26 Sep World Contraception Day 2022
This World Contraception Day, we highlight the importance of discussions and information-sharing about contraceptive methods in education systems. Desiring every pregnancy to be intended, and every woman to be able to control if and when she becomes pregnant, World Contraception Day is a worldwide campaign that aims to improve awareness of contraceptive methods and enable young people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
Love Sex Life Community Champion Avanti Arseculeratne spoke to Joshua Powell who describes his journey into education, and his desires to improve Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) for the young people he works with.
As a graduate of history, Joshua described how he started studying contraception in university, which he noted is a topic that is often missed out in subjects that are not Biology or medicine-related. “It’s important to consider contraceptive methods and use in the field of History because it affects how people live their lives,” he said. He noted that people may not face war and other such topics studied in history in their lifespan, but contraception, sex and navigating the two is something that almost everyone faces at some point. He thus found it strange that history courses missed this topic out.
Joshua was introduced to this topic when he took a module on the history of contraception in Japan. He explored this topic in the context of eugenics – how the government used contraception to limit the growth of certain populations – a situation that has unfortunately existed in many parts of the world. With his area of specialty being Chinese history, Joshua decided to explore the history of contraceptives in China, and eventually went on to do a thesis on condom and IUD schemes introduced by the Chinese government in the mid-1900s.
He studied the effect that such contraceptive methods had on the lives of women and how gender roles surrounding contraception changed. Most of his research involved sifting through newspaper archives. “The weirdest thing was how conservative topics like sex were so explicitly discussed, in newspapers,” he said, citing one Shanghai newspaper in the 1940s which promoted the condom by championing the fact that it could prevent ejaculation from going into one’s eye.
Through this research process, Joshua developed greater empathy for the people engaging with sexual health as he was learning about the difficulties women would face in trying to secure their sexual health. Even though contraception is not purely a woman’s responsibility, women need to be empowered, with the knowledge and the skill, to make conscious decisions about their reproductive life.
“Today, people still struggle to talk about contraception,” he said. Having researched the public health sector and the role that institutions played in improving sexual health and autonomy, he felt that he could play a role in that by entering the teaching route.
As well as having a passion for teaching history, Joshua is eager to teach young people about Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) topics that will provide them with the knowledge and skills to effectively take control of their sexual health. He discusses an “amazing form tutor in school who really tried to normalise the topic of sex and promoted healthy discussions on young people’s feelings about it.” Joshua wishes that such teaching would be the rule rather than the exception. “Institutionally, we’re still backwards. If you’re lucky enough to have those teachers that go that extra mile, you’d feel so much more prepared with these topics on trust, healthy relationships and safe sex, which often feel so overwhelming.” Now entering teaching, Joshua wishes to play a role in young people’s lives the way that his form tutor did in his own life when he was in school.
With school-based surveys highlighting poor knowledge in young people about topics such as where to obtain free condoms, it is important that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) is given prominence, especially in terms of training and implementation now that RSE has been made compulsory in the UK.
Indeed, this trend of poor knowledge continues into adulthood. Recent focus groups with women across Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham demonstrated poor knowledge of LARC methods in older women of reproductive age (range: 25–45 years), while younger women (18–24 years) knew about a wider range of contraceptive methods including Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC), there were misconceptions about their use and safety.
“Sexual health education is a forever journey,” says Joshua. “I’m still really eager to learn and to support young people’s learning so that they can feel confident to make decisions about such an important part of their lives”.