This last weekend myself and three others attended the Sexpression National Conference, themed “changing a culture”. The conference was held at the University of Leicester and organised by the fantastic Leicester branch of Sexpression. Over the weekend a number of guest speakers ensnared our interest with some brilliant talks and several workshops (ran by both Sexpression members and external experts) opened our eyes.
We were welcomed to Leicester on the Friday night. As a new branch (only being established at the end of 2012), it was great to have a chat with the national committee over a couple of pints. We soon retired to our host house to get some sleep before the first day of the conference. Our hosts had set up mattresses and were the most welcoming guys you could meet.
The next day, we made our way (with the help of several strangers along the way!) to the Leicester medical school building, where the conference was held. We chowed down on a few pastries before heading to the first talk. This was given by Yas Necati, an 18 year old feminist activist, campaigner for better sex ed and recently named in the BBC 100 women of 2014 list! I can honestly say I was very impressed with her ability to present to such a large audience and deliver a fantastically interesting and eye opening talk. She discussed porn culture and focused in on how women are often objectified in the media (see this hilarious yet eye-opening page http://www.demilked.com/hot-mess-motocorsa-ducati-panigale-1199/ showing a gender swap for advertising motorcycles).
We then had a break and signed up to attend two workshops. Our delegates split to follow their interests; I attended a workshop on how we can improve care for survivors of sexual violence. This was very applied to how traumatising a smear test can be for women who have been raped and how medical professionals can try to make this less so. It was very interesting to hear quotes from survivors of sexual violence, with one woman saying that she would rather risk cancer than have someone telling her which position to lie in, touching her, etc. As a medical student, it made me realise the importance of ensuring that the patient is comfortable and asking them how you can tailor any procedure to them as an individual.
I then attended a workshop on healthcare for trans* patients. I tactically chose this workshop having identified my knowledge on trans individuals as a particular weakness. Very little is taught in the medical curriculum and I definitely did not hear any mention in the one hour of sex ed I had during my secondary school education. The workshop was facilitated by Jess, a trustee from action for trans* health. We spent the session discussing the definitions of several terms that fall under the trans* umbrella and then discussed how we could improve care for trans* patients.
The two workshops I attended were quite medically orientated and aimed at medical students in particular, although a lot of the others were more open (as Sexpression:UK becomes a more diverse group of people – something which I have always been a massive supporter of!)
Our next talk was delivered by Tom Hayes. This was the talk that I had been particularly looking forward to. Tom is a twenty-something HIV positive guy living in the UK. He actively blogs about his experiences in an attempt to educate the public and has also founded an online publication for others living with HIV. He delivered a brilliant talk that was inspiring, touching and also pretty funny! It was surprising to hear some of the statistics (such as the fact that 1 in 7 gay men on the scene in London have HIV). It also hit me that the work Tom is doing to raise awareness and really try and de-stigmatise HIV is so inspiring. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to his story and would recommend everyone to check out his twitter (also brilliantly funny - @PositiveLad) and to have a look at his online magazine (http://www.beyondpositive.org/) with several blogs from a wide range of people talking about their own story.
Next came voting on changes to the Sexpression:UK national constitution, with the exciting development that we are moving to become a charity! We passed motions that saw four new trustees elected with one to join in January (Sexpression:UK’s own national coordinator, Ellen!)
From here, we enjoyed a pub quiz and a vegetarian curry night, before heading home to “get our P on”. The Sexpression social this year was themed around the letter P. Sexpression UEA decided upon Peter pan characters; I obviously shotgunned tinkerbell! We had a very good night in Leicester and our night was made when we stumbled across a 24hr McDonalds on the way home!
The following morning was a little less fun. After a very slow start, we made it to breakfast and recovered slowly with the help of a bacon sandwich! The morning kicked off with a talk from Joe Cherabie, a medical student in Lebanon with a passion for educating others about sexual health. He acts as the Director of the Standing Committee on Reproductive Health including HIV/AIDS (more concisely known as SCORA) of the International Federation of Medical Students' Association. He discussed his experience educating young people in the field of sexual health and taught us the 10 basics of a successful sex ed class.
After lunch we voted in the new national committee for the next year. It was great to see so many people go for roles and to listen to them fight for a place on the committee. I am looking forward to being badgered with emails from them in the next year! Following this was the branch awards. I was absolutely chuffed to discover that UEA had been named the Best New Branch. We received heaps of praise for our blogs which have now been published both on concrete and Sexpression’s own national website, amongst our other achievements.
The final talk of the day was from Jane Fisher, the director of Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC), a charity supporting the informed choice of parents facing the consequences of abnormal antenatal screening. ARC aims to provide non-biased information to the 40,000 couples affected by abnormal results each year. This was a very interesting talk with a few surprising statistics (such as the fact that 90+% of foetuses diagnosed as having downs syndrome are terminated). It did strike me as very important to de-stigmatise terminations (particularly following an abnormal antenatal screening). A quote from one family that decided to abort following the discovery of spina bifida said that they were told that they were lucky to not have had a stillbirth. They still felt that they had lost this child and this was belittled due to the idea that they had chosen to terminate. In reality, the child would have been born severely disabled, with the lowest quality of life. They hadn’t chosen that.
The weekend came to a close and we began the journey home. The weekend was absolutely amazing and the award for best new branch was the cherry on the top. I have thoroughly enjoyed establishing the UEA branch of Sexpression and want to thank everyone who has been an active part of Sexpression here! I particularly want to say thanks to Luke Parkes who has put so much effort into Sexpression (Particularly developing a fantastic new training curriculum for our members this year!) This year’s committee have been absolutely splendid and we have many more ideas in the pipeline!
Here’s to another brilliant year for UEA Sexpression (oh, and if you haven’t already, get involved!)
UEA Branch Coordinator