Sex Education

What To Expect At A Smear Test

I’d like to start by saying that this is only my experience and that everyone’s experience of getting a smear test will be different.

A smear test (medically known as a cervical screening) is used to check your cervix for cell changes, which can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). In the UK, you are invited for your first smear test at the age of 25, and if your results are normal, you should get a smear test every 3 years. I remember receiving my letter in the post inviting me to my smear test a couple of months before my 25th birthday two years ago. I knew it was coming and I called my GP to book myself in more or less straight away, having read horror stories about people putting it off with dire consequences.

I didn’t really feel too nervous until I was in the waiting room. I had wondered if it would hurt, given that there is still a silly amount of scaremongering about smear tests. Before being invited for my test, I didn’t know much about how it all works, so I did a bit of reading before to prepare myself. As a sexual assault survivor, I was somewhat anxious about being triggered, but I was able to keep reminding myself how important it was and I managed to put those feelings aside until the actual procedure. One thing I advise if you are a survivor is telling the practitioner who will be carrying out your screening. You don’t have to give details but it is helpful to let them know because then they can support you and know to expect that it might be a difficult experience for you.

The actual screening itself usually consists of you lying on a bed and bending your legs with your ankles together and knees apart – sometimes there will be stirrups but I didn’t have them in my appointment. A lubricated speculum is inserted into your vagina to allow the practitioner to see your cervix. Once the practitioner has a good view of the cervix, they use a small brush to take a sample of cells from it. This is the part that I’d heard everyone complain about. Personally, I found the speculum the most uncomfortable part, but I didn’t find it painful. The actual brushing part lasted about three seconds and felt a little weird and uncomfortable, but again I didn’t find painful at all.

The nurse talked me through everything she was doing, which I had requested due to my past experiences. It is good practice for the practitioner to talk you through the procedure anyway unless you request not to be told. My legs were shaking like crazy to start with, but mentally I managed to get myself in the zone. The whole screening lasted a few minutes and I was honestly surprised at how quickly it was over. It’s normal to have a little bit of spotting afterwards, but you shouldn’t experience any pain – if you do, then get in touch with a doctor. 

image1 (2)

I got my results in a letter after a couple of weeks and they were normal. Occasionally they will find abnormal or pre-cancerous cells, which results in either another screening or a colposcopy appointment, followed by treatment. 1 in 20 people will have abnormal results, but less than 1% of these people will have cervical cancer, so try not to panic if you’re told you have abnormal results (easier said than done, I know).

It’s very easy to put off booking your smear, but it is incredibly important. More than 99% of cervical cancer cases are preventable. Your smear test isn’t a test for cancer, but it is a test to help prevent cancer. Anyone with a cervix is at risk of developing cervical cancer, especially aged 25 to 49. This applies if you’ve had the HPV vaccine, if you’ve only had one sexual partner, if you’re lesbian or bisexual, and so on. As I said above, my experience is only one of many, and I had a good experience. Not everyone will have a perfect experience, but at the least, you can be reassured that it doesn’t last more than 5 minutes.

If you’re super nervous about your smear test, definitely check out the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website (linked below); they have some fab tips for how you can prepare and how you can make the experience as easy as possible. But whatever you do, please don’t put it off!

Helpful links:

  • Zoe Sugg has just started a ‘Smear Series’ on her IGTV where she’s filmed her experience
  • Katie Snooks’ YouTube video covers her experience with cervical screening, her abnormal results and the treatment she had for this. There are a plethora of YouTube videos of people’s experiences with smear tests.
  • Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has info on what cervical screening is, results, the procedure, etc.
  • The NHS website has easy-to-read info about cervical screenings
  • Cancer Research Statistics for more statistics like those used in this article


Words by Amber Berry for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online
Image from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

The Importance Of Body Image In Sex Education

This August, my sister and I were lucky enough to spend a few days at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When making a list of all the shows we had seen, I realised that we had both sought out shows exploring body image and body confidence. It was only after leaving the Edinburgh bubble that I realised the importance of including body image in the conversation on sexuality because these two things usually go hand in hand.

All the women in these shows talked about their body confidence, or in some instances, their lack of body confidence, and how it had stopped them feeling desirable. In one show, a woman discussed being teased and belittled by a group of men on a night out because of her size, and on another occasion, she described how a man had asked her boyfriend why he was with her.

This type of harassment is both specific to plus size women and a continuation of the harassment women receive on a daily basis; from catcalls to men asking us to smile on cue. In our society, women’s bodies are seen to be offered up to the public for judgement and affirmation. Many of the shows I saw in Edinburgh this summer combatted this idea by encouraging women to reclaim their bodies for themselves. 

In one particularly brilliant show, Hotter by Sweaty Theatre, Mary Higgins and Ell Potter use personal experiences, interviews and verbatim theatre to explore body image, sex and sexuality. In a Guardian interview, their show is described as an “interrogation of the female body, its fluids, desires and changes”. In a voice-over, women say what makes them feel sexy, what makes them feel heat, what an orgasm feels like and what their favourite song to dance to is.

As I was watching the show, I felt accepted, laughing in acknowledgement of awkward anecdotes, and taking joy in the stories being shared, however halfway through I felt a deep sadness and I couldn’t understand it. It was only when I was thinking about what to write for this’s year’s sex education week that this sadness made sense, and I knew what I wanted to talk about. I felt sad that for the first time, at the tender age of twenty-six, because I wanted to apologize to my body and look after it in the same way I try to look after my mind.

3361

I was taken back to being fifteen, sat in a geography classroom having the allotted hour-long sex education lesson before lunchtime. I thought how different my sexual experiences would be if this show had been part of my sex education, how I would have treated my body over the past ten years if I had made the connection between my own relationship with my body and my sexuality sooner.

As with most sex education, girls’ and boys’ bodies are represented as biological machines, going through the motions that we call puberty. I learned about body hair, periods, the sperm and the egg, and for split second, contraception. I was not taught how to respect the other person’s body and their boundaries, let alone my own. We were all asked to write down all the words we knew for penis, vagina and breasts but not what we thought of our own body parts. I was taught what sex was but not how my body would respond to arousal and how I could feel desirable or what I might find desirable in another person. As I got older, I never thought about the sex education I had received unless it was to realise how lacking it was; I wasn’t able to use it as a road map.

In my teenage years, I felt as if I had been left out in the wild looking for signposts. Books and films were used as a way to see where my desires lay. However, I was still acting as if this desire was something my mind was creating; the thought of my body being a factor embarrassed me, I didn’t want to pay attention to it. I also knew that all the questions I had about my body were making me feel isolated and confused. It was only when I discovered feminism in the form of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman a few years later, that my body started to make sense to me.

A unique selling point of the show Hotter was that Mary and Ell were best friends who had been a couple. Throughout the show, the audience caught glimpses of this intimate relationship as a result of its many iterations. One of the most moving moments in the show was when Mary and Ell read out letters they had written to themselves, thanking their bodies and promising to love them as best they can. At a point in Ell’s letter, she addressed Mary directly, thanking her for loving and desiring her body, making Ell love her body more in the process; ‘you always loved my tummy, in a way I never could’.

At the end of the show, both women admitted that they were trying to appreciate their bodies more. They wished they could get to the end of the hour and tell the audience they loved every inch of themselves, but like all the women in the room, they knew this was a big ask. Instead, they ended the show with a promise, to treat their bodies better, asking the audience to do the same and inviting us on stage for a final dance.

As for many women, my relationship with my body has been not been easy, I spent early teenage years ignoring it and my late teens/early twenties learning about it and starting to take pride in it. After watching Hotter, I thought about what I might say to my body in my letter and again I went back to being fifteen and feeling confused about the body I was growing into.

If I could add anything to the sex ed curriculum, it would be to ask teenage girls to write a letter to themselves.  I would ask them to write about what they love about their bodies, who they desire and what desire feels like for them. If girls are in control of what they think about their bodies from a young age, maybe they can find the joy in their bodies and sexuality sooner, therefore having a better chance of happy and safe sexual experiences. We need to teach girls how to drive their own body before they allow another person to take the wheels.

Words by Lara Scott for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.
Image by Izzy Romilly via The Guardian/Ell Potter and Mary Higgins.

The Manley Guide To Female Authors: Body Positivity

Body image is something which has plagued women for as long as our worth has been associated with how we looked, so forever basically, but in an age of social media where we count the likes we get on pictures of ourselves, our feeds are full of people’s ‘perfect’ lives and ‘perfect’ bodies, and all angles are exploited in order for someone’s waist to look as small as possible whilst also somehow making their bum look like Beyonce’s or Kim Kardashians. It’s no wonder that we’re all lacking a little bit in the way of body positivity, so for September Sex Education Week this year I have had a hunt through my bookshelves to find women who are, like all of us, lacking in confidence and over analysing every little thing, and also women who celebrate, or who are learning to celebrate, every part of them.

image2


Girl Up
, Laura Bates

Within the first few pages, Girl Up simultaneously made me cry and want to shout hell yeah! Throughout this book, Laura Bates is pressing a giant bullshit button (or sexist bullshit klaxon), calling time on the old adages; “worrying about our bodies is a trap. It’s a great big, ugly trick that keeps girls quiet and under-confident”. Everything she talks about I agree with but also know I am guilty of feeling the way the adverts want me to feel, I am guilty of wanting to lose weight and look different, I am guilty of feeling inadequate in my body, but I am also agreeing with her that I shouldn’t feel that way. I think this book more than any other shows the trap that I and many other women are in. We’re constantly trying to be more body positive and embrace every aspect but that doesn’t mean that we suddenly become invincible to the pressures from the outside world and our own minds.


Irie in White Teeth, Zadie Smith

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith, is not about bodies, or indeed teeth. The story follows three families over the course of the 20th century and how their lives become intertwined with each other and the paths they follow as a result of various events.

One of the characters, Irie, is a 15-year-old girl growing up in the 90s in North London, trying to find her place in the world. She struggles with her weight, her identity as a mixed race woman, and with unrequited love. Much of Irie’s focus, during her chapter, is on how she can gain the attention of Millat; lose weight, relax her hair, subsequently burn it all off. As we get to know Irie more we realise that a lot of this has very little to do with Millat but with her own insecurities. She hates her curly hair, she wants “straight straight long black sleek flickable tossable shakeable touchable finger-through-able wind-blowable hair. With a fringe”. She sees weight loss adverts on the way home from school and fantasises over ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures, waiting “for her transformation from Jamaican hourglass heavy…to English Rose… a slender delicate thing”.

Irie’s chapter is both devastating and hugely relatable, I know that I have stood in front of a mirror or seen a photo and hated what was staring back at me. I know I have, as Irie does, placed my hand on my stomach reminding myself not to be bloated after lunch or whilst on my period; remember to suck in – this dress wasn’t made for big meals, thank goodness I wore a baggy top etc. I also know that since reading White Teeth, Irie has crept into my subconscious in a positive way. I saw my internal monologue written down and cried, and now when I remember, I try to fight back, I try to relax a little after lunch or dinner, and remind myself that it’s fine to be human.


Phenomenal Woman
, Maya Angelou

This poem exudes confidence, it is a celebration of her and her body. Phenomenal Woman is a confident, sassy celebration of self that we should all try to embrace as much as we can. All I can say now is to listen to the woman herself and take a little bit of Angelou away with you today.


Is It Just Me?
, Miranda Hart

Miranda Hart is best known for her sitcom Miranda but since then she has spoken out about a lot of personal issues on Instagram and in her book Is it Just Me?, an apt and relatable title that we’ve definitely all thought at some point or another. The fabulous thing about this book is, firstly, it’s not just you, we really are all in this together *cue music* but also the way she gets straight to the point, whilst also making you laugh; “most of us wouldn’t mind looking a bit more like him or her from Men’s Health or Grazia magazine, and a little bit less like, well, a sackful of ham”. The book is written as if in conversation with her younger self, and particularly for the chapter on bodies, it’s a good way of calling out the insecurities our younger selves have that as we get older we will hopefully move past.

She also calls out the fact that the idea of being “taken seriously as a woman” is to have glamorous hair, a designer handbag and a full face of makeup, and lists the pros and cons of being a tall woman (something I will never experience, being vertically challenged myself) including occasionally being mistaken for a man (pro: skip the long queue for the ladies, con: you’re more likely to have to help people lift heavy things).

image1


Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies
, Scarlett Curtis

Feminist Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies (FDWP) is a collection of essays by women on what feminism means to them, curated by Scarlett Curtis. It is a fantastic read and one I recommend to all of you (duh, that’s why it’s in this list). I love the variety of topics covered in this anthology, it is educational, eye-opening and extremely relatable. Body positivity isn’t really spoken about explicitly in the book, at least not in the way we imagine it. Dolly Alderton lists it in her essay ‘Dismantling and Destroying Internalised Misogyny: To-Do List’; “Remember that when you stand in front of the mirror naked and examine every opalescent stretchmark and knobbly toe and undulation of flesh of your body (every night) and feel a deep, sour hum of self-hatred, it’s probably not because you’re hideous”.

I think that body positivity is spoken about in broader terms, whether it is in the power of our bodies during childbirth, claiming ownership over our bodies as a result of the #MeToo movement, buying empowering pants or seeing representation in the media of people who look like you, FDWP offers up a whole variety of body positivity for you to enjoy and hopefully find at least one essay that speaks to you.


Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my favourite books and quite possibly my favourite film. It is both incredibly poignant and funny. The story charts the lives of Idgie and Ruth and deals with issues such as racism, domestic violence, female friendship, grief and love. Set across two different timelines, we learn about Idgie and Ruth via the stories told by Ninny to Evelyn during Evelyn’s trips to the local nursing home. Whilst I could talk endlessly about Idgie and Ruth and the many other fantastic characters in this book, it is Evelyn’s journey that I want to focus on for this piece (but please do go and read/watch this, you won’t regret it).

Evelyn is a 1980s housewife struggling with the idea of growing older; her weight, the menopause, and her stale marriage. Every time we meet Evelyn she is trying a new crash diet, skipping meals or wrapping herself in clingfilm, however, over time as she learns more about Idgie and Ruth’s lives we begin to see changes in Evelyn. She becomes empowered by the tales she’s told, and is more confident and sure of herself and even creates an alter ego by the name of Towanda. Towanda gives her that extra boost when she needs it, for example, if someone steals her space and she needs to ram their car out the way to make room for her own – we’ve all been there. By the end of the book, she embraces herself for all that she is and starts making choices that benefit her and make her feel good about herself whilst still carrying Idgie, Ruth and Ninny with her.


Words and Images by Eleanor Manley for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.

We Need To Talk About Vaginismus

There are so many sprawling aspects of women’s lives that the patriarchy impacts every day, and that it continues to impact in complicated and fractured ways. One of the most important of these, to me anyway, is the sex lives of women. It’s one of the reasons that I love that Anthem does this sex education week every year.

We’re not told so many things, and there are so many things not discussed, and our voices have been silenced for so long, that it is hard to break the cycle and to begin these conversations.

One of those conversations is vaginismus.

Vaginismus is a condition that affects 1 in 500 women in the UK. It is an involuntary tightening or contraction of the vaginal muscles around the opening of the vagina. It can make sex, or putting a tampon in, painful, difficult, or even impossible.

How painful women often find sex has only recently become an issue of public discourse, but even these conversations are limited. There are so many reasons that this might be the case, and even within vaginismus, there are layered and multiple reasons.

The complicated part of the condition is that it is psychological. Feeling anxious about sex can cause it to occur, but once it has occurred once, the nerves that it will occur also play a part until you’re nervous about feeling nervous about feeling nervous.

It can also occur randomly. You could have years of painless sex before it happens. Or alternatively, you might suddenly stop experiencing it. It can occur for a multitude of reasons, some including;

  • You have a bad sexual experience or medical examination
  • You feel bad about sex
  • You have fears and worries about your body
  • You have a painful medical condition

There are a few different options in getting treatment or help. Some focus on your body, i.e. your actual vagina, and getting it used to having things inside it, and some focus on your mind, and your feelings around sex.

As ever, the NHS website has plenty of advice, and you can always go to your GP. But, from one gals personal experience, the way I thought and felt about sex was transformed by a very kind and caring partner, who just wanted to make sex fun (and sometimes funny) for me, and who has such a healthy attitude towards sex that it influenced the way I think, feel, and talk about it.

I’m still learning, but it feels like the conversation is starting. At last.

You can find out more on the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginismus/ 

Words by Sian Brett for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.

My Journey To Body Acceptance

My body and I have been through a lot. As a trauma and self-harm survivor, my body has really been put through the mill over the years. I have punished my body and it has been punished by others.

As a teenager exposed to The Sun, I saw the Page 3 models and felt ashamed of my flat chest and seeming lack of ‘curves’. I was surrounded by girls at school who had developed breasts much sooner than me, and I had an A cup until I was 16. The girls in the magazines all had thigh gaps, so I became obsessed with how my thighs touched. There were no images of scars, stretch marks or spots in the media. We had no talk at school about how our bodies would change over time. All of the women on the telly had similar body shapes and types. There was no one telling me that my body was okay.

The older I get, the more I decide to push back at the beauty standards placed upon women by a patriarchal society, the media, and diet culture. I’ve largely stopped giving a shit what other people think about my body. I have stopped putting on a face of make-up every day, which I only ever did to look ‘presentable’ for others. I shave when I want to and not because I feel I should. I wear clothes I like and feel good in. I wear a bra if and when I want to. I eat when I want and need to, without thinking about how my body will look as a consequence. If I’m at home I’m naked 99% of the time, which now feels so empowering and freeing to me.

image1

I convinced myself a long time ago that I was on a journey to self-love, but actually, it has become more about body acceptance and neutrality. Sometimes it is hard to love our bodies; they often let us down and don’t do what we want them to do. Seeing my body for what it is, what it has done for me and what it continues to do for me, enables me to feel at peace and acceptance with my body. My body has defended me against harm in multiple ways, has seen me through ridiculous gym routines and a restrictive diet, lets me know when I have not eaten enough or had enough water, lets me know when I am tired. Our bodies do so much for us in just one day. Learning to appreciate that has really allowed me to see my body for what it is: a vessel of life. My body is not here to be looked at or enjoyed by other people.

I feel that social media has been pivotal in my journey to body acceptance. The influx of social media ‘influencers’ who are unapologetic about the appearance of their bodies has not only allowed for more representation on our feeds but there is also more discussion about how harmful the beauty ideals placed on us are, which inspires us to let go of them. Seeing images of so many different types of bodies helps us to realise that we are all perfectly normal, no matter how we look. Hopefully, this can lead to us letting go of shame surrounding our bodies.

image2.png

If like me, you are striving to be at peace with your body, there are so many wonderful resources right at your fingertips. I can’t list them all, but here are just a few of my favourite Instagram accounts who help me feel like I’m okay:

@selfloveliv
@wheelchair_rapunzel
@kenziebrenna
@meg.boggs
@bodyposipanda
@bodyimage_therapist

I want to acknowledge that as a white, slim, able-bodied woman, I fit into eurocentric ideals of beauty. I realise that this also means I can see people represented in the media who look like me. As someone relatively free from physical illness, my body allows me to move as I want, which is not the case for people with chronic and physical illness.

Words and Images by Amber Berry for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.

Woefully Underprepared

It’s no secret that I’ve been underwhelmed by the sex education I received – in fact, the title sums up how it’s left me feeling pretty accurately. I was not prepared at all. What’s worse is that I had a pretty good sex education compared to friends and family members, and still felt underprepared.

I was lucky enough (and worked very hard) to get into a pretty good girls school. This meant they hired sex education professionals to come in once every few years instead of just using science teachers. It meant plastic models instead of bananas (wild). Most importantly, it meant an environment in which some girls felt comfortable asking questions (if they didn’t mind the other girls talking about them after).

It came to my attention recently that I can even recall my class briefly being talked to about sending nudes and the element of technology in our sexual education. I mentioned this to multiple people who couldn’t believe I’d had such a comprehensive education.

I know I’m lucky to have had this level of support and resource but really, it’s not good enough, is it? I’m pretty sure the most useful things I’ve learned have been from a TV show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW/Netflix). I shouldn’t be learning about my sexual health from a TV show, should I?

That’s the thing here at Anthem, we want to talk about how sex ed should be; how amazing, inclusive, and empowering it could be for everyone. It could be great, and that’s why it matters to us. This week is all about the writers at Anthem putting in our experiences and the lessons we learned the hard way to make it easier for somebody else, it doesn’t matter who.

I have become more and more passionate about sex education as time has gone on and so it’s a genuine joy to be able to do this project year after year. It’s not just indulgent for me but also a learning experience. In three years, I have learned so much and I have had my curiosity encouraged by articles posted right here. I just hope you all feel the same way.

This year is our third September Sex Education Week and me, Lara, Amber, Eleanor and Sian will be sharing our stories and insight, and offering our advice. We want readers to go away feeling informed and interested, and sometimes just to feel that they aren’t alone in their experience. We are often talking about previously-taboo subjects on here, and if we can make just one person feel comforted then we’ll be happy.

There’s an article for every day of this week and I can’t wait to share them all with you. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (wherever you fancy) to stay in the loop.

Huge, sexy, excited love,
Briony


Words by Briony Brake for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.

Welcome To The Sex Bus

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have a positive experience of sex education in school. Either from it lacking any real information or because it ignores key issues such as consent, and LGBT+ issues. This is largely due to sex education not being part of the national curriculum and schools being left to decide how much they want to teach, if anything at all. Sex is still a taboo subject and our desire to keep young ears and minds protected is harming young people as they enter into adult life unprepared.

362845

However, not all sex education has to be like this. It can be a positive and inclusive experience, as we have seen this week, which actually does what it says it’s going to do – I was very fortunate that this was my experience.

My sex education lessons started aged 9 and continued throughout my time in school until the age of 16, getting more in-depth as we got older. We covered a wide range of topics; from the usual how to put condoms on, to the signs of an unhealthy (and healthy) relationship. Whilst these lessons did largely take place in the classroom, I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking into physics to instead be greeted by a room full of penises – we also had some more unorthodox locations…welcome to the Sex Bus.

The Sex Bus is a bright purple double-decker bus adorned with condoms, various leaflets on STIs, pregnancy, birth control, and relationships. Alongside this are sat the professionals; school nurses, family planning experts, health visitors and district nurses. Together this was the Sex Bus, and it travelled around schools across Somerset. The aim of the Sex Bus was to engage pupils with sex education and as a result increase their knowledge of sexual health issues, raise the profile of health services in the local area so that young people would know where to turn should they ever need to, to enable young people to make more positive choices concerning their sexual health and to explore gender roles, myths and expectations in relationships. All of which I think are imperative to learn at a young age, and also why I think I found it so informative and engaging.

The Sex Bus was about teaching everyone good habits and behaviour, not about shaming people who do have sex at a young age, or at any other time in their life. As mentioned, there was also information available on, and people to discuss gender roles and myths with, such as whether women can orgasm/will orgasm like you see in the movies. I think education such as this is important because it helps to demystify sex and relationships for both men and women and also demonstrates that women can enjoy sex, and not just be a participant.

However, I’m not saying my sex education was perfect, I think it still had further to go. There should have and could have been more information on LGBT+ relationships – yes there were leaflets available and it was discussed, but it was more a passing comment rather than a real discussion. Additionally, the issue of consent; again whilst talked about and discussed it was never in-depth and the real bare bones facts were never laid out clearly (although we do now have the tea video). Overall though, it was largely a comprehensive and informative education and one I believe sets an example to other schools/counties with what they can do. It shows that it is possible, and all without scarring children for life.

Words: Eleanor Manley
Image/Videos: 20th Century Fox/The Simpsons, BBC Two/Miranda, Paramount Pictures/Mean Girls.

TV, Film & Sex Education

TV & Film have always been part of our sex education, and now in 2018 some writers are realising their responsibility and the power they have to change the narrative.

On the rare occasion that society discusses sex education, and the papers are full of opinion pieces, the word that always gets thrown around is ‘pornography’; specifically the dangers of its accessibility. The government, teachers and parents are so terrified of what their children are seeing online, that a debate on sex education in parliament will usually turn into a debate on pornography. While this is an important debate to be had, and we are in a unique time when people are using the internet for everything from banking to dating, in all these debates and articles I can’t help but think that society is missing a big part of the puzzle.

To access porn, you have to know where to look, you have to google and browse and be an active user, you are alone in a room. On the other hand, media within the entertainment industry will always be a communal event. You sit down with family to watch the new Sunday night drama or go with friends to see the latest film release. What always follows is conversation between family, friends, and the wider audience, which thanks to social media is more expansive and immediate.

landscape-1472902798-11403914-low-res-fleabag

Porn is not where people go to find great plot devices, the end goal is very simple, and sex is viewed in the abstract. Whereas TV and film in its nature use sex as a plot device and even when a sex scene is clearly put in for titillation (take Game of Thrones for example), the writers will still argue its relevance. In the last seven years or so I have seen a shift in the stories being told; from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, there is a need for the narrative around sex to change and for women to control the story.

Pheobe Waller-Bridge has said in many interviews that she wrote the original play Fleabag because she wanted to talk about sex. In 2012 when Lena Dunham’s new show Girls aired in the US and the UK, all people could talk about was the awkward sex scenes. Many journalists described them as explicit and awkward, however, there had been more explicit scenes depicted on TV before Girls appeared on our screens. Game of Thrones was being commissioned for its third season, a show in which it was normal to see at least four sex scenes in one episode and seemingly, an actress couldn’t get through an episode without at least once walking into a room of men, having forgotten to have got dressed. The sex scenes in Girls were new and interesting because Lena Dunham was showing her own experiences of sex and many women responded to this with glee because it allowed them to have the conversations that society deemed taboo.

o-GIRLS-SEASON-2-FINALE-facebook

Caitlin Moran says in her book How To Be a Woman, “the sexual imagery of teenage years is the most potent you’ll ever have. It dictates desires for the rest of your life. One flash of a belly being kissed now is worth a thousand hard-core fisting scenes in your thirties”. Up to a certain age, and I am aware that age is getting younger, parents can control what their children see on the internet and to a certain extent what they see on their TV screens thanks to the 9pm watershed, however, we can’t control everything.

Remember the time when you were younger, on the brink of adolescence, and woke up past your bed to go to the toilet? On your way back to bed you heard the noise of the TV and the chatter of adults, and intrigue led you down the stairs. You poked your head over the bannister and saw your parents and their friends glued to the telly, then you looked up to the screen to see an image that you knew not to be looking at. Laying in bed, your mind boggles and so many questions arise, but you don’t know who to ask. It feels like being on the last word of a crossword puzzle and knowing on seeing the answer it will make sense, but at that moment you feel lost. Instead of talking to your parents and friends out of embarrassment, you seek out the same image in books and films. It takes you years to finally have those conversations with friends and eventually partners when sex has become a reality. Only then do you start to question the scenes you watched and the depictions of sex in your favourite films.

Wilson West main_0

Now, in 2018, we are having those conversations, whether that be the writers of The Affair making sure every sex scene pushes the narrative along, or Rachel Weisz discussing the importance of the sex between the two female protagonists in her new film Disobedience. I truly think that one of the many reasons famous actresses who have the money and the platform are turning to producing is so they can control the narratives they are telling about female sexuality. Sex is still a taboo subject, and we still cut off conversations with the excuse of being British, but we can’t shut down conversation and then worry about the lack of sex education children are receiving, or what they are seeing when they turn on the TV.

In the wake of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, the industry is trying to be more inclusive and give everyone a voice. People are asking for the narrative to change and the choice of stories to grow. The conversations about sex in the last year have revolved around power and abuse and what we want the next generation of women to know and experience. If we want to carry on making change for the better, and the film and TV industry wants to take responsibility, it needs to take sex seriously.

Just as we need diversity in the stories we tell, we need diversity in sex scenes and the relationships we see. Teenage girls and boys should see LGBTQ+ stories more than just once a year, and be shown different relationships and the multiple reasons people choose to have sex with each other. Our government, parents, teachers and most importantly our storytellers can’t be scared of answering questions and giving children the power of information and choice.  

 

Words: Lara Scott
Images: BBC/Two Brothers Ltd, Jessica Miglio/HBO, Sky Atlantic

 

Why I’ve Stopped Using Tampons and Pads

I’ve recently been making a few lifestyle changes in order to reduce my carbon footprint (and also feel a bit better about myself). You know, becoming vegetarian, cutting down on dairy, buying reusable cups and bottles, switching to cruelty-free. That kind of thing. My latest endeavour has led me down the path of the menstrual cup. I hadn’t heard of it either until a few months ago.

Turns out they’ve been around since 1937 when actress Leona Chalmers invented a silicone cup designed as a long-lasting, environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to tampons. You basically have to origami it up into your vagina where it stays in place via suction and catches the blood flow before it leaves your body. You can keep them in all day, and when you do take it out you just empty it and reinsert it for the next 8-12 hours. Sounded great! So I thought I’d give you an insight into my experience learning to use one…

The one I have actually been using is a Mooncup from Boots – but there are other brands available all with slightly different shapes and materials. However, across brands they range in two sizes based on whether or not you’ve had a baby and your age. Mooncup came with a little cotton bag or carry case to keep your cup in – no more worrying about carrying around supplies or running to the bathroom with a tampon stuffed into the waistband of your skirt (you know we’ve all done it).

Mooncup-Boots-menstrual-cup

So after two weeks of actually looking forward to my period arriving, I was eager to try out the cup. I cut the stem on the bottom to size (better to start longer than shorter as I found mine sits quite high inside me and a longer stem makes it easier to grab onto when you need to remove it). First attempt and I managed to get it in after a few goes. If it’s in properly you can’t feel it. It works by creating a vacuum seal so it stays in place, so in theory, you can’t leak. Trouble is, even if the seal isn’t formed properly, you still can’t feel it. Naively I assumed it was in properly and left for work. First toilet trip of the day and I’ll spare you the detail (but I hadn’t put it in correctly).

Taking it out for the first few times also proved an absolute nightmare. During my first trial with the cup, I was convinced I’d lost it – even though that is literally and physically impossible. Images of turning up at A&E telling them I had a retained menstrual cup flashed in front of my eyes, and I was already mentally preparing the phone call with a trusted friend to come round with forceps and a flashlight to fish it out. I fully panicked. After consulting the girls on the group chat (we’ve spoken about much worse on there) I ended up lying down in the bath, telling my body to relax whilst also using my abdominals to squeeze it down until I managed to extract the cup. Traumatically messy to say the least.

Although that’s the worst experience I had with it and it only happened once so don’t let that put you off! Once I had worked out how to get it in properly I felt safe using it for sports, swimming, throughout the day at work and overnight. The beauty of being able to keep it in for so long means that despite the cramps (which I think lessened using the Mooncup) you almost forget you’re on your period.

One thing I have learnt is that you have to be VERY comfortable with your own body in order to feel it being put in place and to get the hang of it. It takes a few months to get used to but for me its great. I don’t have to worry about carrying stuff around with me, I only have to think about it twice a day when I empty it, I SWEAR my cramps have become less intense (or maybe that’s just psychological) and I feel like I’ve cut down on landfill waste as it’s a much more cost-effective and sustainable option.

It’s pretty easy to clean as well; I bought some sterilisation tablets and you can just soak it in water or boil it in a saucepan for 5 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days when I struggle with it, and ending up with blood all over your hands is pretty much inevitable – but then I always change it at home in the bathroom so it’s easy to deal with that. If you can get past the first few months it’s a pretty cool product.

For more information see:
https://www.mooncup.co.uk/
https://www.intimina.com/en/lily_cups
http://divacup.com/

 

Words: Sophy Edmunds
Image: Mooncup/Boots via Stella.ie 

 

UT-WHY?

Thanks to people like Caitlin Moran, I knew about cystitis long before it turned up to put a dampener (as it were) on my day. She talked about it in public, in columns in The Times. There’s a lengthy passage in How To Build a Girl where the character Johanna locks herself in the bathroom, sits in a hot bath for two days and demands cranberry juice. If it wasn’t for old Caitlin, a whole generation of girls wouldn’t know why, sometimes, it appeared that their urethra was on fire.

For those who might still be unaware, A urinary tract infection (or UTI) is basically an infection in any part of your urinary tract, including your bladder, urethra and kidneys.

They began to plague me and my life about a year ago. I once moved the entire set for a play whilst feeling like I needed to piss every other minute and I consider it my greatest achievement.

“Well are you weeing after sex?” a friend asked me when I went to meet her on the way to uni, moaning about my urinary tract once more.

“In a way, every wee is a wee after sex now.” I answered.

“You get UTI’s if you don’t wee after sex.”

You… you what? You get them if you don’t… but then…

WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS! WHY HAVE I BEEN DOWNING GALLONS OF WATER AND CRYING ON THE TOILET WHEN THE CURE WAS THIS SIMPLE?!

I looked on the NHS website. It’s true. Pee as soon as possible after sex (and also wear loose cotton underwear but that’s for another article about how women’s clothes aren’t really built for women). I’m not a complete idiot. I went to the doctors. I did a urine sample, but then wasn’t really sure of the protocol so had to sit in the waiting room holding a warm cup of my own piss for an uncomfortable amount of time. She gave me antibiotics, I took them, few weeks later, I was UTI-ed up once more. I assumed this would be my life now.

I was never taught about this at school; like I said I gleaned what I could from Caitlin Moran, but not every 15 year old is reading The Times on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t want to exaggerate here but learning that I should wee after sex if I don’t want to piss fire for the next three days was one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learnt so WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO LEARN IT? My sex education focused so much on me not getting pregnant, and the intricacies of every STI under the sun that keeping my vagina healthy and unhappy went rather neglected. You’d think the sex ed teacher, faced with 27 teenage girls, on the cusp of their sexual adventures and ready to face the world vagina first, might have thought to mention it.

“Pee after sex so you don’t get a UTI.” It takes 2.5 seconds to say. I just checked.

Ways to not get a UTI:

  • WEE AFTER SEX
  • It’s bad to use perfumed bubble bath or soap on your lovely lady garden (your vag has a delicate pH balance)
  • Nylon pants aren’t good
  • If you need to wee, don’t hold it in, FREE THE WEE

 

Words: Sian Brett
For September Sex Education Week 2018 on Anthem