Monday, 29 December 2008

If I was a boy

Well I am yes. And here I am talking about Beyonce's new single. When I used to do sex education with young men music was a really helpful tool to stimulate discussion. Beyonce's single 'If I were a boy' is brilliant as a song to raise gender roles and expectations as well as responsibilities and communication within relationships. If you have the facilities to watch the video with young people it is a good discussion starter too - here is the link

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Have fun. Be careful

Brook has launched a new poster campaign to raise awareness of the December and January peak in teenage conceptions amongst young people.  I think the creative team have done a brilliant job.  The first poster is on now and the second one for 2009 will be available from 2nd January 

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Some facts behind the statistics

There were stories in some of the press about increases in teenage conception rates in 2007. The claim that the rises are a result of failed attempts to reduce teenage conceptions through sex education and easy access to contraception.
The latest data shows that the slight increase is from pregnancies that have led to abortions, not teenage births, which shows these pregnancies were unintended and contraceptive services like Brook are needed even more than ever.
We also know the rise corresponds with tight NHS spending, when community contraceptive clinics were cut - a stark warning as we enter an economic downturn which will likely see a reduction in spending on public services over the coming years.

In December and January every year for the last five years there has been a peak in teenage conceptions. At this time clinics are closed and some young people will find it harder to get to services. It is important to let young people know this peak in conception rates, and to remind young people that if they are choose to have sex this Christmas, they must use contraception.

At the same time they must know when and where services including pharmacies are open over the festive period. It may sound obvious - but as service providers we sometimes forget the little things - my local shop has had a sign in the window telling me when they are closed, and when they are open for at least three weeks. If you run a service, have you done the same?

Sunday, 14 December 2008

X factor final and articles in the news

There are two relevant articles in the papers today.  The News of the World interviews with a young mum who has won a Prince's Trust Young Educational Achiever award.  Her successes and her determination are justly rewarded.  She is quoted as saying 'it drives me mad knowing that girls purposely get pregnant just to scrounge benefits'.   There is no evidence that this is the case in the overwhelming majority of cases.  It is a myth that must be busted.

The second article in the Times which discusses the provision of contraception over the counter in pharmacists, helpfully reminded us that whilst the policy lens focuses on young people's sexual activity and teenage pregnancy, the majority of unintended pregnancies are amongst older women.  

And on a related tangent, I like many others enjoyed the X factor final.  I appreciate the genuine warmth and support which Simon Cowell demonstrates for young people - I like Simon's attitude to young people.  In the early rounds when Rachel who made the final 12 auditioned, reflecting on her audition, Simon said 'too many young people don't get a second chance in this country' - I agree with him entirely - and if you don't agree with me, just think would we allow 'mosquito' devices to disburse any other group in our society?   

When I was doing work on sex and relationships education in young offender institutes, I heard time and again, young people telling us that 'resettlement' was tough and they didn't get the support they need.  

I am really pleased Alexandra Burke won - her duet with Beyonce made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  Public policy on teenage pregnancy emphasises the importance of raising aspirations, having goals and dreams for the future.  Alexandra told us many (many) times about the fact her dream had come true.  I just hope the X factor team have prepared her and her family for life in the public eye.  Some articles in the papers today, and I am sure there are many versions of the same story, written as truth, were evidence that it won't always be an easy ride.  I just hope those stories didn't take the edge off her moment.  

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Brook's celebrations

Last Thursday, Brook held a public meeting, our annual general meeting and parliamentary reception.  The focus of our public meeting was our education work.  Three colleagues from across the network described their education work.

Colleagues described;

work with young women who are being sexually exploited.  Describing the creative work of Brook staff supporting young people, challenging public and professional perceptions of 'child prostitution' and making a real difference to the individual lives of young people.  Concluding with a poem written by a young woman, from a collection of work called Invisible Lives, I am sure I was not the only person whose hair stood up on the back of their necks.

multi-disciplinary training that has been carried out skilling up professionals to feel more confident talking about sex and sexual health, and building links with specialist services.  

work with young people, including a young gay group, a group for young women and a group for young men that they have developed in response to young people's express needs.

Learning about the education work kicked off the start of a reflective and celebratory day. Summarising the year I reminded people that we see 1500 young people every day at Brook - in 2007/8 we had contact with over 205,000 young people.  I reminded colleagues that when we did research into young people's experiences of Brook, they told us the absolutely best thing about us is our staff, the people that work tirelessly for young people day in day out.

And as we move into our 45th year, the need for Brook's education, clinical services and advocacy is as great as ever before - we must continue to emphasise the importance of young people having trust in services and particularly in confidentiality.  We threaten our progress in reducing teenage pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infection rates if we allow that trust to be undermined.

Baroness Massey of Darwen, Brook's honorary president, hosted our parliamentary reception in the evening, and paid tribute to the people, our staff and partners, that make Brook, who we are, the leading sexual health agency for young people.  

Both inspiring and tiring in equal measures, I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Christmas parties

have already started, and for many young people this is a time of partying, lazing around, seeing friends and enjoying themselves.  I was talking a young woman about the yearly peak in conception rates in December and January each year.  She gave an interesting response - well without monday morning there isn't the same urgency to get things sorted.  With a bit more pushing she explained that despite the fact she would know she had homework at the beginning of the holidays, she would put it off to the end, and she thinks sometimes if people have sex without contraception, or their condom splits, they can't put it off anymore once it comes to monday.

Without mondays there isn't a rush.  Anecdotal and n=1 is never a good way to make policy, but if I think back about how I managed my life when I was young, and indeed now,  the urgency of monday is definitely an interesting idea.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Interesting reads

I have read two very different books over the last couple of weeks that are well worth a read;

Street Boys by Tim Pritchard which tells the story of 7 young men from London who get involved in crime.  This factual story gives a different perspective behind the guns and drugs stories we read about daily. It is challenging because it brings you face to face with horrible events that none of us would wish for young people, and it again reminds us of the importance of love and care in the early years and how we play russian roulette with children's lives when they do not get this.

Friends like these by Danny Wallace which is easy reading, and gives a warm feeling as it inevitably takes you on a nostalgic journey through your past and may even get you reaching for facebook or friends reunited to find some of your old buddies. 

Friday, 28 November 2008

Clitoris - part of the body or dirty word?

I was surprised to read on the Independent Mind’s website yesterday that the word ‘clitoris’ is on a list of words banned from Google’s safe search option, but ‘penis’ and ‘scrotum’ both bring up millions of results.

As Catherine Townsend who wrote the piece says, clitoris isn’t a slang word, it’s the proper word for a sexual organ, and if penis and scrotum are deemed safe words then so too should clitoris. I have always been impressed by Google's ethical approach and sensible attitude towards sexual matters. I look forward to the director's response to find out just exactly when clitoris became a slang word. Yet another reminder of the continuing job we still have ahead of us to change people’s perceptions or make sure that we don't fall into age old stereotypes and prejudice.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Men and aquarobics

I went to Tenerife on holiday a few weeks ago - determined that I would see some sun before the nights finally drew in.  The sun did shine and the hotel was perfect with lots of pool side activities, mostly for children, with a few for the adults.  

Each day the adults were encouraged to do aqua gym (most commonly known as aquarobics) at 12 noon, by which time, a notorious fidget starts getting a little bit bored of just lying in the sun, so i was thrilled to be asked and jumped up.  Now I like to think of myself as pretty confident about who I am,  happy to try it all out, and it was hot sitting next to the pool, i wanted to get in it.  But something stopped me plunging into the pool on day one - there were no other men doing it - so it was back to my book, and pleading with my partner to go and jet or water ski (again).  

On day two, I watched again, and was relieved to find there were two men doing it - ok they weren't doing it properly, they were just bouncing around with their children on their back but they were doing it, and so I was able to join it.  And it was great - real 80s remixed dance tunes - and it was hard work - as long as you did it properly - which I was determined to do.

Day three there were four men in the pool.  I have a tendency to want to win - whoever said its taking part that matters....but I did think i had outgrown some of these tendencies, but the competition between us was incredible.  The high leg kicks, the strong sweeps through the water which were, at least in my case, starting to hurt, but something unspoken, something learnt, forced each other on.   

Meanwhile a group of primary aged boys had gathered to laugh at us.  Given my interest in young men and sexual health, I was interested at what i learnt about myself, and reminded that nature or nurture, primary school boys know pretty early that call it what you like aqua gym/aquarobics ain't something men should be doing, and that is why an understanding of gender has to lie at the heart of all we do in sex education and service provision. 

Friday, 7 November 2008

Nominations for Brook Awards opened

Last year we launched the Excellence in Sexual Health Awards. The awards dinner was a lively, interesting and fun night – a real opportunity to celebrate what is good and exciting about sexual health and young people. In their second year we want to hear from people who are proud of what they have achieved, who have learned to share with others and who are really making a difference. If that sounds like you, your team, or someone you work with, find out more about the awards by visiting You can nominate on-line, it takes between 5 and 10 minutes and the deadline for entry is December 15th 2008.

We are also really excited to announce that the awards dinner, taking place on the 5th March 2009 at the Oval Conference Centre in Central London, will be hosted by Matt Rawle, star of the hit musical "Zorro" in London's West End. We are delighted to welcome Matt as a new Brook Ambassador. Ole'!!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The power of consensus > PSHE will be statutory at last!

For almost a decade, I have been part of a growing consensus that Personal, Social and Health Education, which includes teaching about sex and relationships should be statutory.

Until last Thursday, government had remained unconvinced by the argument presented by young people, teachers, specialist groups and other experts. I was so thrilled when Jim Knight announced last week government had accepted the recommendation of the sex and relationships education expert review group and PSHE will become a statuory curriculum subject.

I am on holiday and so was keeping up to date with the odd look at websites and was so interested in the reporting. Previously, the media generally reported on the divisions between groups, and now they quickly looked for and emphasised the consensus. And there is consensus amongst the absolute majority. Now our task is to make this happen as swiftly and rigorously as possible.

On behalf of the 1500 young people we see everyday at Brook I would like to say thank you to Jim Knight, Minister for Schools and all our colleagues on the expert review group. This will make a real difference to the confidence, self esteem and relationship and sexual choices of young women and young men. It is brilliant.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Well done to the Scouts

I was so pleased to see the Scouts taking a pro-active stance on providing their members with good quality sex and relationships education. So many children and young people are members of the Scout and Guiding movements - it is absolutely right to make sure information about relationships, emotions and sex is a core part of their offer. Well done to the Scouts.

The Guides have got a policy and put in place programmes, now the Scouts, maybe Pony Club should follow the lead and get a policy and education in place too.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Abortion - the real moral argument

When it comes to abortion in the UK, the real moral argument is the discrimination experienced by woman in Northern Ireland as a result of inequitable laws preventing access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

Mary O'Hara puts a compelling and clear case todays' Guardian. It is an important article that sets out so clearly the reason the Abortion Act 0f 1967 must be extended to Northern Ireland.

The vote is on October 22nd. We have one last chance over the next five days to ensure the voice of the majority is heard loud and clear - the inequality must end, the rights of women are not a political football and women in Northern Ireland - real women with real experiences and real feelings - must finally be afforded the same access as women in other parts of the UK. Don't leave this opportunity to chance or expect that other people will make it happen - write to your MP now and make your view known.

Abortion Rights have a draft letter and details of MPs available via their website

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

sexual health researchers rewarded

Last week the scientists who discovered HIV and the researcher who linked human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. This is brilliant news that people that who have made such a contribution to sexual health are being recognised. Profs Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier were the first to identify the viral cause of AIDS in 1984. This newly discovered virus was named HIV in 1986 and its identification led to the development of tests and effective antiretroviral medicines increasing the life expectancy of people infected with HIV.

Prof Harald zur Hausen who shares the Nobel prize established a link between certain strains of HPV and cervical cancer which has led to the development of vaccines against HPV. The government are now undertaking a vaccination programme to protect young women against HPV and cervical cancer, which will save hundreds of lives each year.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Brook gets a new look

Thanks to everyone who voted for their favourite logo design.  You can see the one we chose at 

The board of trustees decided on this one because the comments suggested people identified strongly with the image.  Lots of people talked said it was about communication - talking, talking, talking - which is of course what Brook is all about. 

I absolutely love the new logo.  I will be interested to hear what you think.  And we will get the one on this blog changed in the next couple of days - it all just takes time.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Teenage pregnancy myths

Barely a week goes by without a media story about teenage pregnancy so we recently commissioned an Ipsos MORI poll to find out the public’s perception of the teenage pregnancy rate amongst under-16s in England.

Shockingly we found that 95% of people over-estimated the rate and the same amount were unaware of the significant drop in this figure over the last ten years. Even more concerning was that young people themselves thought that the rate was particularly high. 23% of 15-24 year olds thought that the rate of under 16s getting pregnant each year was over 40% - it's actually less than 1%.

With so many stories in the media it’s not surprising that people believe teenage pregnancy to be much more common than it actually is. This is particularly confusing for young people who may well think that teenage pregnancy is normal. It also fuels the myth that teenage pregnancy is escalating and nothing can be done.

Significant reductions in teenage pregnancy in many areas around the country show that change is possible and we now know what works to help young people prevent early pregnancy – good quality sex and relationships education together with access to free and confidential sexual health services.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Stories, lies and misconceptions

There have been at least two bits of substantial research this year that has shown worryingly low levels of knowledge about sex and sexuality amongst young people.  Playground stories about sex - what it is, who does it, how you should last for - about sexuality - women like sex less than men, gay men are all perverts etc and about contraception - standing up after drinking diet coke, having sex for the first time.   

And we see this everyday at Brook with some young men and young women not knowing the basics about how their bodies work, or being afraid to say yes, to say no or to say not this, but I will do that, because they will be seen as frigid, a slag, a poof or a girl.

So it saddens me to hear adults say young people know more than them, as if access to the internet has changed what we have known for decades - that without open conversations about sex and sexuality, bodies and growing up, children and young people pick up misinformation from friends, the television, and their families.  Parents and schools have to work together so their children are confident and happy and know that when they have sex, it should be sex they choose, sex they want and sex they can take responsibility for.  

Friday, 19 September 2008

hysterical headlines - again

Yesterday the papers went mad yet again at the publication of a simple, easy and straightforward comic published by fpa ( which asks children to think about growing and changing so they do not feel worried about changes that happen to their body.

I was irritated by the headlines because any sensible parent reading it will think it is exactly the sort of thing that can be done easily with their children to help them learn about their bodies and their families.   There was, however, a distinct glimmer of hope when a long time anti sex education campaigner accepted that the comic was mostly sensible and didn't cover anything inappropriate.

The really peculiar bit is reading a headline that promises controversy, and reading the article and finding it boring. To look on the bright side, seems to me the very headlines designed to politicise the issue actually help normalise education about bodies and growing up.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Teenage Timebomb

A letter in the Telegraph today showed cross party support for Personal, Social and Health Education to be made a statutory requirement for all children and young people.  With so much support for statutory PSHE I hope it will only be a matter of time before government will respond positively to the voice of experts - not least the voice of children and young people.

I was also pleased to be disturbed by a journalist on august bank holiday monday who wanted us to comment on the Conservative party report on young people's health - pleased because it is so important that all parties pay attention to the public health of children and young people. Statistics are statistics and will always be able to be used in a range of ways, but I do want people to start asking more interesting questions about the reported rise in sexually transmitted infections amongst young people.  

Government has invested significant money in screening, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infection.  I am pleased that we are seeing a rise in the number of diagnosed infection - the conversation we now need to have is how will we know if we have turned the tide - what data and evidence do we need so in five years time we can look beyond the headline and truly say whether the investment is reducing the levels of STIs amongst young people.

Finally - I was in Paris this weekend, and was struck again by different cultural attitudes to children and young people - a few weeks ago I read an article saying we are a child obsessed nation - if we are, can we be obsessed in ways that enable them to develop and grow with confidence, in ways that ignite curiosity and imagination - because from where I am standing there still seems to be a lot of adults in greenhouses throwing stones at young people.

Friday, 22 August 2008

New resource for working with people with learning disabilities

The sexuality of people with learning disabilities is often ignored, hidden or simply not talked about.   Whilst much excellent practice has been developed in sex and relationships education in both schools and the community, a well intentioned desire to protect, a lack of confidence about when, where and how and a lack of ongoing training and support of professionals, means we still have a long way to go before young people with learning disabilities consistently get the education, services and support they need to be empowered to enjoy and take responsibility for their sexuality.

FPA has produced a compelling self advocacy and educational resource and a powerful set of posters which will help all of us in making empowerment of people with learning disabilities one step closer.  

The link to the demo of the DVD is

Image in Action is an organisation that have pioneered drama based work with people with learning disabilities - Brook sells their excellent activity pack On the Agenda, in our publication catalogue, visit to find out more about the resource.

Friday, 1 August 2008

The meaning of SHAG?

When I was nine or ten I asked my brother what shagging was.  He was older than me so he knew apparently.  I am not sure he did know exactly what it was though.   We giggled when he told me his version of what sex was.  Inside I wondered why anyone would 'shag' (whatever it was it sounded weird).  At University I was involved in the SHAG group - we were the sexual health awareness group. 

SHAG has many meanings, but in a country where sex, sexuality and sexual health is still dogged with stigma, shame and prejudice it is not helpful for public health leaders to say SHAG is now an acronym for different sexually transmitted infections (I think it was syphillis, herpes, anal warts and gonorrhoea) as was reported in the press a couple of weeks ago.

Again, important for all of us to remember that most people want to, can be and are responsible about sex, sexual health and contraception.  Lets help them be, by encouraging people to be responsible and creating a positive culture about sex and sexuality.  The alternative is guilt and shame which we know doesn't change behaviour. 

Review of the sexual health and hiv strategy launched

The Independent Advisory Group on sexual health and HIV this week published their review of the sexual health and HIV strategy this week.  The first section set out the changes and developments since the strategy was launched in 2001, and it was a startling reminder of the pace of change in the NHS and Local Authorities. 

The review is worth a read - it sets out the challenges and offers some solutions.  One of the most important of course, is making sure the money that is allocated for sexual health and contraception gets spent on what it it meant to be spent on.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Sex, relationships, contraception and choice

Brook has been working with young people to produce an introductory guide to sex, relationships, contraception and choice.  It is written for both young men and young women and fits in the back pocket, a bag or a purse.   Young people were involved all the way through so it uses language that they advised would work, and a style which works for them. 

Once again it picks up the three themes so central to Brook's work - choice, real active choice to have sex or not have sex, what protection to use etc; enjoyment - it is sometimes easy in the policy discourses we work in to forget that at the centre of our work on sex and sexuality is empowerment so all of us can enjoy the sex and relationships we have; and finally responsibility - with rights to education and services come responsibilities to ourselves and others to take control of and manage our sexual health and our well being.

I am proud of the young people and the workers who worked hard, debated well, came up with an end product that I am really confident that it is a useful addition to the existing range of leaflets available to help doctors, nurses, youth workers, teachers and all those involved in supporting young people.  

Find out more by visiting, contacting our publications distributor or phoning 020 7284 6051 to get a brook resources catalogue

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Sex Education article worth reading

The Guardian published a special report on sex education yesterday.  The piece written by Mary Braid was absolutely excellent.  The link below takes you to

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Brook's new look - thank you for 'voting'

Thank you to everyone who voted on their favourite logo design. Over 1000 people gave us their views via the internet and the Brook Centres. We now have a lot of work to do to analyse the feedback you gave, and to use it to inform our new look. There are lots of thoughts and ideas, and we will now need to decide what to do next. Once a decision is made, I will explain how trustees and staff reached their conclusions, so even if you don't agree with us you will understand how we got there.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Sex and relationships education

Children, young people, parents, carers and professionals overwhelmingly agree that education about emotions, relationships, keeping safe, growing and developing must start when children are very young so they grow, learn and develop with confidence.  As they get older they need specific information about puberty, about relationships and about conception, reproduction, contraception, sex, sexuality and sexual health.    Children and young people repeatedly ask for education that explore emotions and real life dilemmas, as well as biological information and the development of everyday life skills.   Their right to this education is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Yesterday, Brook ( and fpa ( reaffirmed their commitment to children and young people's emotional and social development, and called on governments' across the UK to ensure children and young people's entitlement by committing to statutory provision of Personal, Social and Health Education in schools.  This is nothing new, indeed both the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group and the Sexual Health and HIV Advisory Group - both expert groups set up to provide advice to government in England, have been calling for statutory PSHE for many years.  Two perennial issues arose through the day;

The name sex and relationships education

many primary schools call it family education; growing up; being me.  I don't mind what it is called, I just want children to get the education they ask for, need and deserve.   Some journalists persisted in calling the subject sex education, instead of sex and relationships education.  This is an unnecessary way of trying to politicise the issue and frighten people.  Sex and relationships education in the primary school, is not about teaching four year olds to have sex.  It is about keeping safe, learning about changing and growing, emotions, learning to live, learn and play with other children who are similar and different from them.

The role of parents 

Parents and carers must be children's first educator.  Children want them to be.  And schools are parents partners.  Brook and fpa both are committed to supporting parents to talk to their children about relationships and sex, and to engage effectively in partnership with schools.  Indeed fpa has over the last decade been running a highly successful programme to support parents called Speakeasy.   As with all area of life, children learn in a progressive way from a range of different sources.   

Northern Ireland requires all schools to provide relationships and sexuality education.  There is a strong and growing consensus in England that there must be statutory Personal, Social and Health Education, where relationships and sex is taught.  There is no need for heated debate - instead we need sensible discussion about how parents, children, young people and professionals can work together to ensure all children have the education, support and skills they need to be grow and live healthy confident lives.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Vote now - all schools required to teach sex and relationships education?

Speaking to BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat today I called for all UK governments to ensure that all children receive sex and relationships education in both primary and secondary schools. Like many other organisations, including FPA (, we believe that all schools from primary age upwards should be required to teach about relationships, puberty, sex and sexuality.

If we get high quality sex and relationships education in every primary and secondary school across the UK all the evidence shows teenage pregnancy rates will continue to fall and will improve young people’s sexual health. If sex and relationships education continues to be patchy, another generation of children and young people do not get the education they need. Brook wants every primary and secondary school to be legally required to provide sex and relationships education and secondary schools to ensure young people have access to free confidential contraceptive and sexual health services.

Do you agree that Government must ensure that all children and young people get education about puberty, relationships and sex at primary and secondary school? To register your vote please see

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Feeling young and raising aspirations

I spend much time saying we must remember what it feels like to be young if we are to stay connected to their realities and hence provide education and services that are relevant. This week I have been remembering what I felt like being young. I have been on holiday in Cornwall where i grew up.  

My partner now knows every school I went to, every pub I loved, every beach i took solace and inspiration from, as well as the names (and older faces) of many people i grew up with, the (now waste) and the ground where the GP I first asked about condoms and contraception was.

In public policy we are talking more and more raising aspiration in the young.   Whilst at the Minack Theatre, the awe inspiring outdoor theatre on the edge of the cliff near Lands End, I spent some time reflecting on how aspiration is developed.  

I last went there when I was 18, 3 days before my English Literature A level, where I watched A Winters Tale which was one of my course texts.    As I sat there 18 years ago, i didn't know exactly what my future held.  But I did know I had a future I cared about.  I knew I would be going to University to do something (anything if my results dictated it) and I knew I was excited about the next stage of my life.    

Part of that aspiration was nurtured by my family, part by my school and a huge amount to do with one particular teacher who connected personally, through relationship, to make sure I took the opportunities available.  He said it was a responsibility and a right.  Raising expectations happens in a plethora of ways - school trips, pastoral care, youth opportunities, cubs, guides, religious affiliation, voluntary work.  

The common denominator is aspiration is developed through relationship -.  Let us not be fooled that developing new initiatives or changing structures is our central task - they are part of the process - our task is developing meaningul relationship with all children and young people.   

It is time we ensure 'ability to develop meaningful relationships with children' is number one on all our competency frameworks.  It may be hard to measure, but if we value it we also have to find ways to quantify and celebrate this competency.  It underpins improvement in all public policy areas. 

My holiday reads;

Chesil Beach by Ian Mcewan
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Both of them simply brilliant

Monday, 23 June 2008

Why waste the chance?

Last week Brook was extremely disappointed government wasted a significant opportunity to maximise the protection available through the new HPV vaccine programme.  A vaccine offering less protection than another on the market was chosen for a national vaccination programme. Whatever the 'pre determined criteria' the spokesperson for department of health referred to in defence of their decision, young women have been let down with this decision.

We also saw increases in rates of abortion for the first quarter of 2007. Who knows the reasons behind this, hopefully quicker access and better referrals. Both are needed. In February government announced increased investment in contraception. Three months into the financial year professionals are telling me the money isn't reaching contraceptive services in many areas. Didn't we see this with the Choosing Health money for sexual health a few years ago? 

We must not let it happen again. Young people need and deserve good quality support and investment in their sexual health. Chances to make a significant improvements to young people's sexual health cannot be allowed to slip away without those making decisions know we are bothered.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Brook's getting a new look

We are in the process of getting a new logo and visual identity, and we now want to get our stakeholder, colleagues and friends views on the designs we have had developed.   Please visit and give us your feedback.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Generations of Love

On Tuesday night I went to see a brilliant muscial called Love - the musical at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. It was the story of 'old people' in a residential home, with a central theme of relationships and love. I have written before about my early experiences of befriending the most gorgeous woman in her seventies for the last eight years of her life when I was 11 - 18. I spent many blissful hours learning through listening as she talked of tales of love lost and gained and the devastation and determination when her husband died, and the tragedy and joy of watching their children learn the lessons of love and relationships.

I was acutely reminded of Edith throughout this musical and i was reinforced in my belief that young people could learn so much from older people, and older people who often give young people a hard press could learn much from them - i.e. that the feelings of youth have not changed that much despite the fact that technology and circumstance has.

Through some peculiar twist the musical opened my eyes to what I have seen all around me today - I have been visiting a very close family friend in a hospice. Sat all around us are tales of love, hope, survival, dignity and indignity- lovers holding hands amongst wires, drips and barley orange drinks, one reading the paper whilst the ill person sleeps for a while, conversations sometimes trivial and sometimes intense.

When I have asked before how do you teach about love, trust and loyalty, it seems to me that we look to those who have experienced it for decades. Older people may well be the best teachers, and those of us involved in promoting positive relationships could helpfully think about how to utilise the rich resource they offer in communities.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Nick Hornby - Slam - a brilliant book to read

I have just finished reading Nick Hornby's book Slam.  It is a brilliant book about families, relationships, sex and pregnancy that both young men and young women, their parents and carers and those of us working with young people can all enjoy, be touched by and learn from.   Go online and order it now!  

And remember if you are online shopping from many stores including amazon go through and Brook receives a percentage at no extra cost to you.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

24-week limit intact

I waited for the vote on abortion time limits last night with what my family fondly describes as my 'Blake face'. That's the face I pull when numbers don't make sense or when I just don't get someone's point. I was sitting with a friend who was explaining that she, as a woman who supports choice, knows a 12-week time limit is ridiculous, yet was starting to believe there was science to back a reduction in the time limit.

My friend is a clever, discerning woman who supports women's right to choose and yet she had begun to believe the stories and she is far from being the only one.  Reporting about abortion and the time limit in recent months has, it seems, blurred the line between scientific fact and anti abortionist fiction for some of the general public.

So today at Brook, an agency that has as a core value the right to safe and legal abortion, we celebrate and applaud parliamentarians who chose science over dogma in support of women. We thank colleagues and friends who have worked tirelessly in recent months, and we are thinking seriously about what we need to do to ensure young people know the facts as they are, not as they have often recently been reported.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Abortion - defend the 24 week time limit NOW

This week parliament will be voting on women's rights to abortion. Despite medical consensus that the time limit should stay at 24 weeks, there is a lot of anti-choice activity trying to reduce this time limit. This is not progressive, sensible or helpful for women. Any reduction in the time limit is only going to punish those people in the most difficult circumstances and will likely have a particular impact on young people.

If you read my previous blogs on abortion you will see some of the positive changes Brook would like to see and the reasons why.

Defend women's rights to 24 weeks - visit Brook's website to find out more about the bill going through parliament and visit to get your voice heard - if we don't speak out, women, and their partners in difficult circumstances will pay the price.

It may be 22 weeks they go for this time....what next 20 weeks, 18 weeks, 16 weeks....

I am proud to live in the UK and proud of our progress in securing sexual and reproductive rights for all - I hope to still be proud when this Bill is completed.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Is it really possible that a year has passed since National Condom Week 2007? Last year I suggested for at least one hour of National Condom Week you should answer condom in response to any question your friends, family and work colleagues asked. Children and Young People Now broke with their policy of advocating non-violent solutions, and predicted that if I tried it I would likely be punched. I took their advice and didn’t try it - but this year I might.

Meanwhile Brook has developed an exciting campaign ‘’ which is shown below. Young people told us they think the design is engaging, fun and eye catching. The campaign includes posters and postcards for use in youth clubs, schools, Pupil Referral Units and all health and sexual health services including general practice. is linked through to the Ask Brook service including our website with information about sex, sexuality and sexual health for young people under 25.

Find out more about the campaign and how to order the materials at or

Remember whatever the question, for the next week at least condom is the answer.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Wet dreams, pornography, pleasure and shame

Earlier this week I attended a debate about pornography run by fpa ( in conjunction with the Women's Library. There were different views on whether pornography is good or bad (and whether some is good and some is bad - soft = good/hard = bad; heterosexual = bad because of gender inequality, gay and lesbian porn = not so bad because it might be educational). These arguments are perennial and the opinions endless. There was also lots of discussion about sex education, and the importance of improving sex education so young people do not have to rely on pornography to find out about sex. Of course it is important to improve sex education, to be more explicit about sex with young people so they understand how it works. Little room for argument there.

But that is only half of the story because beyond educational purposes many people watch pornography because they get pleasure from it and yet it can also make people embarrassed and ashamed.

When I worked with young men on a fpa project over a decade ago, one young man said, 'pornography is good for a wank, but I hide it.' Another said 'my mum had been washing my sheets when I had wet dreams and not saying anything, then she found my mags and left me a note saying I was dirty - how confusing is that?'

In an age of ever increasing access to pornography and a growing number of the You Tubers making their own porn, how do we as practitioners bring together the different perspectives of pleasure, pain, inequality and education in a way that makes sense for young people and help them think about pornography in interesting ways, and reflect on the distance between the sexual prowess, stamina and low level communication in porn, and the realities of everyday relationships and everyday lives.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

teenage pregnancy, stupid women and bungy jumping on a condom elastic

On Teenage Pregnancy....official statistics in February showed Teenage pregnancy rates are declining. Good news. Even more good news to read today that the Improvement and Development Agency reports on Local Area Agreements show that the second most common priority for Local Authorities in England is reducing the under 18 conception rate.

On stupid women - this came into my inbox recently....
I have decided to do a bit of campaigning journalism and have set up a website and Downing Street e-petition about better access to emergency contraception morning after pill). If you are a journalist receiving this email, or a blogger, do please consider writing about this subject and linking to the petition.

Here is the link to the petition if you want to sign it:

And here is the website that explains what it is I am doing and why:

Basically, at the moment if a woman wants emergency contraception she must get it herself at the time of needing it. Although in 2006 the Royal Pharmaceutical Society issued a statement saying that it is not against the advanced supply of emergency contraception in principle, in many instances women are being refused advance provision by pharmacists.

This means that a woman can't buy it in advance from pharmacies to keep in the bathroom cabinet in case a condom splits. Nor can someone else buy it for her unless they can convince the pharmacist that it is an exceptional situation such as a person being housebound. Being stuck at work or at home looking after children is not usually deemed a good enough reason. Mums cannot buy it for daughters. A woman's partner cannot buy it for her. Nor can her friend.

Many people including some pharmacists argue that this is because emergency contraception should not be used other than in an emergency and that they need to ask certain questions of women before they can take it. This suggests women are incapable of self-diagnosing - something we actually do every time we take a painkiller which, taken wrongly, could also harm us.

If you support this please pass this email onto your friends and contacts - the more people who sign the petition the more notice government will take and things might change. If you can do write to your MP about this too - there is a sample letter on the website that you can copy.

Finally on condom bungys...did you see the Metro on Tuesday - a South African guy used 18,500 out of date condoms tied together and bungy jumped from them without even checking them with sand bags first. A joker in my team thought I should do it to raise money for Brook - clearly they want me to give a bit more to my work!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Council of Europe speaks sense on abortion and sex education

In amongst the noise about abortion over recent months it is brilliant that today the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called for its member states to guarantee womens right to access to a safe and legal abortion.

The Assembly brings together national parliamentarians from 47 European countries, representing 800 million Europeans.
The parliamentarians said that abortion should be avoided as far as possible and “in no circumstances be regarded as a family planning method” but that a total ban did not result in fewer abortions, leading instead to traumatic clandestine abortions and abortion “tourism”.

In the resolution the parliamentarians said medical and psychological care, as well as suitable financial cover, should be offered to women seeking abortions, and conditions which restricted access to safe abortion should be lifted.

They also called for school pupils to receive “compulsory age-appropriate, gender-sensitive education on sex and relationships” in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and therefore abortions.

Monday, 14 April 2008

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

It bothers me enormously that we condemn young people without looking in the mirror. One of my early lessons in life was, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

The front page of the Metro today reports drink, sex, age of 12. I am quoted as saying that my staff 'had heard of cases where children as young as 12 had needed treatment' (I added) 'it is important they get treatment.

Yes it is important they get treatment, and it is important that we understand the wider context. Most young people under the age of 16 do not have sex, and of those that do, many are responsible about sex, responsible about contraception and actively seek the help and support they need. At Brook we see 1500 young people everyday, 1500 young people learning about their sexuality, their choices and learning to manage their sexual health. We also see many young people who have got drunk and do not know whether they had sex, or whether they used contraception.

Drink, sex and STDs is not the norm at the age of 12, nor indeed at 14. Before taking another swipe at young people and their conduct, maybe we need to look to ourselves, the adults who help determine the culture in which young people are learning about sex, and learning about alcohol. When it comes to alcohol young people learn from us - and they tell me they learn that you drink to be happy, drink to celebrate, drink to commisserate, drink to ease the pain.

And we also use drink as an excuse sometimes - I was too drunk, I don't remember, I couldn't help it, and because of our attitude to drinking, alcohol is an acceptable excuse for unprotected sex or for having sex you didn't really want.

But that doesn't stop at the miracle age of 21. So let us not get hysterical about the very small numbers of 12 year olds who get drunk and have sex, though we must be concerned. Let us instead use our energy creatively and productively to think about our attitude to alcohol, our attitude to sexuality and our attitude to young people.

When I worked at National Children's Bureau ( I did a project on the links between sex, alcohol and other drugs. Young people told me they wanted more things to do so they didn't just hang out on street corners, bored and looking for fun. Lets really join up policy - start from a premise of trusting and respecting young people and offer them the opportunities for risk, pleasure and excitement through play and recreation, safe spaces to hang out, and to be with their friends.

Brook produces a pack - drunk in charge of a body, exploring the links between alcohol and sexual risk taking - visit to find out more. Lets support them to think about the links between alcohol and risk taking, rather than keep telling them they are feckless, irresponsible and remarkably different from many of their elders.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Does our children's workforce understand healthy sexual development

I was running training last week on sexual health and teenage pregnancy. As we went through the day it became clear that we need to do a lot more to help professionals understand what normal healthy sexual development in children and young people is. If professionals understand healthy sexual development they are going to be much more confident about when they need to act in order to protect children and young people, and when they need to simply provide the advice and support young people deserve and require so they can learn to manage their relationships and their sexual choices.

Brook is organising a course in the autumn to address this need - date still tbc. Email if you would like details about the course - provisional title, 'is this normal - understanding healthy sexual development in children and young people - to be emailed to you shortly.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

new guide on sexual health outreach

We have just published a guide on sexual health outreach. It is a really good publication. It helps to bring sexual health outreach into the mainstream and provides clear advice and guidance on how to design and deliver effective activity.

visit our website to find out more

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The importance of learning

Whilst i was in New Zealand the following traditional Maori saying was told at the end of our information exchange session. It was a fitting end to an interesting session.

Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nona te ngahere. Ko te manu e kai ana i te matauranga, nona te ao

which translates as;

The bird that feasts on the miro berries will inherit the forest, but the bird that feasts on knowledge will inherit the world.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Peeing in a bucket and keeping safe

I went to a friends birthday last night. Afterwards some of us went to a 'disco' in the west end of London. There was a woman peeing in a bucket in the hall, she was then crying and looking for her coat in the toilet, and then shouting at the cloakroom attendant, the manager and anyone else she thought she should shout at because they couldn't find her coat.

When I left she was stumbling on the pavement, alone and clearly potentially very vulnerable to falling over, being knocked over by cars or of course sexual assault. I asked her if she was ok and if she knew where she was going. She insisted she was fine. I tried to identify how she was going to get home and she got cross. So i left and I watched from a distance for a while. She did get into a cab after about 10 minutes. An unlicensed mini cab. I hope she was safe.

A campaign I was really impressed with in (my recent trip to) Sydney was the Together We Can campaign. One of their adverts went something along the lines of 'together we safe by making sure we go to venues and leave venues with friends; making sure one person does not drink too much or take too many drugs' etc. It struck me then as a really impressive campaign. And last night when I couldn't sleep worrying that the woman had got home safely, could get her key in the door and had someone to look after her -point her to the toilet, stroke her back if she was sick - i wish she had had a friend who hadn't drunk too much and had left the venue with her.

Most of us drink too much sometimes, most of us need someone to help us sometimes - next time you are planning a big night out, just remember, together we safe (and still have fun)'.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Great to be a blogger

Find out more at

Friday, 21 March 2008

Some moments from Australia and New Zealand

I am back from my holidays.

I left to travel across the big lake on a high - Brook's awards dinner and conference were both a massive success. All of the feedback was really positive and the event felt good. I was so proud of all the staff across Brook and the work they are doing everyday to make a difference to young lives. I also left with slight trepidation and a nagging doubt as to whether the CEO should go away for four weeks. We had planned and organised everything so it would be fine, but i still left wondering (hoping?) whether I truly was indispensable. Surprise, surprise, I am not! The team did brilliantly and thrived whilst I was away. It has helped to improve decision making, confidence and team working. I may need to do it again soon for the sake of my teams professional development and team cohesion.

After a mammoth journey I arrived and spent a day in Sydney with one of my dearest friends. He recently emigrated to Australia which I always imagined I would at some stage. As I have got older I am not sure I would want to be on the other side of the world from my family and friends. Who knows, maybe one day. He has found it tough to settle and meet friends like those in the UK and so it was gorgeous to have a day playing together in the sun - eating fish and chips, drinking cold beer at Sydney Harbour.

Later that day I travelled to New Zealand to see other friends and my darling god son who is 30 months old. I was so excited to see him again i thought I was going to burst. Burst I didn't, but squeal i did as he grinned the biggest grin and gingerly edged over to me, giggling and putting his head at all sorts of funny angles to get a different view of me and his Auntie Nix. We camped in a remote remote remote part of the North Island by a stream. Our wash basin was the stream which is very cold. A good cure for sorting out a fuzzy head the day after lots of wine, lots of laughing and lots of story telling.

Needless to say we had lots of happy times and coming back to England after four weeks has actually been quite tough. Maybe I could be happy not working after all?

Some things i learnt;

In New Zealand they call the R U Ready? work 'Only when you are ready'. I really like the different tone of that statement. It is a gentle and strong statement with an expectation of readiness contained within it. I prefer it to R U Ready?

I had a traditional Maori welcome, where I stood nervously, unsure what was going to happen until the nose rubbing bit which made my nose tickle! We had an exciting swapping of practice with an organisation working with the Maori communities. Their traditions of telling stories, rituals and listening to each other, provide a fabulous opportunity to use group work approaches effectively. They are doing some really interesting work using drama.

We went to see a play in New Zealand about an abusive relationship between a 12 year old and an adult man. The play was set 10 years on after the man had been to prison and was rebuilding his life under a different name. The 12 year old, now an adult finds her abuser and the play centres on a powerful dialogue exploring the complexities of love, life, abuse and relationships. I know what I think about abuse, abuse of power and about right and wrong. Yet this play challenged my clarity and I had to talk about it for a long time with my friend to sort it all out in my head again. Good Theatre.

Onto Sydney and Mardi Gras. I couldn't really see anything as we got to the parade too late so we watched it on a screen. It was really quite remarkable to see such a celebration of diversity and sexuality. The dykes on bikes were divine to watch. I did almost cry when I saw the people marching who had set up Mardi Gras in 1978. Their parade banner '1978 - 2008 and still Out and Proud'. What brave brave people and how different it must feel for them in 2008 - a joyous event, as opposed to the fear that would have been hanging over them during the first march.

There was a remarkable moment when a young lad from the UK stood next to his girlfriend who was stood next to me said 'I don't mind the lezzies, but I can't stand the ***** poofs. I was shocked and wondered if I had truly heard right. But his girlfriends response confirmed I had. So with a smile/grimace on my face, i suggested there was never a place for homophobia but Mardi Gras was probably the most stupid place to be publicly homophobic and could they kindly think about moving on. They didn't stay much longer.

I also saw some great materials;

ACON which is a community based organisation in New South Wales has produced a campaign called 'Together We Can'. Each poster addresses a different issue such as keeping safe; reducing stigma, preventing HIV; and managing alcohol and other drug use.

FPA New Zealand has produced a leaflet called Is this Love? about love and power which has been adapted and published by the FPA UK I recommend it.

Family Planning Queensland has produced a children's story book 'Everyone has got a bottom' which helps parents and carers teach children the proper words for penis and vagina and emphasise keeping safe

Finally my holiday reads that are worth a mention;

Anita Roddick's book Business as Unusual is a good read - inspiring and motivating leaders to run businesses in different ways.

Ewan McGregor's tale of travelling from John O Groats to South Africa is an inspiring tale of living a dream and the power of challenge. I was also seriously impressed by the sensitivity and honour with which they tell their stories of visiting villages and projects on behalf of UNICEF.

Lori Lansens book 'the girls' which is a novel about conjoined twins. It is a fabulous story of identity, love, sex, desire and commitment.

And if Priscilla Queen of the Desert comes to the stage in the UK which it is rumoured to be, go watch it. A feast of colours, outfits and discotastic songs.

I can go on forever about the trip, but thats it for now.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

i am going on holiday

To Australia and New Zealand and so i shall not be writing anything on this blog for a few weeks. I will keep my ears and eyes open for any interesting stories to tell you when I get home.

By the time I get home it will almost be light evenings again, the air will smell of spring, and more of us will have a bounce in our step. Gorgeous.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The secret of sex - learn to enjoy it

Sam Roddick, founder of Coco de Mer and daughter of Body Shop legend Anita Roddick spoke at our annual conference today. In a direct, sensible and thought provoking speech she urged us to ensure young people know the route to good sex is to enjoy it. Sounds obvious hey, but we know that for many people enjoyment is not on the agenda.

The last two days has been quite remarkable and a real privilege;

We held our first ever awards dinner, hosted by Mica Paris, Brook Ambassador, TV Presenter and Singer. Full details, including photos, of the winners will be on our website in the next week or so - wonderful work being carried out by passionate people.

The awards dinner was also attended by Tracy Cox, relationship expert and a brilliant Brook ambassador alongside colleagues, supporters and friends of Brook. Now it is all over, the adrenaline is dwindling and I am too tired to write anything more. Except of course thank you to the young people and staff who made it sure it was a success. Thank you also to our main sponsors Bayer Schering Pharma, Organon and Durex.

We launched a hard hitting campaign It's Your Choice and on the back of this an article appeared in the guardian society pages entitled young people can be responsible about sex. Others recognised the power and potential of our new campaign - describing it as clear, direct and informative.

Running a big event like the awards and conference is a bit like running a marathon for me, just before its over, you're sure you'll never do it again, and even before the legs have stopped aching, you know it won't be long before the planning and preparation starts.....I look forward to starting planning our 2009 jamboree in earnest before too long!

The link below is to an opinion piece I wrote about young people, responsibility and sex that appeared in the guardian this week

The secret of sex - learn to enjoy it

Sam Roddick, founder of Coco de Mer and daughter of Body Shop legend Anita Roddick spoke at our annual conference today. In a direct, sensible and thought provoking speech she urged people to ensure people know the route to good sex is to learn to enjoy it. Sounds obvious hey, but we know that for many people enjoyment is not on the agenda.

The last two days has been quite remarkable and a real privilege;

We launched a hard hitting campaign It's Your Choice

We held our first ever awards dinner, hosted by Mica Paris, Brook Ambassador, TV Presenter and Singer. Full details, including photos, of the winners will be on our website in the next week - wonderful work being carried out by passionate people.

The awards dinner was also attended by Tracy Cox, relationship expert and a brilliant Brook ambassador and alongside colleagues, supporters and friends of Brook. I am too tired to write anything more right now except thank you to the young people and staff who made it sure it was a success. Thank you also to our sponsors Bayer Schering Pharma, Organon and Durex.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Good news and stunning performances

I was so pleased that Dawn Primarolo, public health Minister announced new money for contraception this week. At Brook we have been increasingly worried about the cuts to contraceptive clinics over recent years. We have been calling for increased leadership and resource for contraception and now we have got it. Next week we launch our own campaign on promoting contraceptive choice. Watch this space and the Brook website on Tuesday to find out more.

From central leadership to local action, if I was excited at Dawn Primarolo's announcement, I was equally excited by the stunning performances of young people involved in a creative arts programme as part of Trafford Youth Service. Performing at the Greater Manchester Sexual Health Network conference, they cut straight to the chase - talk to us, inform us, help us, don't judge us, hear our stories.

And one young woman blew delegates away with a performance of her own song. The song focused on her hopes, dreams and aspirations and the experiences of 'living, watching and learning in the neighbourhood she lives'. The key message I took from her song was, sexual health is intimately bound up with the rest of her life. Her hopes for the future helping her manage and negotiate the day to day pressures of living in a deprived part of Manchester where drugs and violence are commonplace.

It was humbling and insightful. It challenged me yet again to ensure we address the core task of helping children and young people grow, develop, stay safe and dream. Anything short of that has the potential to simply tick a box.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Helping parents and carers talk to their children about relationships, emotions and sex

Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda in Wales, today launched a website that provides the opportunity for visitors to vote on key issues relating to young people, sex and relationships, including whether sex and relationships education should be statutory. I urge you to visit his site and vote.

It is always helpful when there is a fresh voice in the ongoing discussion about youth sexuality and teenage pregnancy - on this occassion there has been a focus on Chris' recommendation that a leaflet should be sent to parents of 11 or 9 year olds depending on what you read. If you are a parent, grandparent, a (real or pretend) aunt or uncle or a sibling there are already booklets available to help you.

Visit the Parentline Plus website at or fpa at

Both have some very useful advice and support.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Remaining open, humble and connected

Some things can never be said enough and the importance of asking the experts - in Brook's case young people - can never be stressed to often.

Some people and organisations involve their clients better than others. For me it is a matter of principle and professional credibility, and our responsibility to open ourselves and the way we do things for questioning if the existing structures do not enable effective participation. If we do not involve those we seek to serve in all of our work, we potentially get the questions, the answers and the messages wrong. This was demonstrated recently where young people were asked their views about different forms of contraception - one asked, what is contraception. We had taken some knowledge for granted - what does sexual health mean to young people and how important is it?

In the evaluation of a sexual health project several years ago, some recipients of the work were very clear - talk to us about HIV if you like, we might even enjoy it, but unless we get to think about our experiences of racism and other discrimination it is unlikely to impact on our behaviour and our sense of empowerment.

We must be sure that we are open to changing the way we do things so we can truly get expert opinion and be willing to listen to what they say, so what they say influences the things that we say on their behalf.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

The Kiterunner

I went to see the film Kiterunner last night. It raises all sorts of issues relevant to personal, emotional and moral development. If I was still working with young people on a day to day basis I would be getting it on DVD as soon as possible, using it as a stimulus for discussing (boys) friendships, trust, loyalty, power, rape and consent.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

What makes a purse a purse?

Do you know the difference between a purse and a wallet? My five year old nephew is still slightly exasperated and cross with me for saying that his wallet is a purse over the Christmas holidays. It looked like a purse to me. Purses are for girls and boys have wallets. Apparently.

Answers on my blog please so I can either apologise for getting it wrong, or confidently be the annoying (his words)/educative (my preference) uncle who believes it vital to explain that the difference between a purse and a wallet is based on what it is, not on the gender of the person using it.

Regardless of the answer, we had a great debate about what it was ok for boys and girls to do. Our conversation affirmed my belief that primary schools must begin formal sex and relationships education as soon as children start school. They are clearly learning about gender and relationships anyway.

Aged 8 or 9, my friend Tanya and I were asked by our Sunday School teacher what we wanted to be when we grew up. She wanted to be a doctor. I firmly told her that just wasn't possible. She wasn't a man. I was corrected, but I didn't believe it for quite a while. (And no, I didn't say I wanted to be a sex educator - that particular day i wanted to be a radio DJ - a local radio station had just launched)

If the purse conversation was proof my lovely boy was learning the rules of gender early and definitively, i smiled later that day when he shrieked with delight because i could type fast without looking at the keyboard. When I was at primary school that really was proof that you weren't a proper man at all. Two steps forward. One step back.

Friday, 11 January 2008

A pat on the back and fresh inspiration

I was at a seminar just before Christmas - yes everyone was a bit tired from too many parties and self imposed deadlines - however i was struck by a sense of people being 'fed up' and demoralised. There were too many conversations about being 'red lighted', not meeting the 15% target for chlamydia screening, STI rates going up and so on and so forth.

Sometimes it does feel all up hill. Our motivation can dwindle as our efforts do not have the immediate impact we hope for. When this happens stop, turn around and see how far we have come. Think about two or three things that you are proud of; how much we, as a country have learnt since the teenage pregnancy strategy was published in 1999; how many young people have better access to services, to better sex and relationships education and to better one to one support when they need it.

On February 12th, Brook will be celebrating the achievements of young people and professionals working hard to make a difference at an awards event. Hosted by a Brook Ambassador Mica Paris, the awards event and our annual conference the following day have been organised with young people. Both will celebrate our successes, remind us to give ourselves a pat on the back, provide some fresh inspiration, new thinking and practical ideas. As well as that Mica is going to sing a song for us.

Visit to find out more and book online. Come be inspired, give and get some pats on the back.