Remembering My Hat

25th November 2016

Reproduction, Sexuality and Sexual Health research group symposium

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The Open University, Camden, London

My usual partial and incomplete liveblog from a seminar, focusing only on things I was particularly interested in, rather than a representation of what people actually said. Also, I forgot my laptop charger, so I’ve only got two hours of battery so I’ll probably not get to the afternoon sessions at all. You can see the whole programme here. [My own thoughts in square brackets like this].

Introduction to the conference: Alison Hadley, Univ of Bedfordshire

Entitlement to sexual health services services, although paid lip-service, isn’t enough to get services funded and commissioned – you have to demonstrate that there is a problem. And this then leads to services focussing on negative outcomes (avoiding teenage pregnancy, reducing STIs) and the only things that get counted are negative outcomes. Services don’t usually count positive outcomes (increased knowledge about sexual health, increased pleasure). We need measures and metrics for positive outcomes too.

Having the right targets is key – you should never have a target of X% uptake of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) because that runs counter to the principle of choice.

Safeguarding has become the over-arching lens through which everything to do with young people’s sexuality is read. This distorts other important issues (pleasure, development, intimacy).

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(cc) velo_city

Panel 1: Pleasure and intimacy

Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS

Birth control, pleasure and intimacy: a matter of personal choice or public health?

Gone back to using the old-fashioned term ‘birth control’ because it covers both contraception and abortion and her sense is that young people increasingly see them as ends of a continuum. A less-effective contraception method with abortion as a back-up plan may be what people want, rather than LARCs.

If you frame it as women’s choice to have as few children as they want, or even, increasingly to have no children at all, you generally get quite a sympathetic response in the UK these days. But if you start talking about women’s choice to have as many children as they want, people start judging you – environmenal reasons about over-population are increasingly invoked for everyone [as well as older classist/racist ones]¬†Marie Stopes racism and classism

Free contraception on the NHS is bound up on it being seen as a health issue. If you make it about women’s autonomy, does this become about risk?

Family ‘planning’ – but of course ‘unplanned’ doesn’t equate to ‘unwanted’.

Every service they have has an imposed target for LARC uptake from women who have had an abortion. What women want is entirely different. They are concerned about effectiveness but they are equally concerned about lack of side-effects (‘your erratic bleeding will settle down after about a year’ is not acceptable, especially to young people).

Me: Positive visions of queer ageing and sexual relationships

[A talk about my Imagining Bi Futures project, focusing on the positive visions].

Peter Keogh, Open University: Pleasure and intimacy in HIV research

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(cc) Jo

First job in sexual health 25 years ago was ethnographic project on gay men and public sex – mostly about cottaging and cruising. Project was framed as ‘what is this weird behaviour, how can we stop it?’ No consideration that it might be fun. Pathologising framing of it as about sexual compulsivity and the ‘bisexual bridge’.

Trying to find out ‘who are the people who are really driving this epidemic’. Over the years, the groups that are thought to be driving the epidemic have changed, but the focus on identifying the problematic group has remained the same.

Folk devil 1 was cottagers

Folk devil 2: By about 1994 Backroom and super-saunas (as they opened up in London, especially). Focus on venues for sex, and whether some were more risky than others.

Folk devil 3: Internet users! For hook-ups.’Meaningless virtual sex’. Would lead to huge increase in number of sexual partners and somehow not ‘real’ sex – re-emergence of compulsivity and addiction framing.

Folk devil 4: Early 2000s onwards. Barebackers, bugchasers, seeders etc. Barebacking becoming an identity.

Folk devil 5: Sero-sorters (having sex only with people of the same HIV-status as yourself). This one comes from researchers – as an explanation of barebacking – it’s not reckless after all. But also taken up by communities as well as a way of promoting safer sex. But researcher’s then got worried about people acting on less than full knowledge ‘sero-guessing’ as a risk.

Folk devil 6: Now. Truvada whores – pre-exposure prophylactics –

Folk devil 7: Now. Chem sex

Two overall tendencies in all these stages

Pathologising – reckless, compulsive, in deinal, deluded, promiscuous

v. Rationalising – risk-taking, inventive, calculating, liberal, transcending social differences, sexually open

Can we move away from the latest hot topic and think more widely about the ways HIV has transformed sex for men, now that we are late in this epidemic?

Claire de Than, City University: Supporting the human right to have fun

Disabled people’s right to sex is being routinely denied by families and care homes [see the OU’s Sexuality Alliance for lots more resources on this especially in relation to people with life-limiting conditions].

Current plans for compulsory sex education for children explicitly exclude disabled people.

Cannot legally give sex education to deafblind adults (although can to deafblind children!)

Her summary:

Adult? Non-carer (of anyone in the room)? Can communicate (in whatever way)? Consenting? Has capacity? Private? All these present, it’s a human right to have sex. Anything missing? Possibly criminal, so check and work through the guidance.

Helping or supporting someone to do something that is their own choice (if they have capacity) is not a crime.

Biggest reasons needed changes haven’t ¬†gone through in care services is the Daily Mail fear factor.

People think they have duty to protect vulnerable people from risk. But they don’t, they have a duty to protect them from known, real and immediate risk to life or safety. Most consensual sex doesn’t have these kinds of risks.

[Battery perilously low at the end of the morning, so no more from this].

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