Thursday, 30 October 2014

Child sexual exploitation, social norms and social change

I cannot imagine there are sensible adults who want to live in a culture in which child sexual exploitation is a new social norm in some or any communities. Yet there are sensible adults who are not doing all they can to make sure we develop a healthy and positive culture about young people, sex and sexuality. Today's important report from Ann Coffey MP Real Voices, into child sexual exploitation (CSE) across Greater Manchester is another reminder of why this has to change.

The report echoes all of the previous evidence including the Office of the Children's Commissioner's inquiry into peer on peer exploitation. It is right for us to be really worried. And if we didn't know already what we have to do, then we do now. It is important to remember that publishing the report is not the task itself - it tells us our task.

The Real Voices report on CSE is very welcome (here's Brook's statement on its publication). It is refreshing to read a report that takes children and young people's views so seriously - unsurprising given the young volunteers from Brook who met Ann to inform the report said that they felt really listened to. Real Voices is pretty grim reading. It reflects our failures to take children and young people seriously and meet our obligations to protect against abuse and exploitation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The report includes a wide range of sensible recommendations that national, regional and local policy makers must take heed of, and quickly.

Ann states child sexual exploitation is becoming the new social norm in some communities. This sums up the important task we have yet to grasp effectively. We must never allow CSE to become the new social norm in any community. CSE is deeply rooted in inequalities, misogyny and sexism as well as a cultural lack of trust of young people which manifests itself in systematic abuse and violence.

So we can easily agree we don't want CSE as a new social norm. As a country we are less clear, it seems, about what we do want for young people and setting about working in partnership with young people to establish a culture that realises this ambition.

We are at best ambivalent and more likely downright confused about the social norms we do want for young people's health and social behaviours. Just a month or so ago I read an article reflecting on the positive downward trends in teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol use amongst young people. Instead of welcoming and rewarding their responsible behaviours it asked whether this generation of young people are boring. How galling that would be if you are 15, 16 or 17?

So then, imagine what it feels like to be a young person growing up in 2014: we condemn them for 'sexting' and chastise them for learning about sex from porn. We wave our hands in despair because young people are supposedly having sex earlier and earlier and teenage pregnancy rates are going through the roof - despite the evidence that neither is true - and when data is published showing HIV infection rates have almost doubled amongst gay men 15-24 years old in the last decade, the news is met with almost universal silence.

Young people tell us what they want from their sex and relationships education decade after decade, and instead of providing it we are still arguing about whether schools must provide good sex and relationships education instead of how. We know young women often feel unsafe and experience disproportionate violence and exploitation and we don't do nearly enough to address the systemic inequalities that enable that to happen.

Ann Coffey's report emphasises the importance of listening to the real and lived experiences of children and young people. That requires us to trust them and value them. That requires significant culture change. We must stop messing about, name and call out the behaviours, the incoherent policy, failures to invest early enough and the lack of action that let all young people down. It is our collective responsibility to do all we can to tackle the inequalities that breed all types of violence, as well as provide extra protection to those who experience particular vulnerability to abuse and exploitation such as children in care.

If we are to make the rhetoric of Ann Coffey's report a reality, we will have to accept CSE is not isolated to one or two cities, and we have to recognise that just talking about it isn't enough. We will need to ensure that there is proper investment in early intervention and prevention, good quality education, targeted support and sexual health services, despite the financial landscape. The economic and social costs of not tackling the root causes of child sexual exploitation are too high for the young people involved and for society as a whole.

If we are to make the change we all want we must trust young people, value their sexuality, understand healthy sexual development, and address the root causes of violence. This report is yet another reminder that it is time for us to grow up and adopt a no nonsense approach to supporting young people and their developing sexuality, and a no excuses approach to violence and exploitation that at Brook we know will deliver results.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Member @leonjward: on why inclusive SRE is vital

Brook member, Leon Ward, has written this article. Timely given last weeks statistics on young gay men and HIV.

Good quality and compulsory sex education is the first step we need to take to ensure young people in the United Kingdom can make informed choices when they are getting jiggy between the sheets. But, once that's done, what is the next step?

For me, as a young gay man it is to then ensure different forms of sexual relationships are covered. In a time where we celebrate the fantastic achievement of equal marriage, there are still hundreds of thousands of LGBT+ children and young people who remain clueless about sex. Now, it may seem obvious which piece of Lego goes where, but let me tell you, I, like many before me, predominantly learnt about sex from porn - I developed an understanding that every gay man had to ‘participate in full anal sex, like, all of the time.’ Now, obviously, that is not true. But, how, at 14/15/16 was I supposed to know that?

At school, I learnt how to put a condom on which was useful and hilarious as the lovely school nurse in her petite frame and meek voice tried to tell us the instructions over tidal waves of giggling. But, I was never told of the various ways in which gay people explore their bodies and sexual limits. I had no idea all forms of ‘straight foreplay’ apply between two gay men or, indeed, the risks of not using a condom.

Now, part of me thinks that is exactly the point - you're supposed to 'explore' and discover what feels good, safe and comfortable; which is something we all continue to do as we progress through our sexual rollercoasters both as individuals and as part of a relationship, your ‘friends with benefits’ or with the occasional one nighter. But, I, like many of my gay peers would have appreciated a bit of guidance/sensible information.

Fundamentally, and irrespective of sexuality, the issue here is about children and young people being empowered to make choices they are happy with. That is impossible to do when you feel your choices are restricted to going all the way or not. Rather, sometimes we feel 70% 'yes' and we'll go so far, but we won't go all the way, at other times, we want to just the run the entire field track and skip all the getting-to-know-you warm ups, and sometimes, we want to roll over and sausage roll ourselves in our duvets whilst being spooned.

All of those are choices, but for some people they discover that those choices are available to us all when it’s too late. Leaving it to pure discovery has its risks. Young people grow up feeling insecure, nervous and frightened and this is particularly intensified when you feel even more marginalised because everyone is talking about 'normal' sex; and you feel that doesn’t apply to you. It isn't about segregating young sexual minorities and teaching them separately but it's about approaching sex ed in a wholesome manner and covering it all, for everyone.

Sex shouldn't make you feel frightened (although I think there is almost unanimous agreement that the first time is terrifying because of all the 'what if they don't like my....' questions.) it should make you feel comfortable, satisfied and relieved. Relieved both physically and emotionally, relieved that you made a choice about what you wanted to do, which resulted in having a good and safe time.

We will continue to betray young people if we do not make it compulsory for schools to teach a full and explosive curriculum on sex - let's not leave it to shoddy porn actors, but let's embrace sex as part of our every day (if you're lucky) lives and desensitise ourselves to it so that the classroom and subsequently the bedroom and the home become a safe places to explore, discover and go wild.

Until then, spread this article and support Brooks sex positive campaign on Twitter: @BeSexPositive

Become a member:

And help us lobby:

I'm on @Leonjward - let me know your thoughts.

Friday, 10 October 2014

New diagnoses of HIV Infection have almost doubled in young gay men 15 - 24

I will say it again new HIV Infections have almost doubled amongst 15 - 24 year olds. I read my briefing over breakfast this morning and I cannot quite describe the feeling in my stomach.  How can we, how can I allow this to happen and how did this data - www.gov.uk/government/statistics/hiv-data-tables - slip out and go largely unreported this week.

Almost 20 years ago I was in the early stages of coming out and it was exciting, exhilarating and scary.  HIV featured so heavily in my consciousness.  Shortly after graduating I started working at Cardiff AIDS Helpline, FPA Cymru and was part of the All Wales AIDS Network. We were resolute and determined to do all we could to prevent another generation experiencing the impact of HIV in their communities.  Against a backdrop of sustained investment in education and campaigning from government (some campaigns better than others, but awareness campaigns nonetheless) we developed innovative and exciting outreach and education programmes, we helped open up conversations about sex and condoms in clubs, in parks, in schools and in youth clubs to educate young people about healthy sexuality, choices and protection.

At that time we could not have imagined the advances in drug treatment that have changed the lives and life expectancy of people living with HIV beyond recognition. I am so grateful to all the scientists and activists who have made that a reality.  And we also never imagined it would be possible - morally or ethically - for another generation of young people to grow up not learning about sex, health and protection in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them.  Ways that help them develop the confidence, inner skills and self belief to manage their relationships and choices well, and to help protect themselves against HIV.

Ofsted in 2002 reported that schools were not teaching about HIV, and the DfE commissioned Sex Education Forum and National Children's Bureau to produce a toolkit for Key Stage 1 - 4 - Teaching and Learning about HIV which you can find here - its 10 years old but the ideas remain good ones - health warning on some of the information though - it may be out of date so do check it. http://mesmac.co.uk/files/appendix-17-hiv-activitites.pdf

So in the prevailing decade since Ofsted found young people did not have good knowledge about HIV and the skills to protect themselves new infections have doubled. PSHE is still not statutory and Ofsted reports that in 40% of schools PSHE is not good enough. That is not a tenable position and we need step change so there is PSHE fit for the 21st Century. We know that homophobia is still rife within many schools, and that funding for targeted LGBT youth work is seen as a luxury and funding is being reduced in parts of the country- what a false economy.

We cannot allow another decade where the number of new infections amongst 15 - 24 year old gay men double so it was pleasing to hear Secretary of State for Education commit to tackling homophobic bullying in schools in her Conference Speech. I look forward to seeing action.

We also need all schools to be required to provide relevant Personal, Social and Health Education for all young people which will provide a solid base for all children and young people. Work like that of www.diversityrolemodels.org which take LGBT role models into school is an important contribution to promoting visibility of gay people. We also need targeted youth work such as Brook's LGBT youth group Work it Out which provides a safe space for young people as they explore and understand their developing sexuality.

And most of all we need visibility - last night i was at an event to celebrate the publication of Executive Diversity in the Financial Times - a list of the top 100 Executives and straight allies.  The founder Suki Sandhu reminded guests of the importance of visibility. If we are to prevent HIV amongst gay men we need to ensure visibility of gay men in schools, and we need to talk talk talk about HIV, about stigma, about infection rates and about homophobia and its impact.  In the public imagination it sometimes feels that HIV has all but become a thing of the past. This data is a big wake up call for all of us.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Quantick Quiz - the hardest quiz in the world!

What better way to spend a wet Wednesday evening than at a quiz hosted by David Quantick, with fiendish questions and great company? The Quantick Quiz in Shoreditch last night was brilliant fun, and helped raise a fabulous amount for Brook. It wasn't for the faint of heart, however, hence the title of this blog - the top score in the first round was 2½ out of 10...!

Our quizmaster for the evening, David Quantick
My deepest thanks go to David, to Sophie, to the Brook Events team who helped everything run like clockwork, to the venue staff whose service was impeccable, to the sponsors who kindly donated a range of brilliant prizes (Orlebar Brown who generously offered a £250 voucher as the grand prize, Sh! for the lovely hamper, signed merchandise from Al Murray thanks to Avalon, magnums of lovely fizz courtesy of Les Caves, beautiful handmade jewellery by Sophie, a meal for two at Pizza East, and copies of Antonia Hodgson’s book The Devil in the Marshalsea, as well as a variety of books and CDs donated by David), and of course to all who attended, bought raffle tickets, and competed for the coveted first place. Some of the tweets from the evening can be viewed here.

I started off the quiz with a short speech, below. It was great to see lots of new faces at the quiz, and to get the word out about the vital work that Brook does to new audiences.

If you're inspired to run a quiz of your own for Brook – and I hope you are! – it's a great, fun way to raise money that doesn't involve walking for 24 hours. Our Get Involved site has information to get you started, and you can email Brook on supportbrook@brook.org.uk for more. We'd love to hear from you!



Welcome, and thank you for coming to this Quantick quiz for Brook. It’s a milestone year for Brook – our 50th birthday. That’s 50 years of being there for millions of young people in crisis and we are proud of all we’ve achieved.

When Brook started in 1964 a woman had to prove she was married in order to buy contraception (none of it was free) and if she needed an abortion she would have to risk the deadly, illegal backstreets. Homosexuality was also illegal. When it came to sexuality and sexual health, life for young people was tough.

Our founder, Helen Brook, and all those who worked with her, set out to change society against a backdrop of deep hostility, but they battled it out and now contraception is free, the age of consent is equal whether you are gay or straight, and abortion - with the exception of Northern Ireland – is, at least in theory, easily accessible for women. And one of Brook's most notable successes is ensuring that young people have the same right to confidential advice and treatment as adults.

You’d think we could just rest on our laurels, but not so. The pressures that young people have to deal with are just a bit different these days. Internet porn – whatever you think of it – isn't the best place to learn about sex, but it’s where many young people turn when they can’t find information anywhere else. Many schools fail to deliver good quality sex and relationships education which we know helps protect against abuse and help young people enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual choices. Sexual and homophobic bullying continues in our schools, HIV infection rates amongst young gay men are unacceptably high, and we continue to uncover more and more about the extent of child abuse and sexual exploitation. When it comes to helping young people with relationships and sexual health, there is still much to do.

Too many people throw their hands up in the air, despair of, and demonise young people, their behaviour and their choices.

People who have forgotten what it was to be young try and stop us from continuing to fight for better, safer, happier, healthier choices for young people. It’s too easy to cut services for young people, silence their voices, assume someone else will pick up the pieces.

The winning team, Industrial Mutton
At Brook we believe in, trust, and value young people. Our work helps them develop the inner confidence, skills, knowledge, self-belief and resilience to build good relationships, and keep themselves safe and happy. Even when the worst happens – when they are hurt, frightened, confused and in crisis, young people trust us and know that we’ll help them work things out.

You can help us do that – you’ve already started by buying a ticket tonight, thank you. You can help us more by adding a raffle ticket – there are some great prizes – or by becoming a member – there are papers for that on your table as well as more information about Brook. And you can help by talking about Brook – follow and retweet us on Twitter (@BrookCharity) to help spread the word about our campaigns and our work with young people.

Thank you very much for supporting young people by being here tonight. Thank you again to you David for preparing and hosting one of your infamous quizzes for Brook. I really appreciate it. Enjoy your evening.

Monday, 15 September 2014

All you have to do is put one step in front of the other

Like a Victorian novel, this blog post needs a subtitle, namely: "A step by step account of the Thames Path Challenge".

'All you have to do is keep putting one step in front of the other' had been my mantra in all the planning and training for this event. Never did it become a more necessary mantra in my head than between 97k and 100k as we walked, hopped and shuffled the final few kilometres of the Thames Path 100k Challenge in order to raise funds for Brook (you can still sponsor me via this link).

The Challenge had been on the cards for a long time. I had done a few training walks. Built walking into my everyday life a bit more. Talked about it a lot. But it was only on Friday evening as I picked up the Brook support team - my Mum and Dad - that the immensity of the challenge we were about to take on really properly truly hit me. This walk was a really hard challenge. In fact it was the hardest physical test that I have ever done by a long long shot. It brought me to my knees and it brought me to tears. More than once.

Several people have asked me how it was and so before I forget (already the pain is fading away) here is a summary, 10k by 10k. (You can also have a read of this Storify which captures many of the highs and some of the lows, and this Flipagram by Sharon.)

0-10k - the sociable and energetic phase

This was a jolly, happy, easy bit. Chatting, laughing, skipping and not even noticing the markers as the sun shone and the kilometres passed by with ease.

11-20k - the neither here nor there phase

Mostly people were still smiling, laughing and enjoying it, although first questions about how feet and legs are faring started to be asked.  In a few months' time I doubt it will be remembered much.

21-30k - the "oooh I have to get up again after lunch" phase

Here I started to notice the Km markers and heard talk about feet, blisters and aches a bit more. After our first proper stop and a delicious lunch prepared by one of our walkers, Drew, some of us could happily have gone to the pub rather than started walking again.

31-40k - the "I never knew this bit of the Thames existed" phase

Beautiful part of the world. It reminded me of being a student and hiking in the Lakes in Canada which sent me on a bit of a trip down memory lane. Still this was when it starting getting dark and we all needed a bit more coaxing and encouragement.

41-50k - the split feelings phase

A number of people were finishing at 50k or making a decision about whether to finish at 50. For the 50k-ers it was rightly a 10k of complete and utter elation, achievement and pride - it was a privilege to share in that joy. It also got really dark in our physical environment and was the first point at which the scale of it all sank in. First proper hard core blisters and aches appeared. As a 100k-er, it was hard to walk to the left of the 50k finish line, knowing you were only half way through and knowing you were just about to get a glow stick to guide you through the dark and into the next 50k. We hugged, kissed and congratulated the amazing 50k finishers, topped up our Compeed blister plasters and set off into the count down phase.

51-60k - the count down phase

As we set off from 50k I convinced myself it was the home straight and from here on in it was all down hill. By the time we did 51k we only had 49k to go, 53k only 47k to go etc. etc. It was still dark. It was the count down. Yeah, honestly. It was the count down. My efforts to convince others got me the nickname "the optimistic hound".

61-70k - the stinging nettle and gates phase 

I have no memories of this phase really. There was little talking. Little to talk about. Lots of stingers to watch out for. And gates. Lots of gates to open.

71-80k - the dark times phase 

It was dark. It had been dark for more than seven hours and it was long. My shins hurt. My feet hurt. My boots got heavy. It was dark. Very dark. One of our fellow walkers got very ill - sickness and diarrhoea on a path with only stinging nettles on either side of the path is not good. He had to stop (we managed to find him a taxi). I wanted to stop. I couldn't imagine completing. We carried on.

81-90k - the silent tears phase 

80k was a great marker. We were in the final 1/5 - almost home in fact. According to fellow 100k-er Tom, "as long as we keep this pace up it will be four and a quarter hours, max!". Forgive me for my lack of generosity but four and a quarter hours doesn't feel close to home. I cried. I cursed. I sang. I soothed. I hurt. I needed the bathroom really badly. And I got marvellous texts and tweets that galvanised my resolve and made me utterly determined to finish. So I jogged a bit. And the sun came up and it was stunning, stunning, stunning.

91-100k - the home straight

Seeing the 90k marker brought more tears to my eyes. Now we were really on the home straight. 91, 92, 93, 94, 95 came quickly and then we could see Henley. I convinced myself that I didn't hurt any more now than I had at 65k. But get this - just after 97k you knew where the finish area was and were told by someone in rabbit ears handing out jelly babies when your teeth already felt eroded that 'it's just a short loop to get the distance'. Just a short loop - bad enough - but this one took you up and down a hill to the point you were at in the first place. Not cool at all. Not too much time to worry as we saw 99k. Quick photo and then off to the finish line where we ran the last 30 metres and then cheered, laughed, hugged and sobbed and waited for our fellow walkers to arrive. And as they arrived I clapped, cheered and sobbed all over again.

As we downed our 'finishers fizz' in one gulp and quickly asked for another, we all swore that it was a once in a lifetime challenge. A big challenge and one I will not do ever again: 22 hours 36 minutes. Our time. Our triumph. Because we believe in young people 's rights it was completely worth it. And I am pleased I have done it as it was a stretch for me.

The support from our teams, friends, family, fellow walkers and supporters was exceptional and extraordinary. Phone calls, messages, WhatsApp, tweets and extra sponsorship kept us going through the long dark hours. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank everyone who has helped the Challenge raise funds to help Brook promote and protect young people's health and their rights. A special thank you to all the Brook walkers - it was a privilege to walk with such a brilliant team - determined people all so passionate about young people. Thank you too to my gorgeous parents who followed us round the course to make sure we were fed, watered and had what we needed.

As you know, I said 'never again'. Jonny and I are on holiday in Cornwall this week. After just one pint I heard those fatal words: "I know we said we wouldn't do it again, but I wonder what it would be like if we did. Knowing what it feels like.Would it be easier or harder?" For now he just got 'the' look. And planted a seed.

The organisers Action Challenge were absolutely brilliant. If you are looking for an organisation to do events with, based on this experience I fully recommend checking them out.


All of our wonderful 50k and 100k walkers:
Our amazing 50k runners (this is more than a marathon!):


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Milton Keynes goes Back in Time and I prove I really can't dance

Last night Brook Milton Keynes went 'back in time' to celebrate 50 years of brilliant Brook work with young people. The fancy dress costumes were absolutely phenomenal (except I let the side down because I couldn't find enough paisley in time). Equally phenomenal was the energy and effort that had gone into organising the party. It was undoubtedly a team effort led with enormous energy by Antonietta Moch (Toni) with boundless support from Hayden Tennant. 

To kick off the evening professional dancers tried to help us master a few steps. Learning some new dance moves was a (bit of a) struggle for me, and certainly gave everyone including myself lots to laugh at.  When did left become right, and when did 'pull towards' mean 'push your partner away and stand on their feet'? The tutor saw me struggling and came to help. She had a proper twirly dress and deftly took the lead - from then on I felt fantastic and we looked a bit more expert.

The team had pulled together a fantastic rolling projection with pictures and images showing Brook's 50 years. It showed just how critical the role Brook has played in transforming attitudes and developing knowledge and best practice for young people both nationally and in Milton Keynes specifically. We will get it on our website soon. It shows just how much has been achieved in 50 short years and just how much more there is still to be done. 

Until we confidently talk about sex, orgasms, masturbation, sexual abuse and exploitation, until we talk about pleasure and all young people know violence is never acceptable in relationships, until everyone knows that gender and sexual bullying is wrong, and until we have a culture that ensures that horrific sexual abuse like that exposed in Rotherham this week cannot happen again we are still swimming upstream and have a huge amount of work.

Against the backdrop of how much there is still to do, it was an honour to see some of the teams, volunteers and community partners working in Milton Keynes. I was so impressed by Jaydun one of the young volunteers who is doing great work to provide young people with no nonsense information as part of his O2 Think Big Social Action project, and the Boots The Chemists team who were absolutely delighted about how the partnership with Brook has helped them to improve their sexual health support in the community. 

It was of course wonderful to be in a room full of people who care about and trust young people and value their developing sexuality enormously. All of them do so much day in day out to ensure all children and young people grow up confident about their gender and sexual identity, about who they are and able to navigate their way through puberty, adolescence and into adulthood. 

In 50 years much has changed. We will need so much more change over the next 50 years if Brook's mission to enable young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm is to be realised.

In 25 years Brook in Milton Keynes has gone from a part time service providing a limited range of services for young people to a big service that sees many thousands of young people each year and works in partnership with schools, colleges and other organisations in the community. All of Brook's work in Milton Keynes operates from a fantastic building that sends a clear message to young people and our partners that we take young people's sexual health and well being really really seriously. 

I raise a glass to Brook being 50, to the team in Milton Keynes doing extraordinary work day in day out with young people, and to Toni and the organising team for a fantastic party.

P.s If you want evidence of dancing, there are some photos on my twitter @simonablake which will probably find their way to the Brook charity website over the next few days. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Harder, no: different, yes (version two - updated 20th August)

I often get asked whether it is more difficult for young people growing up now to navigate their way through what with sexting, revenge porn, easy access to internet porn etc etc. Each time I am asked I think of this Ted Talk from Ash Beckham who says 'hard is not relative, hard is hard...there is no harder, there is just hard'. (You can view the talk here http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kSR4xuU07sc)

Yesterday I was asked again whether it is more difficult for young people now on the same day as IPPR release a poll about the impact of pornography.  The poll showed that young people believe that pornography impacts on the way young people understand sex, their values and attitudes and in particular for young women, resulting in pressure to look and behave in particular ways. If you read the top line it is pretty grim reading, but thankfully young people have always navigated their way through complex situations and with the right policy solutions and public responses - i.e. a resolve to improve education and support, they will, I am confident, continue to do so now.

There is no doubt the internet has opened up all sorts of possibilities - some good, some bad and some downright ugly including the potential for bullying, harrassment and abuse. We know that young people use pornography for all sorts of reasons including to learn about sex in the absence of good sex and relationships education.  Whatever your interpretation of the evidence and your view about the impact of pornography, and whatever young people's reasons for watching it, there is absolutely no doubt there are much much better places to learn about sex and relationships. Full stop. We know from our work at Brook that it influences the way people learn about and understand about sex and sexuality, and can create all sorts of anxieties. 

And we are right to be worried, but we must not panic. Before we throw our hands up in despair it is important to think about what young people have successfully navigated in recent history: think about the 1960s when access to contraception was really difficult  for many, before the Abortion Act was passed in 1967 and if you were gay your love was illegal. More recently in the early 80s when the rights of under 16s to contraceptive treatment were untested and then the late 80s/early 90s at the start of the HIV epidemic, Section 28 was instilling fear about promoting homosexuality and young people often found emergency hormonal contraception was very difficult to get hold of without fear of reproach. Still now a short distance across the water in Northern Ireland it remains exceptionally difficult to get an abortion and only in recent years have young people been able to use Brook services without passing through protesters.

So as a general rule is growing up and starting your relationship and sexual career harder for young people now than ever before? Probably not. Is it different now? Yes, yes, yes.

Young people tell me time and again the most important thing us older people can do is trust young people and remember what it felt like to be young. Reflect and remember for example those feelings of falling in love for the first time, being anxious about who you fancied or about your body, simultaneously excited and confused by your sexual desires or concerned about your sexual performance. Remember what it felt like to worry you were pregnant or had a sexually transmitted infection, or to be pregnant, have a STI or want to tell your parent you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  Remember mustering up the courage to end a relationship or 'to be dumped' for the first, second or third time, to be unsure whether you wanted or had had sex, or whether a person you fancied had noticed you and whether a friend would break friends with you if they found out your true identity. All of those things and more happened in the 60s, 70s, 90s and continue to happen now. The context and circumstances will change - who knows what is coming next - but the human feelings associated with these experiences remain largely the same. 

If we can remember that and start from a position of trusting young people we will less likely be overwhelmed by new technologies and by internet porn and we will stop looking for solutions which simply will not work. The best solution we will ever have is three fold - 1. like and trust young people and make sure they know we have high expectations for them so they have high expectations for themselves 2. commit to promoting equality, including gender and sexual equality, and ensure good education at home, at school and the wider community to equip young people with excellent knowledge, skills (including discernment) and develop their self belief so they can navigate their way through the opportunities and challenges of their time with confidence and verve. 

@simonablake @brookcharity @besexpositive