Kate Bullivant spoke to Maeve Bishop and Louise Marlin about Manchester Sexpression, a society which aims to empower young people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
The society runs “informal, fun, student-led sex and relationships workshops in schools from Year Seven and upwards. In Manchester we also train our volunteers to conduct chlamydia and gonorrhoea testing in the Students’ Union in conjunction with RUCLEAR Manchester. We are also joining up with the ‘Save the NHS’ campaign to defend local sexual health services from government cuts.”
Manchester Sexpression was set up in 2009 and has been expanding ever since with 89 registered members and many more on their Facebook group (search ‘Sexpression Manchester’). They believe it is important for young people to talk openly about sex, sexuality, and relationships as it enables them to make more informed and responsible choices and helps them understand they are not alone in any issue they may be having.
“Some people think that sexual health education is wrong for young people but without open conversations, young people are likely to be ignorant of important issues such as contraception and consent. Stigmatising talking about sex and relationships will not stop young people from engaging in these activities. By talking openly about issues, young people become empowered to decide what is best for them and where to get help if they need it, destigmatising potential problems.”
Manchester Sexpression offer training sessions two or three times a week to introduce their volunteers to the teaching methods they use.There are also regional and national weekend conferences that happen once a year. Although it varies weekly, on average they teach about two or three hours a week in different schools, and this gets boosted by events such as World AIDs Day.
Some people may feel uncomfortable with discussing sex but in Sexpression no one is asked to talk about their own sex life. “It is important student volunteers do not discuss their sex lives with pupils they are working with. That said, discussing sexual health and relationships issues in a general sense is very much encouraged and we use games and fun exercises to promote this, emphasising a judgement free atmosphere. Usually we have warm-up games to get everyone comfortable with talking before we begin workshops.”
The society never discusses personal issues, which they deem “inappropriate,” however, they do discuss issues which can affect anyone. These include STDs, puberty, sexuality, contraception, relationship issues, consent, body image, gender, and self esteem. If a pupil raises a personal issue that needs further attention, they pass it on to the relevant authority, in line with child protection training.
There are many issues for young people regarding sexual health and relationships today. A few include lack of compulsory, comprehensive sexual health education, which leaves many people without sufficient knowledge of issues surrounding sex. This means they do not have the tools to make informed decisions, which can be dangerous. Government cuts to the NHS, community projects and sexual health and support services for young people means there is not always somewhere for young people to turn. A lack of education also contributes to damaging prejudices.
Following The Mancunion’s report last week about Manchester coming 23rd out of 24 Russell Group universities for sexual health, it is more important than ever that Sexpression achieves their aims for the future, which include “regular chlamydia testing in the union, campaigns against government cuts to sexual health services and expanding outreach to more Manchester schools and youth projects.”
A spokesperson from Sexpression said “the staff in the Advice Centre do a great job, however students don’t really know that these services are available to them. We think that there needs to be more promotion of the sexual health services available on campus. The student elections are coming up and we feel that there is a need for a candidate who is passionate about sexual health issues and promotion. Sexpression run student-led workshops on sexual health and relationships in schools around Manchester but we would definitely like to get more involved with the sexual health issues within the university. We ran a trial chlamydia and gonorrhoea walk-in clinic on 25th February for students in the SU and hope to run this every Monday if possible”.
If you would like to join or volunteer for Sexpression then visit their Facebook page or the Student Union website for more information.