sexual health

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!

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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 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.

Let’s talk about sex.

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If I remember correctly, sex education at my primary and secondary school was brief and severely lacking. I have googled so much. I am 21. I shouldn’t have to be asking the internet questions about sexual health or calling the doctor because I started a new pill and now one boob is bigger than the other (true story). It’s not safe. A lot of research done into the effectiveness of sex education as it stands has focused on unwanted pregnancy and STIs, but it’s not just that people get infections; shouldn’t young people be enjoying sex?

Sex education, or rather proper sex education, has become something of a passion of mine in the last year. I decided Anthem ought to take part in promoting good sex ed to the masses, and since then I’ve been reading, writing, and talking about it non-stop. I’ve learned so much – far more than I ever learned in school, and I’m very excited to be able to bring sex education week to you all, via Anthem. Ultimately, there is no limit on who should receive education, particularly education on life matters such as politics, finance or sexual health and wellbeing. As our goal is to present accessible feminism, we invite you all to learn a little this week, and to discuss so that we might help each other.

Sex education is imperative to all people, worldwide. As already mentioned, I’m not saying this because too many people are getting pregnant or something, I’m saying all this because there is a lot about our own health that can benefit us mentally, that we don’t know. This project aims to encompass as much as possible, so expect posts on periods, body image, healthy relationships and boobs (and so on).

There’s so much to learn, and so with the hope of doing this project annually, please interact with us, and tell us what you love, or what you want to know about next time. Our lovely Anthem writers have done some serious research, and have delved into their own experiences to bring you their pieces this week. These are not easy things to talk about, and we are not experts, but we have been through a lot collectively, and we want to share our knowledge with you.

Personally, I’m passionate about this project because I believe it is worthwhile; I think it can benefit everyone. This is not a project to be associated with embarrassment or stigma, but openness and truths. We want to talk about these things because people don’t, and none of us here think that’s quite right! Let’s talk about things, let’s not be afraid! Lend us your eyes and ears this week, and we’ll try our best to inform you of what we’ve learned, and maybe get you thinking.

We could be very dark and serious and hit you with all the statistics about the consequences of poor sex education (I may still do this later on, it really depends on how I feel), but instead, we want to make this project as positive and inspiring as we can. Take part as you wish: read, comment or even share with your friends. Who knows who we can help, together.

The project officially begins today, but we will be posting at least once a day for the next 6 days, and we implore you to embrace the topics wholly (even if you’re not a fan of blood). Please enjoy, share, and most importantly, learn! We can’t wait to share our work with you, and hope you enjoy the week ahead.

Love Anthem xo

 

Words by Briony Brake
Part of the September Sex Education Week 2017.