Image Credit: Arian Kriesch
SEX AND SEXUAL health are important aspects of university life for many students and yet sexual health in particular is often less talked about than it should be. A stigma can be attached to such topics and this shouldn’t be the case. There is a specific week every year that is designed to help inform students and tackle the stigma around the subject which is called Sexual Health and Guidance, otherwise known as SHAG week.
Here at York, the campaign is being championed by Community and Wellbeing Officer Kelly Balmer. It falls on the third week of a larger project called ‘Advocate For Your Health’ where advocating for sexual health was the focus of week 9. The campaign was designed to enable students to advocate for, talk about, and learn more about their health.
The different colleges got involved in the campaign with activities hosted by Derwent, James, Alcuin and Constantine kicking off the first day. Derwent hosted a bake sale and wellbeing games night while James and Constantine teamed up to put on a college quiz night in collaboration with The Red Flag Campaign. Tuesday 8 March saw the sexual health fair set up in James Hall which was open to all students. YorSexual Health were in attendance as well as a number of partners across the city.
The same day saw Derwent host an important BAME, International, Disabilities and LGBTQ+ event. A number of important talks took place throughout the week including 'Join the conversation: Disability, Sex and Relationships. A student panel event’, a Queer/ Alternative Sex Panel via zoom and ‘SHAG Week Talk: Sexual Harrassment in The University Setting’ which students were able to attend in person.
Student sexual health is not just the focus of a single week of term but a topic of conversation that should be ongoing. In his manifesto incoming YUSU President for the 2022/23 academic year Pierrick Roger included two pledges that were directly focused on student sexual health. Pierrick pledged on his campaign Instagram page (@pierrick-
4prez) to ‘Pressure Unity Health into improving and sort out on-campus health services,’ as well as to, ‘Lobby the University to make consent training better and mandatory’.
The incoming president’s drive to implement necessary training was evident before being elected as during the election debate night he asked the other candidates whether they would agree to make yearly consent training mandatory if elected. Talking about the ‘Advocate For Your Health’ campaign as a whole, Balmer said that: ‘I feel that this campaign is a really important thing to do. During my time at University I felt that health was not spoken about enough.
“As a student who has struggled with managing their health and disability while at University, I feel it is essential to talk about physical, mental and sexual health. Something I experienced while at University was finding it hard to articulate the health issues I was facing, and express to housemates the complexities of my health. I designed Advocate for
Health so that it informs, empowers, and enables students to talk about and pay attention to their health while at University.”
When reflecting on SHAG week, Kelly said “traditionally SHAG week is a college thing, but previous VPs of Wellbeing that I have worked with have indicated a need for a bit more coordination on it which is what my role has been in it. The fair was part of that to help with coordination and educate students on sexual health.
“There was an array of groups and providers present, from Oddballs to YorSexual Health and Unity Health, all to provide students with resources and advice was available to help support students. YUSU will continue to have it’s own sexual health corner, and support the colleges sexual health corner, and will continue to signpost students to the relevant services.”