Why It’s Never Too Late To Open Another Door

As of this summer, I am officially a university graduate, ready to go out into the wild world of work…or really not so much. Three years have flown by, and although uni has had it’s ups and downs, I would probably still rate it a solid 8/10; a sentiment you may or may not agree with, but either way, congratulations on graduating! 

Now that education is out of the way for at least a while, it’s time for us to focus on what we plan on doing for the rest of our lives. More specifically, that it might not necessarily be what you initially thought it would be, and why that is most definitely a valid decision. 

Pre-uni, I dedicated a hell of a lot of time to wanting to study architecture. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to Bath University to study architecture, followed by a Masters, PhD and any other relevant qualification I would need before swanning off to be architect extraordinaire. 

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It was my ambition, my life plan, and no-one could tell me otherwise. Two years later, I did start studying architecture, but at Cardiff instead (one of the best things to ever happen), but now having finished my undergrad, this is actually the end of the education journey for me so far. Thinking about it, my 16-year-old self would probably laugh at me saying this – I’m definitely not one to bail on commitments – but in hindsight, I just don’t see it as that at all.

At 18, we sit in front of those UCAS forms and it feels like we’re choosing our destiny, often with little to no experience of the subject we’re going to spend at least 3 years studying. I’d like to note that I’m writing this from the experience of choosing a very specific course with a direct relationship to a very specific job. I can imagine that perhaps with other course choices, such as Geography or English, there is far more variety in the doors that open post-graduation and thus less expectation to take a very particular path. 

In my case, 99% of people I meet assume I’m en-route to becoming a fully qualified architect, completing the full seven years because isn’t that what I’ve signed up to do? I must really want to be an architect, and yet for many people on my course, they do. They’ve found something they truly enjoy and feel rewarded doing, it makes them happy and it’s an incredibly direct path to them achieving their dreams and goals. Knowing the intense nature of the course, I have nothing but respect and admiration for all of them, and I wish them all so much luck, but quite simply, it’s just not my path. 

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Looking back, as determined as I was, maybe it was never meant to be. I just don’t think I was really ready to decide at such a young age what course would suit me best. You grow up so much during uni that your interests and passions are bound to change. I found that although I loved the course, I had chosen it for the wrong reasons. As cheesy as it sounds, I had looked to the destination rather than the journey. I didn’t even consider the experiences I’d gather, how they’d shape who I am and challenge my perception of my surroundings. Quite honestly, irrespective of how you feel about your area of study this is advice I’d now always give – maximise what you get out of your university education by appreciating what you learn and how you grow as a person, alongside the degree you’ll leave with.

Still, I can’t imagine having studied anything else, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Studying architecture has by far been my biggest challenge but I have pushed myself, developed new skills, and become a version of myself that I’m becoming prouder and prouder of. I’ve found friends for life, got involved with the local community and learned so much about both myself and architecture. By being confronted with challenges and opportunities every day, I learned my strengths and weaknesses. 

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I found that the competitiveness amongst architects did not suit me at all but also that community engagement was a natural interest of mine. I found that there were people around me who truly had a passion for what they were doing, and that inspired me to find mine – something I enjoyed so much that played to all the skills I had gained.

I already know that the skills I’ve taken away from doing the course will remain invaluable, I might just end up applying them differently to how I once thought, and that’s perfectly fine. Just because you’ve chosen a specific degree, doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to do anything else. No matter how close to your subject or how far from it your next stage in life leads, transferable skills will be your friend. You’ve not wasted your time or let anyone down. Changing your mind does not mean you’ve lost ambition or perseverance, it just means you might need a little more time to find what you really want to do or discover how to get there. I can assure you, not all dentistry students become dentists, not all journalism students become journalists and certainly not all architecture students become architects, and that is just a reflection of your individual journey. 

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Now I’m in a job which truly speaks to what I’m passionate about, and I am beyond excited. It’s still architecture-related because that genuinely interests me, and I’m able to make constant use of the skills I learned, despite this being a completely new angle to the subject for me. 

So no matter how related or unrelated your path might be to what you studied, I can guarantee there’s something you’ll take forward, be it within you or your skill set to help you find what you want to do. Maybe you’ll find it next week, next month, or next year, there is no rush. Maybe it’ll be the next thing you end up doing or it could be ten jobs down the line, that doesn’t matter either. Maybe you just need some time to consider your options from afar first. 

Whatever it may be, your choice is perfectly acceptable. No one’s path is set in stone and life is too short to stick with something you don’t actively enjoy. It’s also too short to worry about qualifications you don’t have. Believe in yourself and what you want to do, value yourself and what you have and will learn, and you’ll be able to open any door you want. 

 

Words by Maxene Sommer
Images from Maxene Sommer, Giphy/Shia LaBoeuf, Daily Letterings

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‘The L Word’ is coming back!

The show that gave me hours of joy and the confidence to come out has announced its return and I couldn’t be happier.

It was an ordinary day in October of 2016 when I walked into the living room and told two of my flatmates – I had come to the realisation, and finally had the confidence to say that I was bisexual. Even writing these words I feel myself breathing out. It feels as though I’ve been wearing the wrong size jeans all my life causing me to pull and tug trying to make them fit, but now I’ve added an extra button and everything has fallen into place.

As the weeks went on, I slowly came out to my family and close friends. The more I said the words, the more the jeans started to fit. Of course I had done a lot of thinking and tracing back through my life. I realised that this had always been a part of my me, but I had never been able to admit it to myself. I hadn’t had the words to describe my feelings, I couldn’t put two and two together. As I talked to friends and they asked all their questions, I kept coming back to early 2014.

s1Lquiz480I was living in Bethnal Green with my sister and friends, all of whom had just graduated from University themselves, as I was still completing an access course in order to get there. I was drowning in essays and projects, and my room became my study. The only way to get through it was to escape into TV & Film after a long day of work. I had also just discovered the joys of Netflix and the copious amount of entertainment it had to offer. One night I was trying to choose something to watch when I came across an American TV series called The L Word. The series followed the lives and loves of a group of women; all of whom were gay or bisexual in LA. I should have known that night, having chosen out of hundreds of options to watch such a specific show. A few episodes in I knew something had changed, or to be more precise, something had been found. I couldn’t stop watching this funny, warm, honest and human show.

These women weren’t stereotypes, they were people. As is my want, I started to investigate and discovered just how groundbreaking this show had been when it first aired in 2004 (and continued to be in its six series run). So rarely on American television does a project centred around women, with an entirely female main cast, creatives, and crew get commissioned. The L Word storylines echoed my own, at exactly the right time, and when I needed it the most. I was investigating and asking questions and the women of the L Word gave me the answers.

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As with all ensemble shows, you pick a favourite character, and as is true for many The L Word viewers, mine was Shane played by the wonderful Katherine Moennig. At the start of the first series, Shane is introduced as the Lothario of the group; a woman who other women are drawn to, if only for one night. As the series goes on she becomes so much more, and evolves into a three dimensional beloved character. I related to her because she was the youngest cast member, like me in her early twenties, and unlike the other women, had no intentions to settle down.

She is a character who is comfortable in her own skin, never compromises herself for others, and a woman who always goes by the beat of her own drum. If truth be told, it was love at first sight and a love which grew with every series. From one night stands to almost saying ‘I do’, Shane’s storylines were never boring but funny, moving and at times heart-breaking. I was overjoyed when she appeared on the screen and missed her when she wasn’t.

As the series went on I felt as if the women of The L Word had become friends whom I was checking in on with every episode. I came to love them all in their own way, but Shane would always be different. Here was a woman who I fell for as soon as she came on screen, the first woman I had been attracted to, and someone I could imagine myself with. Of course I know that falling for a character and a real human being are two very things, and that we project so much onto actors who portray much-loved characters, but this had never stopped me falling for male actors.

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In July it was announced that The L Word would be coming back, which caused both celebration and outrage in the LGBTQ+ community. Commentators have been looking back at the series and wondering what this new series will bring, how it will speak to a new generation of lesbian and bisexual women, and most importantly how it will fit into the cultural and political landscape of 2017. For all the good that The L Word did, like all cultural phenomenas, it had it’s problems. I hope in it’s new incarnation we see more WOC within the main cast, rather than one a series (with the exception of Kit), and I hope they give the trans community a character who doesn’t just struggle but thrives.

I for one am beyond excited by the idea of more The L Word coming my way. When I heard the news on a Tuesday morning, having only just recovered from London pride, I was in the middle of my own The L Word re-watch and was preparing myself for the end. Logging onto Twitter I saw the excitement from fans and cast alike, and couldn’t believe I would once again be ‘loving, living, laughing’ with Shane, Bette and Alice and a whole new host of women I could fall in love with. I immediately messaged my old flatmate who shared in my newfound excitement in finding The L Word in 2014, just as she had in previous years. We were both excited to have Shane back in our lives and even talked of having a The L Word screening party when the release day arrives.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Images by Showtime                            

 

 

                                            

 

 

 

 

‘Little Eden’: A Review

In a world where reptilians rule and demand daily doses of blood from all of the earth’s citizens, Little Eden tells the story of Jim, an office worker happy to comply with the rules, but who slowly becomes aware that all he has been told about how the world works may be untrue. As secrets unravel, Jim’s safety and life as he knows it hang in the balance.

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The debut production from Neon Peach Theatre is full of slick performances and big characters that make for an enjoyable romp through this world. Although the world could do with being a bit more solidified, and the set up a bit clearer, the fact that there’s a yearning to know more about the world demonstrates that it’s an interesting one. But with a slightly off version of reality, without clarification of what exactly is going on, it can become hard to follow and properly appreciate when the rules of the world start to come undone.

13320957_10154059108736233_6691409396024720195_o[1]An ode to 50’s sci-fi B-movies, Little Eden’s set, sound, and lighting design perfectly encapsulate this little pocket of cinematic history. Although this is a genre rife with joke possibilities, there was definitely the opportunity for more of this within the piece; the set-up is so rich, I was desperate for more gags and over-the-top self-awareness.

Liam Farmer gives a lovely performance as ‘The Vicar’, who narrates the entire show and is bombastic and incredibly fun to watch. Having a narrator on stage continuously can be a difficult thing to balance with the action of a show, but Neon Peach manage it perfectly. A special mention should also go out to Sophie Miller De Vega whose performance as the local nurse never becomes too ‘bimbo’, or dull, but continues to be funny despite her high-heel, pinned-up-hair, white-coat stock character.13316950_10154059108191233_8984799620704698462_o[1]In a small studio space like Camden People’s Theatre, it can be hard to visually engineer a whole world, but the transitions between different spaces and the way that the narrator interplays between it all is one of the strongest facets of the piece.

A work in progress that needs just needs a bit more of everything, Little Eden has potential, strong performances, and most of all, it’s proper good fun.

 

Here’s how to follow Neon Peach Theatre on social media:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/neonpeachtheatre/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NeonPeachTheatre/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/NeonPeachInc

 

Words by Sian Brett
Images by Jon Lee
 

 

Why You Should CoppaFeel!

As this is the last piece of this year’s sex ed week, I would love to begin by saying thank you to everyone who has supported the project through reading, sharing, and generally showing interest. It means a lot for us to be able to share our knowledge and our opinions on something we consider to be of vital importance. If we help anyone at all, we’ll be over the moon. Equally, we’d love to hear how you think we can improve, and what we can do next year to make the project bigger and better.

Moving on, I do have one last piece for all you wonderful people! The rest of this article is dedicated to the lovely people at CoppaFeel!, who were kind enough to set aside some time and talk to us. If you don’t know, CoppaFeel! are a breast cancer awareness charity doing excellent work in the UK. Last year, I had a chat with their Education and Health Comms Director, Sophie, who caught me up on what they do, as well as how we can look after ourselves. To begin, Sophie told us to check out the rethinkcancer.com site, and to watch some of the CoppaFeel! videos, that help introduce them as a charity (things you should do too).

First off, we discussed the curriculum surrounding breast cancer awareness and sex education at present, and how it’s lacking. As you all already know, this is something I’m passionate about, and it was nice to see it resonated in larger organisations. The improvement of education of this nature is severely lacking, and that’s why we started this project in the first place.

We also discussed how CoppaFeel! have managed to get around the curriculum by deploying their fabulous Boobettes to schools. These guys have been delivering talks to schools, offices and girl-guide groups, and have spread their message far and wide through volunteers, and that’s pretty damn cool. These talks have helped a great deal in getting people to feel more comfortable around the conversation and to go home and start checking themselves.

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The foundation of CoppaFeel! seemed to be that breast cancer wasn’t on young people’s minds, and was something we considered to be a later-in-life sort of situation. But it isn’t. Breast cancer can strike anyone, at any age, of any gender. We don’t worry about it because we don’t think we need to, and CoppaFeel! are out to pop that bubble, ensuring we are all kept safe and healthy.

Their main goal is to encourage younger people (but ultimately everyone) to check their breasts regularly. They want to encourage as many healthy habits like this as they can. The key here, is knowing your own body. Like any serious illness, the symptoms vary from person to person, and as such knowing what is normal for your own body is essential. Get comfortable with yourself, and know what your body does and doesn’t do (check out their #WhatNormalFeelsLike campaign for this one!).

Since a lot of our readers (hello you!) are younger, it makes a great deal of sense for us to push CoppaFeel!’s Uni Boob Teams. At the time I chatted to Sophie, I was still a uni student so she offered links to the team that I could send out to my friends wanting to get involved. If you want to do something worthwhile at uni, and still have masses of fun, join the Uni Boob Team for CoppaFeel!. They’re a lovely community of student volunteers that run around in boob costumes, making boob cakes and telling everyone to check their own. What more do you want?

In the end, this was a lovely enlightening chat to have had with CoppaFeel!, and I’m immensely grateful to them for making the time to talk to me. They brought to my attention that empowerment and confidence walk hand in hand with all of this. It honestly hadn’t struck me before, but it makes sense; if you know your body, and you trust your body, then you hold the secret to being happy with it. Body confidence, as an issue, is a raging fire that no-one seems to have the power to put out, but perhaps if we all took a little longer taking care of ourselves, and noticing how we are made, we might help each other too.

Ultimately, my chat with CoppaFeel! instilled in me some very simple things, that I (and all of you) need to be reminded of. My brain was filled with messages of empowerment, and confidence. I understood that I should learn to know and trust my own body, and to listen to what it was telling me, and to see a doctor if things weren’t right. It is not a waste of time. It is important.

So visit CoppaFeel!’s website, or via their social channels to stay up to date with their boob-antics, and look after yourself, above all. Thank you all again for indulging us in this project, we hope we have inspired you, helped you, or perhaps just interested you. With any luck, we’ll see you again next September.

Love, Anthem xo

 

Words by Briony Brake, with help from CoppaFeel!
Part of September Sex Education Week, 2017.
Images and videos by CoppaFeel!

Shame, Catholicism, and Sex Education

If I am being honest, my sex education never came from school but from books, film and television – like most teenagers. When the time came for me and my year nine form to have our allotted hour of PHSE sex ed, it felt a bit pointless; this was sex education from a Catholic perspective. This, of course, meant no talk of contraception or the range of contraceptives available, no talk of the lgbtq+ community, and ultimately being taught that sex was purely for procreation. The only privilege of my non-Catholic school friends was being able to put a condom on a banana, but as I look back I realise that in the confines of a Catholic school when discussing sex, it’s what isn’t talked about that creates the most damage.

When writing on Catholicism and its teachings on sex, a quote from the actor Rupert Everett – of all people – comes to mind. Upon being asked about his Catholic upbringing and how it affected his life as a gay man, he didn’t speak of the Catholic belief around homosexuality, but rather the damaging effect Catholic teachings can have on women. I sadly can’t find the exact quote so forgive me for paraphrasing: “When it comes to the Catholic church, women can’t win. The only two female roles models are Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the Virgin Mary, who conceived through immaculate conception. Women are being compared to the one woman in history who could give birth without committing a sexual act, no wonder the church attach sin and shame to sex.” On reading this, all my questions on why and how the church view sex, in particular female sexuality, were answered.

After reading Everett’s thoughts on Catholicism, it shocked me that this one way of looking at the world can be perpetuated through schools to teach such an important part of life. It rang true with my own problems surrounding sex and religion, for example, I have never understood why the strict teachings on sex are taught solely by men who have chosen to take a vow of celibacy. In life, the general rule of thumb is that when looking for advice you go to an expert, or a least a person with some knowledge and experience of your problem. However, when I look back on my sex education taught through this narrow prism, the residue that is left is shame.

For most of my teenage years, actually until I discovered feminism and feminist literature, I always felt a degree of shame about sex. As a young girl, the lack of information, and the age-old story of sex for reproduction left me with so many unanswered questions. I felt ashamed of having sexual feelings, of wanting to find out more through books and films. I was scared of the internet for the same reason I was scared of talking to adults; the embarrassment of googling, of asking, being expected to know more. It’s the catch twenty-two of being too naive in front of school friends and growing up too fast for your parent’s liking.

The mix of teenagers, sex and rumours cause misery and years of problems. Teenagers battle enough questions about their future without having to fight off the invasive questions: have you done it yet? Who with? Why are you waiting? Then again the shame that comes with both a yes and no answer. Slut shaming can come in all shapes and forms, from people you would least expect. Teaching sex using Catholicism seems to give people permission to judge a woman’s sexual behaviour, because as Rupert Everett pointed out, the church has the perfect spectrum on which to judge.  

The age-old tale of secrecy being more exciting is never truer than when sex comes into the equation. The Catholic veil of guilt and mystery does nothing to educate teenagers or even take away the fear and shame from the shy and anxious like myself. Most importantly, by not teaching teenagers about contraception, STDs, and how to practice safe sex, you are doing them a disservice. The more people know, the more power they have over their own lives and their choices. If a school must bring in the Catholic church’s teachings, then perhaps it should be one part of a much broader education. Sex education can’t be a cross between a biology lesson and a confessional. It must be taught with the same importance as the three core subjects and with the same enthusiasm and improvisational skills as a drama class.

Teachers, I implore to use every teaching tool in the box. Be brave, be honest, talk about the gory details, the joyous details. Point kids in the right direction and talk about sex’s place in culture. Even take inspiration from Channel 4’s recent documentary on sex education, and give teenagers a sex quiz. Make it competitive, make girls want to know what contraception is right for them, the importance of knowing their rights to their own body. Make boys want to know about a woman’s pleasure as well as their own, talk about the clitoris and masturbation as an important and healthy part of men and women’s lives. Hell, give UCAS points to everyone who acknowledges that NO means NO!

Give them an education void of other people’s shame and uncertainty. Take away the fear and replace it with the knowledge they will need to go out into the world. Give them knowledge they can use.

 

Words by Lara Scott
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

Teaching Menstrual Hygiene in Zambia

Last year, I spent a month volunteering in Zambia as a part of a student-led, nationwide charity called SKIP. The aim of the project, which has been running for 5 years now, was to teach local primary schools about sex education. The initiative passes on knowledge and materials to teachers and runs information sessions on STIs and HIV to women’s groups. By educating children and women in these topics, we aim to increase people’s knowledge within the community, giving them the means of protecting themselves.

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When I arrived at my first school I was given a government-issued textbook on sex education and a guide to what I should teach. I was so shocked by what I read. The books included phrases like ‘it is important to make yourself look nice for boys’, and included lists of desired characteristics for girls such as ’gentle, kind, good cook’. It seemed to me as though the country was decades behind our own, and I suddenly felt very overwhelmed. However, as I stood in the barely furnished, dusty classroom with that textbook in-hand, I looked around at my class and felt so driven to make a change.

My most successful, and potentially life-changing topics were periods and Project Mwezi. The so-called ‘tampon tax’ has been very present in the news recently, and rightly so as menstruation is far from a luxury. However, without access to sanitary products such as tampons, it can also be life-threatening. Despite being the most natural process for a woman, the presence of taboo in other countries severely undermines their rights; in Africa, 1 in 10 girls skip school during their period, and in India, 70% of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.

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Women and girls are prevented from completing their education and are even socially excluded throughout puberty. They are denied access to water and sanitation facilities when they most desperately need them. As a result, women turn to unsafe materials such as old newspapers and leaves to manage their period. Poor management of menstrual wellbeing is not only damaging to physical health but also mental health. That’s what makes campaigns such as Project Mwezi and Dignity Period so vital to developing countries. They teach women how to make low-cost, reusable sanitary pads from easily accessible materials. This knowledge not only helps them in the short-term, but gives the resources needed to teach these skills for generations, and even set up businesses by making and selling the pads.

However, this is not the only resolution. A key piece of the puzzle for changing attitudes surrounding the issue lies in educating men and boys. It is equally important to generate understanding amongst them so they can support their sisters, mothers and wives, and help remove the taboo surrounding menstruation. This begins with sex education in schools, something which is poorly under-taught and often sexist. As a society, we need to work alongside NGOs and other charitable foundations to open up conversations surrounding menstrual wellbeing, and create a world in which every individual is given the opportunity to have control over their own bodies.

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All I can do is hope that I empowered those girls in my classes even to the smallest degree. To hope that they went home after school and shared their knowledge with their mother, sisters and cousins. To hope that enabling those girls to attend school a few more days a month is one small step towards gender equality in Zambia.

Until then I continue to support SKIP and other charities to make sure the message that #MenstruationMatters is heard.

 

 

Words by Rowan Duval-Fryer
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.
Images from SKIP and Femme International

Sex Drive and Sadness

The side effects and symptoms of depression and anxiety can seep into every nook of your life. They can destroy your confidence, your energy levels, you can lose your social life, and your sex life can disappear. Those who suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can watch their sex life suffer and not understand why. You can sit by as you watch your relationship fall apart, or you can’t quite find your confidence to keep the lights on and remove your clothes in front of someone else. You can think that you don’t feel the same wants and needs that everyone else around you apparently feels, or not be able to pinpoint what exactly in you has changed yet nothing feels the same.

One of the less discussed yet still debilitating side effects of depression is a loss of libido. This can destroy relationships, the sufferer may not feel that they are providing their partner with everything that they want and need and therefore can acquire a sense of guilt and not feel like an adequate partner. This does not come from a lack of love for the partner, but relates to the struggle to enjoy life in the same ways that they used to. This is normal. At a time when they may feel that everything tastes of nothing and there isn’t quite anything that makes them feel strongly about something anymore, a lack of sex drive is perfectly understandable. They can still be head over heels for someone but not feel any urge to have sex anymore, they are intrinsically different things. Discussing this with the partner may make things a little easier for them to understand; communication is important in order for someone to understand what you are truly thinking. 

Another consequence of depression and anxiety can be a feeling of low self-confidence and low self-esteem. The thought of letting someone else see your body can be stomach churning, and the idea that they may find you attractive is baffling, but part of the self-care, if you have a mental illness, is to learn to fall in love with your body and to learn to find peace with yourself. If you aren’t currently okay with letting someone else see you fully naked, then build on it over time and learn where to draw the line of how comfortable you are. Never force yourself to do something because you feel like you should be doing it. If you are uncomfortable with something, work out why you feel that way and try to solve it or work around it.

Give yourself time, don’t force yourself into something that you are not comfortable with. You’re not alone in these feelings and looking after your mental health will help ensure that you have a healthy sex life. Don’t forget that every person has a different sex drive; what is normal for one person may be much higher or much lower than yours, having a dip is therefore normal for you. As with any issue discussed this week, if something is particularly worrying you, take time to go to the doctors so that you can talk about it.

 

Words by Beth Farrell
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

The ‘P’ Word

A few months ago, Anthem shared this incredible video by Glamour that showed us exactly what happens during our menstrual cycle. I don’t know about you, but a lot of this was actually a big shock to me! It really got me thinking about how strange it was that I knew so little about something that happens to me on a monthly basis. And if you’re male, or grossed out by all things bodily fluids, don’t go away – because this is for you too.

Did you know that 48% of girls in Iran think menstruation is a disease? How about that 70% of women in India think menstrual blood is dirty? I guess some of you are thinking that this might just be because of a lack in education. So let’s think a little closer to home. Just think about every sanitary product advertisement ever. Have you ever actually seen any blood on one of those? Or just that bizarre blue liquid that, if anything, makes your period look more like an incontinence problem? You might think that that’s because there are people who are frightened by blood and that it’s just a regulation thing – but there is no regulation against blood in sanitation product advertising. In fact, regulations only require these adverts to not cause offence and not be shown too close to children’s programmes. Because God forbid children might see something that could prepare them for adulthood. And don’t even get me started on the actual content of these adverts. All the talk about ‘discrete’ and ‘you can’t even tell’ and choice phrases like Tampax’s ‘Mother Nature’s monthly gift’. As if having a period is something to be ashamed of. As always, society finds a way to ridicule women for things completely out of their control. Do I even have to mention tampon tax?

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I’m sure you have felt it too, either you or the person at the check-out being embarrassed by your sanitary products, or maybe if you were buying them for someone else. Or someone saying ‘oh god, she must be on her period?’ and your plummeting heart when you think “how did they know?!” Isn’t it common knowledge that women bleed from their vaginas regularly? For some reason, pointing out specifically that I will be bleeding from my vagina sometime in the future makes it all the more unbearable.

Periods aren’t talked about openly and that has resulted in girls not being prepared for it. Research commissioned by the period education campaign Betty for Schools in the UK found that 60% of women were scared and 58% were embarrassed when they started their periods. Furthermore, 44% of girls had no idea what was happening to them at the time. This shows a clear problem: the menstrual taboo. Why are people so afraid of something that happens so naturally? What is it that’s so embarrassing?

Researchers Rempel and Baumgartner (2003) have actually found benefits of thinking positively about our own menstrual cycles. They found correlations between positive attitudes towards personal menstruation (and comfort with menstruation generally) and sexual attitudes, desires and behaviours, including being more comfortable with personal sexuality. They also found that women who were more comfortable with menstruation had more liberal views on sex and became aroused by a wider variety of sexual experiences. Basically, women who were open and accepting about their periods had more sex (which included when they were on their periods). Now, you might think that just means that women with more liberal views are likely to have more sex and be positive about menstruation. But the researchers took this into account, as well as how susceptible these women were to disgust, and found that the relationship between attitudes towards menstruation and sexual behaviour occurred regardless.

One of the things I think would help women become more positive about their periods is actually understanding them. People are afraid of what they don’t know and this is the exact reason why a worldwide fear of something so completely harmless has taken hold. How can we expect men to show periods respect when we can’t even do that ourselves? So, male or female, start talking. Start asking questions about how and why the amazing female body does what it does. And to get you started, here are a few talking points and answers:

1. Periods can be regular even if they don’t occur every 28 days – some women might have them every 18 days whilst other have them every 32 – they only count as irregular if they come at different intervals

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2. Just because you have periods, doesn’t mean you are fertile – a period where an egg is not released is called an anovulatory cycle.

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3. Clots in your period are perfectly normal – it just means you’ve got a heavy flow – but if you’re going through pads/tampons faster than every 2 hours this could be a sign of a problem.

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4. PMS does not actually occur during your period, it stands for Premenstrual Syndrome and occurs one or two weeks before the period. Women can get symptoms during this time and during their actual period due to the changes in hormones in the body.

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5. On that note, there are some ways of naturally improving your PMS symptoms. For example, increasing magnesium a few days before your PMS starts will reduce cramping. That includes foods like nuts, beans, whole grains and even dark chocolate (woohoo). You can also reduce bloating by increasing vitamin B6 levels with pork, poultry, cereals, eggs and vegetables. For that matter, eating a balanced diet can seriously benefit your period experiences, including drinking enough water.

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6. And for those who are on birth control – the ‘period’ that occurs once a month whilst you are on them is actually a withdrawal bleed. This happens as your body readjusts to not getting the hormones it’s been accustomed to for the past month.

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Words by Jessica Yang
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

Sources:
Bustle
Bustle
Buzzfeed
The Guardian
The Independent
Rempel and Baumgartner (2003): Rempel, J. K., & Baumgartner, B. (2003). The relationship between attitudes towards menstruation and sexual attitudes, desires, and behaviour in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(2), 155-163.
WASH United
Wikipedia

Halves, Wholes & Other Emotional Maths

We all grow up differently. Some people are self-conscious about their weight. Some people hate their noses. Some people think no-one is ever going to like them. Whatever it is, everyone has their insecurities, and from my experience, sex ed didn’t really make anyone feel better about them. The teacher was awkward, the students were worse, the curriculum was reeled off and that was pretty much it. The biology was covered, and ‘pastoral care’ mentioned, but what no-one really touched upon was how big a role emotions and self-image play amongst all this growing up.

I spent a lot of my teen years feeling uncomfortable in my body and insecure about how I looked. I was one of – in hindsight -many people that thought no-one would ever want them. I doubted that anyone would ever feel anything for me, yet maintained the hope that should something happen, it would be the answer to everything. I’d be fulfilled, complete and wanted, entirely satisfied with myself and my life.

Looking in the mirror and not only seeing the ‘ugly’ and the negative seemed an insurmountable thought for me. I was stuck in a rut of worthlessness, hopelessly looking to be wanted and reassured. I had the expectation that finding someone who saw more in me than I did would automatically bring happiness, irrespective of how I was feeling. I was not prepared for the emotional experience that thinking would bring about.

21244662_10211805042095761_2026440898_nThere’s that saying; ‘looking for my other half’, that people use when they talk about finding that person who is their soulmate. Whether that’s important to you or not, I think there’s something about this quote to bear in mind. No-one else should ever be your other half because you are already a whole. This is actually quite a new revelation for me, but one that has made all the difference, both to my relationship with others and with myself.

Adopting this perspective is, in essence, very flexible. It can mean that you need to go and be single and find happiness with yourself completely alone, but it doesn’t have to. It can mean constantly surrounding yourself with family and friends to build up morale, but only if you want it to. Whichever suits, my point is that no matter how endearing your environment is, the positive words from people around you cannot fill the sadness of how you see yourself forever. You must give yourself time to learn, to help yourself.

I am a huge advocate of drawing from the people around you. Having hated myself for so long, I have found so many parts of myself that I now love through other people and how they saw me. A few years ago, however, these positive words will have needed to be regular; I was in constant need of recognition that I was of any value. What they were saying wasn’t sinking in, because deep down I still couldn’t see past what I saw.

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When no-one was around to reassure me, I plummeted back into sadness, which took a toll on almost every aspect of my life. As I watched myself let everything slip away, I realised that I was losing myself. I decided that something had to change. I took a deep breath and a step back. I spent a summer with less social media and less communication with friends. It gave me a chance to reflect on myself, the words of others, and how I wanted to see myself. I built up confidence, proving to myself that I was of value rather than needing someone else to tell me this. It was a long process, and how I went about it may not suit you at all, but what matters is making that change.

I finally allowed my friends’ words to change my own mind, and as a result, I’m starting to embrace a happiness which is beyond fulfilling. This happiness comes from within. This is where we come back to that quote because that is what we all deserve. You are – always have and always will be – enough, but we need to take charge of our own self-worth to truly realise that. No-one can permanently plug that self-doubt you have, no-one can fill that space of insecurity forever. Using the people around you and their appreciation for you, you can build up the image you have of yourself into a whole that you become happier with.

While I think that’s important for wider life, it’s also important for the health of your relationship. You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t let go for the benefit of yourself or your partner because your entire world depends on how their opinion of you builds you up. Even whilst in a relationship, you are two very different individuals who have their own lives but needn’t depend on the other. Value one another for the love you give but have enough confidence in your self-worth that you don’t need it to be satisfied.

As I said before, everyone is different, and everyone improves themselves differently. Your environment, be that a relationship, friends, or family is a gold mine for learning about what others value in you. The importance of the emotional awareness that sex ed neglects, lies simply in seeing this within yourself. In no time at all, you’ll find yourself taking the world by storm because knowing yourself – the ‘to-be-improved’, the value and the good – is nothing to be afraid of. Rather, take your happiness into your own hands and go for it, in love, ambitions or everyday life, all while knowing just what a good egg you truly are.

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Images from Rubyetc, Picture Quotes and The Online Odyssey.
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.

The Absence of LGBTQ+ Sex Education

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At the start of 2017, our government blocked compulsory LGBTQ+ sex and relationship education. On reading about this decision, and being asked to write on sex education for Anthem, I realised how lacking my own sex education was in the mid-noughties. It is a crying shame that my friends and I were so ill informed back then, let alone as teenagers are now in 2017.

We were taught about biology, not pleasure, and definitely not consent. It was very male centric, with the attitude that ‘boys will be boys’. Girls were taught to allow boys to experience these new feelings and to be kind to them if they get an unwelcome erection in your presence. Female masturbation, however, was an afterthought; described to us using a video of a woman on an exercise bike (which made exercise bikes very confusing for a time). 

Being taught sex education in a Catholic school meant that the word ‘contraception’ was mentioned once in reference to the use of a condom, but no instructions on how to use one. Again sex was seen as a means to an end, that end being babies. We were not taught about consent, what it is to be in a healthy relationship, porn, sexting, mental and physical abuse, and I never once heard the word clitoris.  

I was taught that sex was all about the sperm fertilising the egg, and a woman’s main role was as a mother. This left no room for discovery or intimacy, certainly not if you identified as anything other than heterosexual. We were taught sex education with the same attitude that my great grandmother had about LGBTQ people. When my grandma informed her that there were lesbians in the WRENS (Women of the Royal Naval Service), her mother replied: ‘”Don’t be silly, women don’t do that”. She didn’t even think it was possible. When I had my sex education, sex seemed a far off thing as the boys at my school either annoyed me or scared me. At this point, an attraction to women didn’t seem to be an option. It was not until I was twenty, and watching The L Word that this part of life would make sense to me. Coming out as bisexual in 2016 put a lot of things into perspective, especially how society views sex, and how culture comments on it. I was looking for representations of myself and found them to be few and far between.

When I had my sex education, sex seemed a far off thing as the boys at my school either annoyed me or scared me. At this point, an attraction to women didn’t seem to be an option. It was not until I was twenty, and watching The L Word that this part of life would make sense to me. Coming out as bisexual in 2016 put a lot of things into perspective, especially how society views sex, and how culture comments on it. I was looking for representations of myself and found them to be few and far between.

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On researching the reasons behind this absence in sex education, the common train of thought behind not teaching LGBTQ inclusive sex ed was the worry behind promoting the lifestyle. This thought process is wrong on many levels, the worst being that like all prejudices, it puts one person’s life above another; it teaches that heterosexuality is the norm. I mean, when was the last time someone came out as straight? I have read many articles and watched many videos on heteronormativity, and can see that this is where the absence stems from. From the government right down to schools and parents, people assume people’s sexual orientation, therefore assuming LGBTQ+ are in the minority. This leads to exclusion, and people feeling devalued. I have never understood why when teaching teenagers about sex and education, you wouldn’t teach them about every colour of the rainbow, no pun intended; it is of invaluable importance to their education. If I was an MP, a teacher, or a parent I would want thought-out, informative, joyful lessons on the subject that required more than just an hour before lunch. I would want young adults to learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, pleasurable sex, safe sex, attraction, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, dating, online dating, and the myth of virginity.

I have never understood why when teaching teenagers about sex and education, you wouldn’t teach them about every colour of the rainbow, no pun intended; it is of invaluable importance to their education. If I was an MP, a teacher, or a parent I would want thought-out, informative, joyful lessons on the subject that required more than just an hour before lunch. I would want young adults to learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, pleasurable sex, safe sex, attraction, affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community, dating, online dating, and the myth of virginity.

As a graduate of English and drama, I would also discuss how our culture views sex; the difference between a sex scene and sex, the difference between pornography and sex. I would teach people where to find LGBTQ+ representation, where to find feminist representation, and what it means to be a feminist, especially when it comes to sex. When it comes to sex we don’t give teenagers (especially teenage girls) the credit they deserve. Your teenage years can be the hardest as a period of constant pressure, questions and uncertainties about all that life can offer. The least adults can do is give them some certainty, and show them that they understand. School is meant to be a place where we learn about the world, about ourselves, and what we can become. I came out at the age of 24 – a whole decade after I learnt about how a sperm fertilises an egg. I had ten years to read all the sexy books and watch all the sexy films, and I had The L Word to confirm my bisexuality. I still think of the joy I missed out on, the stupid things I could have avoided, the days spent questioning and not acting. I think of that anxious lonely girl or boy who doesn’t have the strength to wait ten years. What if one person telling them their feelings are valid, or hearing that ‘love is love’ gives them the permission to start finding joy?

School is meant to be a place where we learn about the world, about ourselves, and what we can become. I came out at the age of 24 – a whole decade after I learnt about how a sperm fertilises an egg. I had ten years to read all the sexy books and watch all the sexy films, and I had The L Word to confirm my bisexuality. I still think of the joy I missed out on, the stupid things I could have avoided, the days spent questioning and not acting. I think of that anxious lonely girl or boy who doesn’t have the strength to wait ten years. What if one person telling them their feelings are valid, or hearing that ‘love is love’ gives them the permission to start finding joy?

 

Words by Lara Scott
Image courtesy of Showtime
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.