Design students and sex education

Emma Gold is a design student at Goldsmith's university, London.

Emma Gold is a design student at Goldsmith's university, London.

Hello. I'm Emma, and this year I received my degree in Design from Goldsmiths College. I achieved this by spending an inordinate amount of time in (the staff area of) my local sexual health clinic, and telling people very personal things. It also involved me giving a lecture at the 2013 Sexpression General Assembly.

What’s that got to do with ‘design’, I hear you ask? At Goldsmiths, ‘design’ isn’t so much about creating consumer objects, but rather the intentional development of objects, systems, and services that look to influence how people behave on both an individual and a societal scale.

How did this lead me to the Sexpression General Assembly then?

For my final year project, I decided to try and find ways to start designing out of society what I consider to be one of it’s most pressing and all-encompassing problems; namely that we in Britain are shockingly bad at communicating about sex in an open, honest and up-front manner. I feel if we could overcome some of our cultural squeemishness about what we like to do with other people when we take our clothes off, most other things in society would be better off as a result.

My final year project looked at finding ways to create a new long-term culture of open communication about sex through political strategies and service design. The idea was that if we could change how sex is communicated about at an institutional level - the language we use in sexual health clinics, the topics discussed in PHSE lessons, and so on - we would be able to, over time, make talking about sex a generally less troublesome thing.

It’s always extremely important when designing for services to get feedback from not only the end-users, but from those who would be delivering the services. After some frantic googling I stumbled across the Sexpression website and jumped about with excitement when the Communications Coordinator Francis said I could present my idea to a large audience of future doctors.

I spent the weekend getting involved with the lectures and seminars that had been organised, as well as delivering my own piece. I was privileged to hear some renowned speakers talk about the experiences they faced on the front line of working in sexual health medicine. Sitting in on the workshops also exposed me to the particular difficulties Sexpression encounter when trying to impart important education on a subject that schools, parents and the healthcare services often struggle to deliver themselves.

My lecture was the closing one of the weekend, and took the form of a 10 minute presentation followed by a 30 minute Q&A. The feedback I got on my ideas on how I should take them further was fantastic, and It was brilliant to see such passion and enthusiasm coming from everyone. I also got a much better idea of what particular issues I needed to focus my work on.

The work that Sexpression do is invaluable, not only because of what they do but because of who they are. From their unique position as young people who are working from a charitable angle and who are not tied yet to any institution, they are able to have a very strong influence over how the next generation think, feel and talk about sex and sexuality. Whilst a service designer is able to plan out how a services can be effectively delivered, nothing is more important in making those changes happen than the deliverers themselves, and it’s brilliant to know that the same passion for better communication can be found in both the healthcare profession and the design field.