Hey there: for anyone who doesn’t know me personally, my name is Francesca!
So: why did I decide to write this blog? The title, Sexual Health and the City, describes many things for me. I would say excuse the pun, but since my impossibly cool twin Sicily approves, we’re running with it.
Firstly, I currently work for a sexual health organisation in London, so I literally teach sexual health in the city, in varying formats. Before I got this job, I had just graduated from studying Social Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Manchester. When I left school in 2014, I did a couple of terms of Midwifery training. Whilst working in a hands-on clinical role didn’t suit me professionally, I remained enthralled in women’s story-telling. This often revolved around reproductive and sexual health, and I would often get told off for chatting to all the new mothers instead of remembering to take their blood pressure.
Fast forward to my final year of uni in 2018, I’m a school’s officer on the Manchester Sexpression: UK committee; a wonderful, national, student-led sexual health charity, which runs a combination of free school and university sex education sessions (this volunteering role helped me get the job I have now!) in the respective local communities.
Secondly, my introduction to sex, female pleasure, sexual health and general female empowerment came from the TV show Sex and the City. My twin and I used to watch this with my open and sex-positive family, oftentimes with some very influential best friends around (Molly(s), I’m talking about you). We must have been around twelve when we saw our first episodes, though obviously we didn’t understand all of the sexual references. Fast forward to the present day and much of the 2010s have opened up conversations that elucidate many an issue with the show: notably, the lack of cultural diversity, the lavishness of lifestyle (despite proclamations of a ‘broke’ woman who can somehow afford Louboutins), and in some ways the sexist and misogynistic undertones that the characters adhere to or more, the writers feed into. Other recent TV shows, such as Issa Rae’s Insecure shroud Sex and the City by being more diverse, current and realistic. However, ‘woke’ Charlotte on the Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc provides some respite to the show’s downfalls. During this unprecedented global pandemic (if anyone reads this in the future I’m referring to the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 – wild times), some SATC memes have given me food for thought and genuine belly giggles. See below.
Thirdly, I believe that sexual health and wellbeing are a collective concern; it might occupy the domain of the private, but really, we are embedded and move through and between communities, spaces, countrysides and countries etc. Our connectivity and collectivity offers us the chance to incorporate sexual health in a macro manner. Hence, I will be looking at sexual health broadly, as opposed to speaking about my personal sexual health and experiences by taking a wholly objective approach.
In December 2019, I got an article published based on my dissertation on Restless Mag, which focused on how women discussed their experiences of sexual violence on Twitter, and how underreporting influences whether victims are believed or not (read the piece, Believe Her here). Now I find myself in the privileged position of having extra time at home, I was forced to stop listening to the imposter syndrome voices in me and get on with it. Whilst such voices are at times self-protective, they can hold us back. So, I began properly writing and researching again.
Before we get more stuck into the blog and the journeys it will take us on, it is necessary to highlight that I will be working with the WHO definition of sexual health, which holds that it is:
“…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (WHO, 2006a)
Taking a holistic view of health, and significantly of sexual health, means that we can consider how society and culture has and continues to influence our sexuality and sexual lives. The compartmentalisation of medical from social leads to unuseful divides, yet informs much of the way we might access sexual healthcare vs. how we talk about and relate to sex. Why is it that we know that sexual health is important, but we know so little about orgasms, or what having STI treatment feels like? Why has there been so much controversy/illusion/smoke around sex, reproductive history, empowering sexual health messages, as if gasp knowing more about sex could be some kind of good thing?!
The sex-positives of us may reach out and saturate our lives with podcasts, books, events, films etc. But what about those who could know more, but don’t actively seek this information out? Those who feel like they should know more, but weren’t offered the tools to be able to build new knowledge? Although I will inevitably focus slightly more on people who are women/have female reproductive systems (whose sex lives have also been most policed throughout time), this content is intended for any young adult to read: for the individual, partners, friends, family, colleagues etc. Many young adults might have had the bulk of their formal sex education, but find themselves at their most sexually active in life thus far. Keeping this in mind, I will keep the blog as inclusive and accessible as possible so that anyone regardless of their experiences, sexuality or gender will be equipped with empowering tools and information.
Although I want to use this blog to compile some fun resources for young adults, I will also look to academia to describe some of the phenomena we see, as the nerd/perfectionist in me needs to write cohesively. As a rule of thumb, medical anthropology will be an interesting academic field to draw upon.
In order to continue my own education, delve into some academia and crunch it into genuine and enjoyable content, this blog will aim to:
- Analyse wider societal topics that relate to sexual health, sex education, and sex in general
- Reflect on some of my professional experiences, and aim to draw out useful themes
- Collaborate with and interview people who are knowledgeable and passionate about sexual health and related topics, and need to offer their voices online as well
We’ll see where this leads us… and remember: your sex education never has to end.
So here we are… Sexual Health and the City.