Saturday, 29 December 2012

How did sexual health fare in 2012?

As is tradition since I started blogging here is my summary of the year.  This year the format is stolen from The Week magazine or Horse and Hound and doubtlessly countless other magazines that do the ‘good week for...bad week for…’ format.

It goes without saying that these are turbulent times for most - staying the same is not an option, and threats to funding, changes in policy and the shift to a much more locally determined agenda poses a number of opportunities and challenges.

So how did sexual health fare in 2012?  Here is my subjective, partial and definitely post Christmas non-scientific view based on my memory of the year (note the disclaimer) view as we gallop towards 2013.

2012 was a good year for;

1. Brook as we continued the unification programme to become bigger, bolder and better post the bringing together of the separate charities in the Brook Network and the merger with Education for Choice.  The year kicked off with a bang with our Comedy Sex fundraiser hosted by Al Murray and joined by a stellar line up of comedians.

Day in day out Brook staff continued running services and delivering innovative and pioneering education programmes, as well campaigning and lobbying activity without disruption as we undertook a three phase leadership, management, administration and corporate services restructure.  Critical to this process was the establishment of a National Staff Consultation Forum in which representatives from across Brook came together regularly to work with the Executive Team and I to ensure staff views are heard through the change process.

Our youth participation and leadership work ramped up across the organisation from Cornwall to Highland thanks to funding from V, the volunteering charity, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the O2 Think Big programme. The youth led campaign to promote positive attitudes to young people and sexuality, and particularly to improving sex and relationships education continued.

Brook in Bristol moved into stunning new premises as part of a youth hub and was part of a winning tender to deliver a range of youth services across Bristol.  In Wigan we secured the tender to continue providing, and extending services for young people in the Authority; similarly London secured the tender to deliver a major education programme over three years. Brook’s national team moved in with FPA to enhance and develop the formal collaboration which this year including sharing our Parliamentary and Policy functions as well as entering into a three year collaboration to promote sexual health with Durex.  We launched the XES - We Can’t Go Backwards ( campaign in partnership with FPA and Durex. And the FPA and Brook collaboration was highly commended in the charity partnership category at the Third Sector Awards.

Brook also launched a really important Traffic Light Tool to support professionals in understanding sexual behaviours and safeguarding young people (  The original idea was brought back from Queensland, Australia where it has been tried and tested for a number of years. We know professionals need to be able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behaviours to protect and empower young people, and this tool is going to become invaluable in achieving this.

Of course there were many other highlights and examples of outstanding work across Brook helping individuals and groups of young people (many examples of these are on my blog), and there were disappointments and lows, but overall it has been a good year for Brook, and you can guarantee that in 2013 we will experience the benefits of the new organisational structure which will enable us to continue with the same determined focus on promoting young people’s health and well being holistically through our clinical and support services, education and our campaigning and lobbying work.

I cannot thank all Brook staff, trustees, funders and supporters in every part of Brook enough for their commitment to making sure 2012 was a year in which Brook continued to work towards our mission of enabling young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm.

Stay tuned with Brook in 2013 by following @brookcharity and @simonablake on twitter or becoming a friend of brookcharity on Facebook.

2. Sex and relationships education/Relationships and Sex Education
First Yvette Cooper at the Labour Party Conference laid down her support for statutory SRE and said it was critical as part of the solution to sexual exploitation and the whole range of other issues.  On December 20th a cross party inquiry into unplanned pregnancy chaired by Amber Rudd MP (@AmberRuddMP) recommended that Relationships and sex education should be a statutory part of the curriculum.  When challenged by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight about whether the Coalition government would adopt this, Amber Rudd was clear that she intended to keep working on the issue.

The Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum tasked by Andrew Lansley with making recommendations about improving children and young people’s health also recommended that one of the core aims of the National Curriculum should be to promote health.  We eagerly await information about whether this recommendation will be adopted.

Whilst it is also true there has been some hysterical and appalling coverage of relationships and sex education by some of the press, on the whole more and more journalists are dumbfounded that government is not just getting on with making it statutory and ensuring we do not allow another generation of children and young people to grow up without fear, guilt or embarrassment about their bodies, relationships and sex.  At the same time the loud and vociferous but tiny minority against SRE sound ever more ridiculous as they make unfounded claims about SRE, for example, saying 7 year olds are being taught how to put a condom on a banana (that wouldn't be good practise would it?!) and claiming moral outrage that most sensible adults would want to teach children the names of different parts of their body including the vagina, penis and clitoris as part of the efforts to protect against abuse.

If you have not yet signed Brook’s petition for 21st Century sex and relationships education visit and show your support.

3. Contraception/access to contraception and abortion
Truly this like everything else would be in the ‘it was a very mixed year for’ category if I could have one because in some places there are increased restrictions to contraception which wrongly limit women’s choice and are economically short sighted.  But on balance I have put it in the ‘good year for’ because at last people have got really fired up about women's right to access contraception.

Contraception has oft been the Cinderella service but as news of restrictions to services hit people got angry.  For example the ‘Women of Walthomstow’ (@WoWstow) were outraged they couldn’t access services in their borough, and worked with their MP Stella Creasy to ensure women in Walthomstow could get contraception.  They were successful in their campaign and Stella Creasy won the Brook/FPA Parliamentarian of the Year award for her work.

The Advisory Group on Contraception undertook a Freedom of Information request to find out about contraceptive access and restrictions; the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health undertook an inquiry into restrictions in access to contraception, and the Amber Rudd inquiry into unplanned pregnancy emphasised the importance of ensuring all women have access to the full range of contraception.

Brook and FPA launched the XES - We Can’t Go Backwards campaign ( which provides an opportunity for people to go online and rate their experience of contraceptive and sexual health services. With so many people worried about limitations and restrictions to a whole range of services by getting people’s experiences Brook and FPA are more able to lobby with real impact.  This campaign continues into 2013 and is going to provide some really important evidence about the impact of cuts.

4. Teenage parents
The brilliant Prymface (@prymface and has become a regular writer for the Telegraph challenging stereotypes about and discrimination of young mums.  Her determination to challenge stereotypes of, and support young mums includes a regular twitter chat.  I was willingly put through my paces one Tuesday evening as a guest on the twitter chat.  Through that I was reminded yet again how young parents can be equally as brilliant as older parents as long as they have the right support, and that society’s continued demonisation of young parents doesn’t help anyone in any circumstances. Sorayah July (@calendar_girl) did a brilliant job on Newsnight in speaking sense about being a young mum (see her blog

Looking to 2013 it is important to keep the twin track focus of the teenage pregnancy strategy – preventing those teenage pregnancies where young women do not want to  become pregnant through better education and contraception, and supporting those young people who do become young parents every step of the way without unnecessary and unhelpful stigma or shame.

5. Sexual Exploitation, teenage rape, domestic violence and consent
The ability to give or refuse consent lies at the heart of positive sexual experiences and I was delighted that Amber Rudd’s inquiry emphasised the importance of educating about consent.  Consent is at the heart of all the work Brook does in clinical and education environments so it is brilliant that consent is increasingly at the forefront of policy discussions.

Also brilliant that the definition of domestic violence was extended to include young people, that the Home Office continued their work to raise awareness of violence and rape amongst young people, and that the cross government focus on violence on girls and women continued this year.

This along with the Children’s Commissioner inquiry into child sexual exploitation has really meant that sexual exploitation, rape and violence are increasingly debated and discussed in parliament and the public sphere which can only be a good thing when the issues have been so taboo for so long.

In 2013 Brook will continue to completely support the Commissioner’s inquiry and the Home Office work, ensuring that this incredibly important focus on harmful, exploitative and abusive relationships and sex is held in balance with the fact that we still need to get the fundamentals of good SRE and services young people trust consistently in place so the majority of young people who are not being exploited or hurt can be properly supported to manage, enjoy and take responsibility for their sexual health.

And 2012 was a bad year for….

1. The PSHE Review carried out by the Department for Education because we are still waiting for it.

2. Equal Marriage because of the unnecessary nastiness that has surfaced through the consultation process and beyond; because the final announcement gave so many opt outs for religious institutions and missed one vital opt in – the right of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership.

3. Sexual Health Policy Document being prepared by the Department of Health because we hoped we would have it by now and we are still waiting for it.

4. Abortion because the Care Quality Commission undertook a completely disproportionate inspection of abortion services; because the current Health Secretary stated his belief that the abortion time limit should be twelve weeks and he was closely followed by the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and the Minister for Equalities and Women all stating their support for a reduction in the time limit to 20 weeks allegedly based on scientific evidence about foetal viability - scientific evidence that it was once again confirmed this year does not exist.

That said it wasn’t all bad for abortion this year – the ‘abortion counselling’ consultation promised by Anne Milton, then Public Health Minister was dropped, Dorries didn’t get to talk about abortion much in the jungle, and much to the aghast of anti abortion campaigners, Marie Stopes International opened the first ever fully integrated sexual health clinic in Belfast.

5. SRE Resources when Channel 4’s Living and Growing was removed from the catalogue owing to the PSHE Review.  Living and Growing has long been the centre of attention for the anti sex education lobby.  Which resource will it be next?

A reminder as you get to the end, this was a partial and subjective way of organising sexual health in 2012.  There were lots of other good bits, lots of other bad bits, and most of all 2012 was a mixed year for sexual health.  But constantly good is the steely determination of you, the people who work with young people and in sexual health to ensure that young people get the information, education, services and support they need to enjoy and take responsibility for their choices.  I look forward to working with you all in 2013.

Cheers, auld lang syne etc etc.

No comments: