Think for Yourself at Kingsmeadow (December 2016)

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As they shuffle into the room, we can sense that a handful of pupils are excited and well up for the session; almost all of them are nervous. Then there are the token few who appear unimpressed before we’ve even introduced ourselves and told them why on earth we’ve invaded their cosy dance studio… “Hello, we are Think for Yourself, I’m Ben and this is Naomi, and we deliver sex and relationships workshops in schools all over the north east, great to be here”.

We often wonder what the young people have been told prior to our visit and what their expectations are, but our first and most important responsibility is to put them at ease, because though we reckon it most definitely should be, it’s not normal to chat about sex and relationships, so it can feel weird, daunting, a tad embarrassing and something many would rather not do. So, we immediately whip the flip chart out to establish and pen guidelines for everyone, ourselves included, to ensure all feel safe, comfortable and happy to share as little or as much as they want; a group agreement that the pupils themselves come up with.

That is quickly followed by a simple, often daft ice breaker to “loosen you all up a bit” like if they’d rather live out their days in wellies or flip flops… As silly as this is, it’s fun, helps them settle into the environment and allows us to encourage them to think for themselves and that what they think matters, whether it’s pondering over who they’d rather have a McDonald’s with – Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen – or the more serious stuff we’ll get onto later. Equipping each and every one of them to acknowledge and value their opinions, their beliefs and themselves is what these sessions are all about.

On this particular occasion, we had been asked to cover some sexual health. So over five sessions lasting the duration of the school day, we would see all of year 9, and cover some crucial basics. We would first ask establish what sexual health is; that it requires sex being had in the first place. So we ask them why people have sex, what the legal age is and why, and what makes sex good, bad, safe and unsafe.

We send them away in groups to attempt a quick-fire STIs quiz as we play some background music, before feeding back on which difficult-to-spell infections are the most common, what symptoms may (or may not) look like, how to prevent passing on an infection and informing them that that they are entering the most common age category for contracting one, hence the importance of this workshop.

We then do a condom demo, a brief outline of the different types of contraception out there, challenging the boys to take in the information just as much as their future partners as it, of course, should concern them too. We then walk – or talk – them through what to expect on a visit to a sexual health clinic, having handed out scenarios to ask each group what they think might happen. What questions you’re asked, how they test, the importance of confidentiality, etc.

Our aim is always to combine interaction with information, giving every pupil the opportunity to engage and learn by being involved, and of all the topics we cover – from sexting and cyberbullying to peer pressure and pornography – this is the most factual, the most information and statistic heavy that we deliver. Yet the pupils are never sat for more than a few minutes at once, and discussions between us and them are ongoing, even as we talk methods of contraception or why a sexual health nurse will want to know more about your sex life if you’re under 18.

And the topic doesn’t restrict the pupils in terms of the stuff they really wanna know. We leave a minute or two at the end to allow them to ask any question they want on the subject of sex and relationships. We think the safest way to do this is by providing post its and asking them to write it down; we’ll take them away and come back with answers in the near future. If it’s appropriate and we think they should know, we’ll answer it. If it flags something up, we’ll pass it on to the safeguarding lead. Nearly every pupil always asks…something.

One thing’s for sure. The sessions themselves and the de-brief afterwards as we begin to crawl through the pile of Post Its over a coffee and tray bake certainly keep us entertained, on our toes and full of gratitude for this privileged role we have.

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