Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Young people, pregnancy, punk and participation

Yesterday Brook launched its new evening and weekend sexual health services for young people in Stockton on Tees - a really exciting initiative funded by Stockton’s Teenage Pregnancy Partnership and the Stockton Renaissance and Neighbourhood Renewal Fund.

The launch was led by young people aged between 15 and 17 who had made a film about sex and sexual health for the event. They had also come up with ideas for a range of activities and entertainment, and got their friends involved (including an up and coming young punk band who covered songs by the Buzzcocks and the Clash). The energy and enthusiasm they all brought to the event was infectious and invaluable.

I listened to two of the young people talking to each other: 'just been talking to her [nodded head towards a woman on other side of the room] for ages. She was really interested in what I had to say about sexual health.' She beamed as she spoke - clearly pleased that someone had listened.

The same two young women were also part of a group interviewed by their local radio station, and did a great job of explaining succinctly to the reporter why young people in Stockton needed these new services. ‘We don’t want to go somewhere where you might bump into your mum or your friend’s mum’, explained one, ‘we need somewhere just for young people’. ‘Teenage pregnancy is really common round here’, explained her male friend, and another proudly told the reporter she had just done a chlamydia test, explaining why it was important that other young people did the same.

Later I spoke to them and asked if they had enjoyed the afternoon. They had - the best thing, they told me, was giving their views and being listened to by adults, and they were really pleased they might make a difference for other young people. So easy to do, so important and yet still so many young people are not involved in decision making and service development.

Do we really think we can get services and education right without seeking the ideas and help of those young people we are trying to support?

Monday, 12 February 2007

Contraceptive awareness week

This week is Contraceptive Awareness Week: an important opportunity to reflect on what more needs to be done to help people of all ages take control of their contraceptive choices, as well as welcoming the progress that has been made over the past 40 years or so.

We are still taking two steps forward and one step back. Currently we are seeing the constant threat to community contraceptive services as a result of the NHS funding crisis. This is an issue for us all. We must not let it happen without protest. It is short sighted and irresponsible, with undoubted personal, social and economic costs over time.

In this changing policy context, one fact remains true – far too many young people are growing up without the education, support and services to help them enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual choices and well being. In Contraceptive Awareness Week 2007, why not identify at least one thing you can do personally or professionally to promote an open and positive culture about sex, sexuality, contraception and sexual health? Tell us here what you think should be done. Share your ideas and inspire others.

At Brook we will continue supporting young people and providing a platform through which they can express their views and ideas and share their experiences. Watch this space.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

'Love in the time of phone porn' - a response

An article in Tuesday’s Guardian (Love in the time of phone porn, 29 January 2007,,2001171,00.html) again highlighted the worrying levels of sexual imagery that young people are exposed to via television, magazines and a range of new media including bluetoothing on mobile phones. The article rightly underlined the importance, in this environment, of sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools that counters the potentially damaging messages about sex and relationships that young people are likely to have received through the media.

Improving Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), the curriculum subject in which teaching about sex and relationships takes place is certainly important. Brook believes it is an entitlement for all children and young people and should be made part of the national curriculum. Unfortunately, however, PSHE is not the universal panacea. For decades young people have been telling us they need more reliable, consistent, open discussion about sex, gender, relationships, body image and so on. More recently young men in particular have been telling us the education they receive at home, at school and in the community was not helping them learn how to be good at relationships and to understand sex. They tell us they turned to pornography for this vital information, and as technological change races on the dissemination of porn via the internet and bluetooth has become ever easier to access. But porn in turn is confusing and reinforces stereotypes, fears and concerns.

The Guardian article talks a lot about the role of schools, but much less about the responsibilities of us all as parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and family friends. No one person or organisation can bring about the cultural change we need so that when young people decide to have relationships and sex they are emotionally ready, can communicate well, respect themselves and their partners and take responsibility for and enjoy sex. Many things have changed since Brook first opened its doors in 1964 to provide contraception for unmarried people, not least the explosion in the number of ways in which people receive information about sex. However, the need for reliable, objective information and advice and our shared responsibility to provide it remains as great as ever.