By Justin Hancock, youth worker and sexual health trainer
When I think about the words ‘youth’ and ‘engagement’ I reflect on my youth work background. In order to engage young people around sex and relationships education the best approach is to veer away from lectures and find ways of valuing young people’s contributions. Youth workers (where they still exist) are well practised in this because they know that young people have a voluntary relationship with us. If we don’t value them, they will go elsewhere.
In some respects running a sex and relationships advice website mirrors this youth work approach. If young people don’t like the advice I give at Bish -- if they think I’m lecturing them, talking down to them or not giving them real or relevant advice -- they will click elsewhere. Thankfully a lot of young people like the advice and information they get from me.
The key for any sexual health website is to be a trusted enough ‘expert’ source of answers, whilst also being able to give responses which are realistic, warm and useful. This is a very difficult thing to achieve. I try to meet the needs of young people by; answering their questions, finding out what they are searching for online, asking them in person and then also asking for their feedback. However with websites like mine there is a limit to how much I can truly engage with young people.
Some websites (and their supporting organisations) such as The Mix and Scarleteen are able to engage many of the young people visiting their sites through moderated forums and live chat support but this takes a lot of resource and a lot of time. I don’t have enough time or resources to be able to offer this kind of engagement with my readers. And, even though I have several social media channels for Bish, young people are extremely reluctant to use these tools to engage around topics related to sex and relationships.
If I were to start Bish tomorrow, I would try to secure funding to be able to offer on-going engagement and support for young people. To provide them with a space online to talk to each other about sex, sexuality, gender, relationships, consent. This space would mirror what happens in really great sex and relationships education in real life -- which is something that young people are crying out for.