An foray with Sexpression by Rachel Stephens

Rachel (far right) getting involved in the icebreaker 'The potato game' during one of the training sessions

Rachel (far right) getting involved in the icebreaker 'The potato game' during one of the training sessions

I had the opportunity to go to Sexpression General Assembly (GA) weekend in Southampton and two weeks later to help out at Leicester university sexual health week. 

As well as being a very informative GA weekend, Sexpression has links with similar European sexual health charities. We learnt how other countries are tackling the current issues in sexual health and how strategies in different countries have affected current disease levels.  Having most Sexpression university branches present, there was a great opportunity to keep their standards high, by brain storming the best teaching and organisation methods.  As a newcomer, there were useful practical training sessions, as well as learning a heap of silly icebreaker games that would get anyone laughing.

Being a science person, I found the advocacy lectures particularly relevant and useful.  They explained how parliament is set up and how to effectively lobby for change in sexual health teaching strategies.

Sexpression do an amazing job, teach an estimated 12,000 children each year.  For an unpaid student led organization, this is a huge achievement.  Sexpression sees a need in society’s sexual health awareness and realises that prevention is better than a cure.  Yet, number wise, it only scratches the surface of the whole country’s school population.   Furthermore, they can only reach schools in cities that are a reasonable transport distance from the university.

As a person who is interested in pursuing a career in sexual health, the GA meeting was a fantastic learning experience, yet it was all theory.  To get practical experience, I helped at Leicester university sexual health week, which consisted of a stall in the students union, with a different sexual health topic every day. 

One funny thing that transpired is that some students that went into the SU many times in one day got double the sexual health chat.  The stall was manned by volunteering students in two-hour slots, so the next volunteers wouldn’t know whom the previous volunteers had talked to!

The students were not as responsive on the HIV day.  I think the belief that ‘it won’t happen to me’ is prevalent.  The students know more about chlamydia and are more likely to take a chlamydia test, than an HIV test. Knowledge that could help prevent HIV is especially useful, as HIV is incurable.

One issue that I didn’t foresee, but found when running the stall,  ‘Should you treat people of different cultural backgrounds differently, or should you give the same sexual health information to everyone, and should you deliver it the same manner?’    

Two thirds of the students that pass the stall do take a leaflet, yet some people run pass you like you have the plague!  Yet you feel that some of the people that are too embarrassed to stop, would benefit from the information that you are giving.  When people do stop to chat, you only have half a minute of their attention, which means that it is really worth having well thought out effective sound bites that will engage their interest, and are informative.   Obviously it is far more effective to teach a captive classroom of children in school lessons, than chatting for half a minute to a student.

I believe that we did a useful job at increasing sexual health awareness in Leicester University.  However I think that sexual health is best taught in schools.  The embarrassment will be the same teaching in schools as it is to talk to students in a University setting. Yet you have the children’s attention for a few lessons every year and can get across the basic facts about sex, disease information, healthy, happy relationships and body image.  To openly talk about this subject, would increase children’s confidence, as well as reduce sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.  To effectively go about this, it would have to be compulsory part of the curriculum, where every school has to teach set topics at age relevant stages.   One lesson every two years does not adequately cover sexual health. Either, teachers would need extra training to teach this subject, or there should be health advisers going around schools. 

Doctors and medical students have a privileged standing in society, and sexpression are using this very positively to go into schools and make a difference. Yet you don’t have to have a medical degree to teach sex education in schools.  There are more students with different degrees, who are being trained and are helping Sexpression.  Doctors have the privilege to help an ill person improve their health.   With education, you can prevent people gaining a painful infection in the first place, which is a concept that more non-medical sexpression students are buying into.  Keep up the good work Sexpression.