is the content of this blog a danger to young people?

Dear Gareth,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks.

We appreciate you sharing your concerns regarding Wi-Fi in our stores and I would like to assure you that we have been working on a solution with our provider, BT, which means that customers get the right balance between the protection and the freedom they want and need online. We are close to implementing this solution and part of it will be to restrict access to sites which are not deemed appropriate to view in a busy public environment.

BT has also shared the following information regarding this issue:

“Wi-Fi at our partner sites has traditionally been a business service, largely paid for by credit or debit card and therefore limited to adult customers. Now that some retail premises like to offer Wi-Fi for free, the need for parental controls has developed. BT will be in a position to offer these to its site partners by the end of the year.”

I can assure you that I have documented your feedback and forwarded it to the appropriate department in our corporate office for their attention.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We hope to welcome you back to your local store soon.


customer service

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Reflecting on training the trainers of Sex and Relationship Education

Over the last 2 weeks, for the first time I have taught a full Sex and Relationship Education trainer course. In the past I have helped out on someone elses course and have lead workshops on specific topics at events/conferences. This was the first time I took 
responsibility for an entire course. The course I taught is the 4 day Esteem Resource Network course. This was the course I was originally trained in and 5 years and 500+ hours of classroom experience later I was now teaching the course. The course had 10 people and I loved opening up the wide field of Relationship and Sex Education to them. 

On the course I had 1 co worker, 1 local church based child and family worker, 2 third year youth work students (one who has been on placement with me) and a herd of 6 second year youth work students. So basically everyone was a youth worker or similar  This helped me as it's the group of people I work with the most. I know how to relate to youth workers and know they will have some practical experience of what young people are facing today. 

So what did I learn by doing this course? Firstly it was fun, a lot of fun working with 10 people who obviously care about young people and want to learn new ways to help young people have happy healthy lives. Recognising that happy health relationships and sex can go a long way to helping this happen. I get a buzz from training and educating, I enjoy the process and I enjoy the result. It can be exhausting but I think all the effort you put in is worth it. Now I also have a passion for pedagogy and enjoy experimenting with various techniques/styles. I enjoy planning for groups and seeing when they fit into the tracks I have laid out. But I also love the chaos/opportunities when the groups goes off the tracks and the education is more reactive, informal and sometimes much more important. Having a good group is key. 

The second thing I learnt from leading the training was that I know more about SRE then I may realise. When asked question by the students I knew the answer. Not because I had a session plan in front of me, not because the answer was obvious but because I have spent the last 4 years focusing 50% of my working life on SRE and from that I now know a lot of stuff that I was completely blissfully unaware of 8 years ago. I forget that it is not common knowledge (for most people) to know which STIs are a bacteria and which are a virus, or what the standard treatment is or why LARCs are so important. I treat these bits of facts as something that should be common knowledge but maybe I have a stronger "Curse of Knowledge bias" then I appreciate

The training also exposed some gaping holes in my knowledge. At times I found myself saying a sentence and then silently hoping the group didn't ask me "Why?" Somethings I repeat because I have heard them so many times, maybe I have heard it so much I have forgotten the source, maybe I was never told the source. Maybe some facts are more experiences that are so common they look like facts. I still need to learn more about SRE myself. The more I know the more I recognise what I don't know. The difficulty is knowing what area to now focus on. Child development or public health theory? Parenting skills or more about midwifery? So many ways to broaden my knowledge and also always more depth to explore. If anyone reads this and has a suggestion on what they think a SRE trainer should study let me know. 

Finally, I think I now believe everyone can be involved with SRE but some people stand out as extra keen/suitable for SRE work. Thankfully on this course I wouldn't hold back on recommending a single person from this group to a school. They all did great and I believe showed the ability to work well in schools in the future. My judgement may be completely off and some of them  may surprise me (in a bad way) when I take them into a real school environment. However, out of the group a handful of people stood out as extra keen, extra motivated and extra interested in the topic. It wasn't just the loudest people in the group, it was about the depth of questions they asked. They awareness of the wider issues, from politics to media. An interest in the subject does not necessarily = an ability to educate young people about the subject but it helps. I will keep quiet about exactly who I noticed but I am curious if my mental list of people prove to be the most able in classrooms and future work. I suppose this raises the question are some people born to be Relationship and Sex Educators? 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Sex and Relationship Education in Youth Work

Yesterday I was invited to speak on the Chester university Christian youth work course all about the importance of sex and relationship education, especially for youth worker. We got to cover lots of great stuff. I promised to post on here links to a couple of things I mentioned. If you are interested in attending the training I mentioned email me at Gareth@cscw.org.uk 

The Sex Education Forum's guide to SRE within the youth service 

The Department of Health recently published Sexual health improvement framework

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Stories from a Thai HIV orphanage

Today I wanted to share a few short insights into the everyday realities for children and young people living in a HIV orphanage in Thailand. I visited this orphanage, The House of Grace, in 2012 whilst travelling around South East Asia (read my post about it here). Like my work in UK this project is linked with ACET international. Today I received an email from the project and wanted to share a few snapshots of what it is like for children and young people in Thailand being supported in The House of Grace. Funded and staffed by Christians the project provides a hope and a home for alone, rejected and something sick young people victims of HIV. Kitisak is the pastor who has dedicated his life to supporting these children and running the House of Grace. These hopefully give a snapshot of the rough and the smooth. 

Arriving - Fah

Nine year old Fah is one of the most recent children to join the House of Grace family. One evening, towards the end of December last year, she found herself literally dumped at the gates of the House of Grace. There she stood crying, not a friend in the world, with just three plastic bags containing all her belongings. Kitisak’s staff found somewhere for her to stay that night. The next day they discovered that nobody wanted her, not even her grandmother who said that she no longer loved Fah and didn’t want her anymore. So Fah came to live at the House of Grace and fifteen year old Pakart was given the responsibility to be her special ‘big sister’. Wherever Pakart went Fah went too. We first met Fah at the Christmas/New Year party and could see that she was already beginning to feel at home.

Seeing a way forward? - Dae

Dae, who will be twelve in July is another very precious child at the House of Grace. The other day Kitisak heard him counting slowly and aloud - “eleven… twelve … thirteen …” Why was this? What was he doing? He was counting the number of steps from the boy’s dormitory before turning left into the dining room! Dae’s is a long story but briefly here it is.

Eighteen months ago it was discovered that Dae was blind in his left eye and that sight in his right eye was deteriorating. In November 2011 he had surgery in Bangkok in an effort to try to save the sight in that eye. This proved effective for a year or so but now he appears to be almost completely blind in both eyes. The other night at evening prayers it was very moving to see his friends finding a chair for him to sit on and at the end of the meeting two other friends helped him, one to put his chair away and the other taking him by the hand and leading him off to his dormitory. 

Early next month Papa Kitisak will take him to Bangkok to see if the surgeon can do any more for him. Kitisak is very concerned that if Dae were to lose his sight completely what would become of him. The House of Grace is not really equipped to give him the special care that he would need. 

Surprising Joy - Preow

Thailand is known as “the Land of Smiles” but what is behind the smiling face of two year old Preow? In June last year she came from the local provincial hospital to join the House of Grace family. She had been receiving treatment for cancer in her hip and there was no-one to care for her. It wasn’t long before she felt the love and warmth of her ‘siblings’ – everybody just loved her and wanted to hold her! Since then she has had chemotherapy several times but her smile is still so captivating! Last month when it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her lungs Papa Kitisak shared this news with all the
children at the House of Grace and said, “However long dear little Preow lives with us let us make sure that her life is full of joy and happiness”.

A Hope and A Future - Dom and Toey

The House of Grace started way back in 1997 when Kitisak and his wife welcomed two little children Dom and Toey into their family. As orphans from HIV they had been left abandoned, living in a little shack in a nearby village, to fend for themselves. From that moment on, life began to have hope and a future for them. Today Dom, now 21 is studying in a local university to become a teacher and Toey, 19 is gaining valuable work experience in his second year of a local apprenticeship scheme. Dom and Toey are just two of the 69 children at the House of Grace, of whom 38 are HIV+.

There are hardships and problems, 
but there is also hope and opportunities.

HIV, Thailand, Orphanage, The House of Grace, ACET, international, Why, 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

#SASHevent2013 Coventry Uni Porn - Sexting presentation

Please make use of all these notes/links from my session today at the #SASHevent2013 Conference looking at the topic "Let’s talk about porn"

Firstly my presentation


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, 6 February 2013

Teenagers who read 50 Shades of Grey

I have started teaching a lesson on the media's portrayal of Sex and Relationship. The lesson focuses on movies, TV shows and visual pornography. But with all the media hype around 50 Shades of Grey I wanted to do a small scale survey of young people I work with to see if the hype had any grounding in reality. Are young people reading it and is it impacting young people? 

At the end of a session looking at the Distortion of Media I handed out some small surveys. Just half a dozen questions and a space for general feedback. I did this with two year groups both mixed gender. A group of year 10 students (aged 14-15) and a group of year 12 students (aged 16-17). With the older group I also asked if the book had encouraged them to experiment with "BDSM/fetish/kinky stuff" but talking with school staff it was decided not to ask that direct question to the year 10 groups. Below are some of the figures from my study, please note it is very small scale and may not reflect wider trends amongst young people. 

Year group Total students Number heard  % heard    Number
   % read Number experimented % experiment
- -

*It should be noted that with the year 12 group 16 people did not 
complete the survey fully so I suspect the % for those who have heard 
about 50 Shades of Grey to be higher, closer to the year 10 figure.

Looking at these figures I think it is clear that 50 Shades of Grey is impacting young people. Nearly every young person has heard about it. Whilst only 8.4% of students aged 14-15 have read it this figure rises to 19.5% of 16-17 year olds. With a film planned to come out in the future I believe awareness about this specific book (and other erotic novels) will increase. As knowledge and awareness increases of the books I believe it is reasonable too suggest that awareness and interest in all things BDSM/fetish/Kinky will increase. 

I think this means a number of things for Sex and Relationship Educators. Firstly we need to get ready to directly challenge some of the stereotyping found in erotic books. Now I know their is huge variation in the style of these books but some themes in relationships may be common. The line between romance novel and erotica is blurred and any form of popular media must be critically examined by consumers to make sure we recognise how it may misrepresent reality  I have worked with many young guys who seem surprised to find out women naturally have pubic hair, porn has taught them different. I wonder what will be the sex and relationship myths made popular in erotic novels. I think 50 shades has some specific issues, you can read about my views on them here

Secondly we need to prepared for questions based in the curiosity encouraged by these books. Just as mainstream visual porn prompts specific questions and ideas. These books will create their own specific questions and comments. Possibly questions about bondage, spanking and other kink activities. This could be a big problem if SRE workers do not equip themselves for this possibility. Equally this will mean making sure we know what is good health advice and not just knee jerk reactions. Along with the physical well-being of BDSM participants we will also need to equip young people with skills to safeguard their emotional health. For example how do you respond to a partner who wants to try spanking but you hate the idea?  If you feel completely out of depth in the area of fetish I would recommend Violet Blues book Fetish Sex as a relatively plain English exploration of some of the most common fetishes. Be careful where you get the book out with its racy cover :). To be honest I got an ebook version so I could read it on the bus. 

The work with the 16-17 year olds showed that 2% of the group admitted to being encouraged to experiment with kinky things because of these kind of books. Now these books are not the only thing encouraging kinky sex, our old friend visual porn is also encouraging this. It is not the role of SRE workers to make a judgement on someone choice to experiment, if the choose. But it is our job to make sure young people understand how to protect themselves from possible physical and emotional consequences from this form of sexual activity. 

I fear I may sound alarmist, I am not meaning to be. I just want to make sure that as a group of sexual health educators we are all ready to help equip young people with the skills and information to navigate this possible issue. I am already thinking my porn lessons needs to be rewritten, to make it explicitly clear that the sex you read about may also be as fake as the sex in most porn videos. 

Monday, 4 February 2013

Agree - Disagree Sex and Relationship Statements

Today I shared another resource listing the agree disagree statement I often use in Relationship lessons. I find agree disagree activities as a bit of a two edge sword. Sometimes they are great and sometimes they just seem flat. 

I think agree/disagree activities work well if young people in the group do not all think the same. The true value in agree/disagree activities is the discussion it can stir up. The discussion is the point where young people learn things and develop their attitudes. The statements need to be crafted to try and divide opinion and stir up this discussion. When the statements do not divide group opinion then rarely will I get a good follow up discussion. The problem is that the statements that work well for one group do not work for another group. 

The temptation is to try and pick truly controversial issues but I have had as much success with the historically controversial issues (abortion, porn etc) as the more standard issues (loyalty, respect, condoms, etc). The only constant approach I have found to divide a group is to make a statement firmly gender related but you can only use them for some, not all the statements. I find it a difficult task to choose the statements that will work for your group. In the file of statements I have shared I have colour coded the statements to what the majority of young people normally respond, Blue agree, red disagree. 

For a youth group I once created some True False statement cards that where back to back. The trick was that some had two false sides. Some had two true sides and some had statements that could not be resolved. They where made to cause discussion/arguments. It was one of the most successful discussion starters I have ever used in a youth club but has not quite worked in a school environment. Have a look at the images in the album below. 

Let me know what statements you would use to stir up discussion and debate. 

True/True False/False ???/???

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

30 Sex and Relationships Questions

At the end of lesson we often give the students a chance to ask us any question anonymously by writing them down on a piece of paper, handing them in and then we shuffle them up and answer them all. Here is a collection of some of the most interesting, thought provoking and humorous i have collected over the last few 3 years. I am sharing them today to give a window into the curiosity of young people. Their genuine search for knowledge and sometimes the scary stuff they believe. Some are intentionally funny, others bizarre and some I find sad.

  1. Is it easy to see if someone has genital warts, herpes and lice?
  2. Why do girlfriends and boyfriends argue?
  3. Is it better for a girl to put a condom on a lad?
  4. When you are in labor does your vagina split so it can come out?
  5. How to give a girl more pleasure?
  6. Can you catch an STI from tasting cum?
  7. Do you have to be on your period to get pregnant?
  8. Isn't it awkward when you first have sex because you have never done it before?
  9. What is a MILF? and What is a doosh bag?
  10. Can you burn your mouth if you have oral sex with someone who has ginger pubes?
  11. What is a clitoris and what does it do?
  12. Can you run out of sperm if you wank too much?
  13. What is a dildo for and how do you use it?
  14. Can you never hit puberty?
  15. What is an orgasm?
  16. What happens when you get an abortion? What do they do?
  17. What's a rim job?
  18. If you go to a clinic underage do you get told off?
  19. Can you get glow in the dark condoms?
  20. What can you do legally?
  21. Can you get a girl pregnant from pre-cum?
  22. Wouldn't it be awkward to ask if the girl if they have an STI? You cant exactly force them to take a test!
  23. Why do boys masturbate?
  24. Does everyone get rounded and curvy?
  25. Why do people say on your first time of having sex you bleed? Is that true?
  26. What is the most important thing about having a good relationship?
  27. On average how much does a male/female masturbate a week?
  28. Do you think HIV could be cured in the future?
  29. Can you  set an STI through oral ear sex?
  30. What is the strangest question you've ever been asked?
Has any one else had some interesting questions? Which of the above questions do you think is most interesting? Shall I post more?