Sexpression National Conference – Saturday

Chelcie Leigh Jewitt is one of the Training coordinantors at Sexpression Liverpool and has a regular blog, My Life Dissected. She has kindly let us publish some of her blogs about the recent Sexpression national conference in Leeds.

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This weekend, I attended the Sexpression National Conference. For those of you who don’t know (which is probably a fair few) I’m a member of the Liverpool branch. I’m one of the two Training Coordinators, which basically involves me just helping to get volunteers ready for teaching sessions in schools.

Sexpression is a network of student projects based all around the UK at almost 30 universities. Our aim is to empower young people so that they make informed choices about their sexual health, by going into schools and helping to provide a non-judgemental environment where pupils can learn about all manner of topics relating to not only their sexual well-being but also about self-esteem, relationships and decision making (plus a fair few other things).

Sexpression fills a huge gap in the education of young people as sexual education is not a part of the national curriculum. There are guideline around contraception and HIV, but nothing on forming healthy, fulfilling relationships; encouraging self-esteem, nor anything relating to body image or sex in the media (which looking at anything most celebrities do is endemic).

Sexpression’s cause is a just one. Too many teachers and parents shy away from most of these issues, which can manifest in young people taking risks they are ill-informed about. The Victorian attitude towards young people which is prevalent within our culture is extremely outdated. Sexpression aims to eradicate it by making the necessary conversations and topics needed by young people a normal occurrence within society, enabling the empowerment of young people to make healthy decisions as they grow throughout life. 

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This year the National Conference was hosted in Leeds, which apparently is known as the “Milan of the North”. Believe what you wish, but that’s how we were all introduced to the city…

Our first speaker was Dr Jan Clarke from BBC3′s Unsafe Sex In The City, on how we can use different types of TV in order to promote sexual health. 

 

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She discussed the huge National AIDs campaign back in the late 80s. Studies show it had a huge impact on the “worried well” and those in low risk groups in the short-term, but the long-term effects were not as beneficial as the government probably would have hoped.

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Interestingly, Jan pointed out how entertainment programs seemed to have a greater effect on health promotion than the scare-mongering campaigns of the government. When Mark Fowler was diagnosed with HIV in Eastenders, there was a spike in HIV testing, similarly, when Alma dies of cervical cancer in Coronation Street there was a rise in smears all around the country. For a more recent example, when Jade Goody was diagnosed there was another rise in the public seeking smears.

Jan summarised that in order to get health promotion across to the public effectively, there needed to be both information and entertainment, so that the message is understood but in a way which the public can identify and empathise with characters, making them think about the possibility of it effecting them. This is where the role of reality programs such as USITC come in…

 

That clip may seem more entertaining than informative, but I personally think it is a fantastic example of what Dr Clarke was talking about.

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Our second talk came from Simon Blake from the sexual health charity Brook. This is a charity which Sexpression works very closely with around the country. Simon gave a fantastic speech which really seemed to sum up the ethos of Sexpression beautifully.

 He spoke about how “crap sex” led to the consequences that people associate with young people having sex too early – STIs, unwanted pregnancy, low self-esteem.. and how “good sex” through education and discussion with young people would lead to “pleasure” both sexually and emotionally for them.

Simon made the excellent point that adults (teachers, parents, society) need to “stop telling young people about not doing the things that they aren’t doing” such as being promiscuous, having sex and having unprotected sex, and how we should be empowering them to make the right choices about expressing their sexuality and forming relationships.

It is easier to control than empower
— Simon Blake, Brook CEO

Simon concluded his fantastically evoking speech by summing up what sexual education should be….

  1. Accurate
  2. Relevant
  3. Exciting
  4. Not hurried or rushed (There should be enough time to explore all elements needed by the pupil)
  5. Early (There is no point learning about something that has already happened – be it puberty, first kiss, first sexual experience)
  6. Fresh and non-repeative

I for one could not agree more!

I cannot emphasise how badly the current lack of education surrounding sex is letting down the children and young adults of today. Looking at the media around us, sex is everywhere – just take one look at Rihanna!!! Children do not know what to take from the images they are seeing, the songs they are listening to, and the television that they are watching. Songs about “bitches” and “f*****g” are all over the radio and internet and without proper information and education around these topics, young boys and girls (and even the older ones) are going to think it is expected of them to behave like these so-called role models.

We at Sexpression do not judge those who wish to do that, assuming they have made a properly informed decision and are safe in the way that they go about it. We just want everyone to realise that the media does not show a true representation of people. There is not only one way to be sexy or have sex. A relationship does not have to be all about sex. A relationship does not have to be only between a man and a women. If a woman (or man) wants to have many partners they can, if they don’t want to they don’t have to.

Empowerment is sexy. Knowing your own mind, making your own decision is sexy.

The young people of today are selling themselves short by going for what seems like the best decision with the limited information they are given. When given all the information that Sexpression and other similar organisations have to offer, they can truely decide what is right, free from pressure and biased outlooks. They can make up their own minds. Young people are still people and they should be allowed to make their own choices, make their own mistakes. We as a society should not force any of our views upon them, we should support them. And surely supporting young people is what teachers and parents aim to do..?