Wednesday, 23 September 2009

New appointments at Brook

I'm delighted to announce three new appointments at Brook and welcome Eve Martin as Chair, Kathy French as Clinical Director and Lady (Winifred) Tumin CBE who has recently become an ambassador for Brook.

Their knowledge and experience will be a great assest for Brook and I look forward to working with them to take our work forwards and reach many more young people.

Please click here to see the full news release on our website.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Positive voices of young disabled people and sexuality

A brilliant celebration of young disabled people as sexual beings giving a positive voice to a group of young people whose sexual feelings, desires and experiences still remain too often unspoken about or the target of prejudice and misunderstanding.

As well as being able to download for free, it can be purchased on DVD for training purposes

The age of consent

Tomorrow Radio 4 will host a debate about the age of sexual consent, which is currently 16. Law professsor John Spencer is reported in the Daily Mail as being set to argue that the current age of consent criminalises 'half the population'.

The guidance to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is very clear. The Act is not there to criminalise consensual sexual activity amongst young people, although I accept from many people who know far more about legislation than I do, that this Act is not the best conceptualised and leaves too much room for inequitable legislation. This is borne out in some of the calls and letters that I receive from anxious parents whose child has been the subject of unhelpful criminal investigation into consensual sexual activity.

I look forward to the debate tomorrow, but meanwhile I am with young people and Nick, my trainer at the gym who has in recent months become an active debater on teenage pregnancy, sexual assault, sex and the media, who when I asked him this morning what he thought about lowering the age of consent, thought it was probably best 'left as it is'. Even though he can see there is the potential pressure that people feel when they get to 16 to have sex if they have not done so already.

And herein lies at least some of the problem for me, the feeling amongst the young that everyone else is doing it more often, younger and in more daring ways. But to be honest this is not simply the domain of young people. As adults we too, are often consumed with the view that others are 'having it more and better'. And this is about our culture, not the law (although I know of course the law and culture are closely interlinked).

Research shows the practical reality of the age of consent for young people. In all you need is love? sexual morality through the eyes of young people published by National Children's Bureau, Sharpe and Thomson show that whilst the age of consent is not central in young people's decision making about whether and when to have sex - trust and love playing a much greater role - the age of consent does send a message to young people about when as a society we think is a reasonable age to have sex. I have also talked with many many young women and the professionals that work with them about the age of consent over the last decade. The resounding consensus from them is leave it as it is - it is a good negotiating tool that we can use to refuse to have sex should we want to use it.

So on that basis for now, as long as we have adequate safeguards which prevent young people under 16 who are engaged in consensual sexual activity from being criminalised, and those young people who have sex under 16 have access to contraceptive and sexual health services and feel confident using them, my view is lets keep it at 16. I look forward to the Radio 4 programme Iconoclasts tomorrow and listening to see whether there is anything that may make me consider changing my view.

In the meantime foot on the accelerator to create that positive open culture about sex and sexuality.

Friday, 18 September 2009

New website to help influence local sexual health services

More and more decisions about health services are being made at local level. In response to this Brook has worked with a number of national sexual health organisations to create a new website which will help people lobby, influence and ask questions about local sexual health and contraceptive services. Find out more at

So I urge you to start influencing and sign up to the website now - get your voice heard!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Punk rock

I saw this play last night - remarkably talented young actors in a play which brings into sharp focus the complexities of growing up - anxiety, distress, sex and sexual tension, identity, self harm and bullying as well as resilience and maturity.

In one scene a character tries to console another who is despairing of his peers within the school. She says something along the lines of '99% of young people in this school are nice, and what nobody ever says is 99% of young people are good, don't forget that'.

And as to prove it, today I fell off my bike and needed some help. It was a bit embarrassing sprawled on the road with a Brompton fold up bike wrapped around me. At least twenty people were nearby, mostly adults and it was the two young lads who came to check I was alright and help me up whilst the adults scuttled on by. How I wish some of those adults who damn young people could have seen. More proof that ephibiphobia - the fear of young people - is ill founded.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Building confidence in sexual health services - excellent work in Jersey

This weekend myself and a trustee Nicky Trimboy visited Brook in Jersey to meet the director, Chair and another trustee from Jersey to review their successes and current challenges and how well we are all working together in the Brook Network.

We were incredibly impressed with lots of things including the way Brook using PQASSO our quality assurance system to really improve the way they work on an ongoing basis. We were also excited that all year 10 pupils (age 14/15) on Jersey get a school trip to Brook to find out what we do at Brook and what happens if they visit.

The impact of this was evident at Jersey Live Music Festival which we spent some time at afterwards. Two of the Ask Brook team were doing a brilliant job at the stand giving out information about sexual health and safer sex, providing condoms and teaching people how to use them, and telling people about the Brook service in Jersey. They also asked visitors to the stand who came in their hundreds whether they knew about Brook. Lots of them did and a common reply was ‘I went there on the school trip’. Lots of the young people talked about how great the staff were, and one young woman said she hoped she was rich enough to be able to give Brook lots of money because they had been such a help to her so many times.

Imagine how amazing it would be and how much we could improve the confidence of young people in accessing services if all year 10 pupils in every school got a trip to their nearest contraceptive and sexual health service, and when they got there everyone was respectful to them.

Friday, 4 September 2009

It's like a rubber cock.....

said Jon talking about a packer which emulates male genitalia in 'the boy who was born a girl' on Channel 4 tonight. Jon is 16 and was born Natasha. He has gender dysphoria and is undergoing testosterone therapy to trigger male puberty.

Three things are really striking in the programme;

the maturity of Jon, how resilient he is and how much he deserves to experience happiness and to be comfortable in his body

how supportive his mother is and how she takes responsibility for her own emotions which are sometimes diametrically opposed to Jons' and remains completely supportive and proud of Jon

the outstanding ability of people to be cruel and hurt others who are different and the urgent need to create a culture in the UK where bullying and discrimination in schools and communities is unacceptable.

If you didn't see it, get onto the internet and watch it, it is an honest and important documentary that tells the story so far of Jon - one transgender young person - and there are many more without the confidence or support to get help, support and treatment. Only if we break the taboo and stop the silence will we ensure young people born with gender dysphoria get the help and treatment to be happy in their own skin.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Taking sexual health to the festivals

Festivals are an important part of the summer circuit. And alcohol and sex are part of the mix for many festival goers.

On March 6th I wrote about the excellent performance of PJ, one of Brook's young ambassador with Remiidy and Kris at the Brook awards with their song 'Use a Condom'.

This weekend they took it to a wider audience performing live on stage at the Reading Festival. When I saw PJ today he said the performance went very well and that people were coming to the front and taking the free condoms.

At the same time a team from Brook alongside Leeds and Bradford Primary Care Trusts' were working at Leeds Festival providing condoms, emergency contraception, chlamydia screening and information to young people. And the week before a team were at the V festival taking sexual health out to where young people are. This weekend Brook will be at Jersey Live Festival.

We are pleased with the feedback, pleased with the take up of sexual health information, condoms, chlamydia screening and emergency contraception and believe we provided a useful resource for young people and will be looking at how we can have a presence at some of the festivals again next year.

NSPCC report on sexual violence

Sexual bullying and sexual violence has become an increasing policy and practice concern. And the NSPCC today launched an interesting report about the experience of teenage girls in relationships that adds to the evidence as to why this must be a concern. The research, a study of almost 1400 13 - 17 year olds shows that a third of teenage girls suffer unwanted sexual acts in a relationship and a quarter physical violence.

The survey of 13 to 17-year-olds found that nearly nine out of ten girls had been in an intimate relationship. Of these, one in six said they had been pressured into sexual intercourse and 1 in 16 said they had been raped. Others had been pressured or forced to kiss or sexually touch. In addition quarter of girls had suffered physical violence such as being slapped, punched, or beaten by their boyfriends.

Nearly nine out of ten boys also said they had been in a relationship. A smaller number reported pressure or violence from girls. (Only one in seventeen boys in a relationship reported being pressured or forced into sexual activity and almost one in five suffered physical violence in a relationship).

Girls were much more likely to find this behaviour harmful - more than three in every four compared to one in ten boys. Girls also reported that they suffered more repeatedly in relationships and at a younger age.

Sian, one of the girls interviewed for the research, said: "I only went out with him for a week. And then because I didn't want to have sex he just started picking on me and hitting me."

Having an older boyfriend was found to put girls at a higher risk, with three-quarters of them saying they had been victims. Girls from a family where an adult had been violent towards them, one of their parents, or siblings, were also at greater risk.

For boys, having a violent group of friends made it more likely that they would be a victim, or be violent themselves, in a relationship.

Bobby, one of the boys interviewed for the report, said: "I think there's probably more pressure on boys, but if a girl goes out with a lot of people she's called a 'slut' or a 'slag' or something, but if it's a boy he's just one of the lads if he

I have yet to read the full report, but it is clear from what i have read so far that sexual violence is a really important issue and that gender plays a really significant part in the way young people understand and navigate their sexual relationships.

That is why Brook's annual conference on March 4th 2010 is focusing on gender. To find out more about the conference BoyGirlManWoman - putting gender at the heart of sexual health and teenage pregnancy work email