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Melbourne-based WIRE provides free information, support and referrals to more than 13,000 women a year through their phone, drop-in and email services.
Service Delivery Co-Ordinator, Sheridon Byrne, discusses the importance of young women being empowered to take control of their sexual health.
How do issues around sexual health fit into WIRE’s work?
A lot of women talk to WIRE about issues that they feel they can’t talk to anyone else about. Many women feel silenced and therefore, and have been made to feel that sex, sexuality and sexual health are things that are shamed or shameful.
What do you think is the best way to tackle that shame?
Create awareness. Listen unconditionally. Name and label things. If something is a common experience for women then we let the women we work with know. We let them know it’s common and it’s not something they should feel alone in or ashamed of. We treat the women we work with as experts –she’ll make the best decisions about her own body. We just exist to give her as much information, and information about other support services, as she might need.
What role does sexual health education play in this?
Getting to a younger group of women to normalise sex, sexuality and sexual health is really important, mainly because it empowers women so they know that their body belongs to them, how to understand it and how to access the services they need.
What do you think are some of the barriers to young women accessing sexual health information and services?
It’s really exciting to see that young women are becoming more empowered to get the information they want. Young women are using the internet a lot more, getting online, having a dialogue and doing their research. Which means when they seek help from a doctor or community service, they’re not feeling as vulnerable as they once might’ve. Having said that, it’s still quite a taboo subject for a lot of women feel too embarrassed to seek the help and information they’re entitled to.
YEAH is currently developing the ‘healthy relationships, respect and consent’ area of our program. How do these issues connect to sexual health?
Sexual health issues often come along in relationships issues including issues of power and control. Issues of consent are still very prevalent, even amongst young women who are, as a whole, more empowered. Even for them, sexual health is still considered to just be things like contraception and pregnancy and we try to unpack ideas of sexual wellbeing, desire, consent and health.
What is the ideal relationship between sexual health and healthy relationships?
In an ideal world, relationships would be between two equals, regardless of whether they were two people in a long-term, committed relationship, or people who have a one off sexual relationship. In a relationship where two people are equals, you get a number of things; you get mutual respect, ongoing renegotiation of consent, intimacy is prioritised and you have a respect and concern for each other’s wellbeing, which of course extends to health and sexual health. Good, free-flowing communication helps to get rid of power dynamics and shame is minimised. If the shame is minimised around sexual health, more and more people will step forward for help and information.
For more of our Youth and Sexual Health Sector blog, check out these posts:
RMIT’s Health Promotion Officer, David Towl, tells us why it’s important to have sex ed at uni. Read more.
Family Planning Victoria’s Medical Director, Kathleen McNamee, shares her tips for a safe sex Christmas. Read more.