Sexual Health & Education for Teenagers

When this story broke on Twitter I got involved in a bit of a Twitter debate about it. Schools in Brighton are offering their year 11 and 12 students (aged 15 and 16) chlamydia tests. Chlamydia is the most common STD in the UK, can easily be treated with antibiotics and if left untreated can cause serious long term reproductive health problems.

The testing in Brighton schools is part of The National Chlamydia Screening Programme which is offered to people under the age of 25.

There was some surprise on Twitter that 15 and 16 year olds were having sex, a few people got the wrong end of the stick and read that 11 and 12 year olds were being offered the tests, for that there was outrage. To clarify the report, 11 and 12 year olds are not being offered STD tests routinely in school. But maybe they should. Maybe.

A report by Marie Stopes International in 2003 showed that a quarter of 11 year olds knew someone their own age who was sexually active. As a parent this makes horrifying reading. I was 9 when I started my periods, it was a horrible time for me, my hormones were raging, I was physically sexually mature, but not emotionally mature enough to handle that kind of relationship. Thankfully I hung on to my virginity until I was 16, but it could’ve been a different story.

If in 2003 a quarter of the nations 11 year olds were having sex, that’s an issue that needs addressing on a number of fronts. Sex education for a start, you can talk some kids into waiting until they’re married, some into hanging on until they’re 16, but some will do what their hormones are telling them to do and do it anyway, so they need support. They need sex education, contraceptive advice, access to sexual health screening, someone to talk to, ideally an understanding and supportive parent or guardian. Supportive not of their desire to have underage sex, but someone who will listen and offer guidance without judging, shouting and making them run for the hills.

I absolutely do not condone being sexually active at a young age. Just because you’re physically ready, it doesn’t make you actually ready. But if teenagers are going to do it, then they should have access to the same sexual health support that is available for anyone else.

Of course if an 11 year old is displaying sexual behaviour, then there could be an issue elsewhere in their lives which needs official intervention. I don’t think we should be blindly nodding and saying it’s ok to be sexually active to young teenager, that’s where someone supportive comes in.

When I was 13 I met a boy I liked and I wanted to do the right thing, so I went to the sexual health clinic. I was lucky enough (though I didn’t know it at the time) to meet a nurse in the clinic, she was lovely and talked to me about why I wanted to have sex with him. She spent ages with me, giving me exactly the kind of sex education I needed at the time, she was brilliant. She sent me away with some condoms and lots to think about. I didn’t have sex with the boy, I waited three more years and those condoms ended up in the bin. But without her supportive, informative, caring intervention I would’ve been sexually active at 13.

I don’t believe that offering sexual health services to underage people sends the message that as a nation we approve of or condone their behaviour. Anyone who had ever visited a sexual health clinic will know that although mostly it’s not unpleasant, it’s not ever going to be the highlight of your week.

As a parent I can’t help but think how I will broach the subject with my son. Part of me is insistent that there is no way ever that boy is going to have sex, and then only to produce much adored grandchildren for me. But part of me knows that I’m going to have to have a number of open, honest and informative conversations with him when he gets older. He’s going to do it, because most people do eventually, but I want him to be safe, respectful, mature enough to deal with the repercussions and the emotions involved.

The issue of sexual health will always be an emotive one. We are all made differently. We don’t all wait until our wedding night, we don’t all have sex with someone of the opposite gender, we don’t all have one or two sexual partners in our entire lives, we don’t all do it with the lights off. We’re all different, with different things floating our different boats. And that’s how humans are.

Sex education is so incredibly important. I’m 38 and my sex education was poor, I think schools often provide quite patchy sex education, but it’s such a personal subject that parents have a responsibility to talk to their children about sex. Sex isn’t dirty, it isn’t taboo. It can only take one conversation, like the one I had with the sexual health nurse to change a path. Don’t be afraid, don’t be embarrassed. It’s time to have that conversation with our kids.

A Day Out with Thomas – East Lancashire Railway

On Sunday 5th October we took the small boy and his cousin to East Lancashire Railway for a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. We arrived bright and early in Bury, Greater Manchester, in time for the Fat Controller (or Sir Topham Hat if you like) to open up proceedings. The boys were a bit overwhelmed by their surroundings, so we took them for a fortifying hot chocolate and watched Thomas pull into the station and pick up his first load of passengers, much to their delighted amazement.

A Day Out with Thomas

Once the boys had settled we managed to grab some seats on James and have a ride up to Ramsbottom. Ramsbottom was a much smaller station than Bury and we’d heard that the troublesome trucks would be passing through, we didn’t have to wait long until Diesel pulled the trucks in, they were indeed troublesome. The boys enjoyed climbing in Diesel and having a good look at the trucks.

We had a quick picnic lunch and we heard that Percy would be coming in shortly to have a drink (see picture below), the boys were fascinated with this process and we talked about why steam engines needed lots of big drinks of water. Picnic over we clambered aboard Mavis and chugged back to Bury.

A Day Out with Thomas

In Bury we decided to get some (temporary) tattoos of Thomas to remind us of the day, then we joined the (long-ish) queue to catch a ride on Thomas. We queued for around half an hour but took turns to take the boys into the gift shop and buy them a reminder of their day out with Thomas, so it didn’t feel like a horribly long wait.

Thomas once again pulled into the station and we found somewhere to stand in the carriages, it was a short journey, but it was long enough for the boys to have a memory they can enjoy for a long time to come and they also got certificates to show they’d been on Thomas the Tank Engine. They were delighted.

We took one last steam train ride up through Ramsbottom to Rawtenstall and back. We finished off our picnic, watched the world go by and talked about our fabulous day out with Thomas.

A Day Out with Thomas

We bought a family ticket and it cost £44 which was we felt good value for a family day out, that’s just £11 per person and you can have as many train journeys as you want. They also have various Thomas themed free activities you can partake in on the day, including the temporary tattoos and free access to the Bury Transport Museum.

We would definitely have another day out with Thomas at East Lancashire Railway.

Note: We paid for our tickets ourselves.

How I Minimised My Cigarette Burn Scars

During the depths of my depression last year I self harmed, I’ve always found ways to hurt myself, but these were probably my first acts of visible violence against myself. I’m not proud of my actions, but I’m not ashamed of my scars either, they tell a story about me.

When you have a blog you can see what search terms people use to find it, most days someone somewhere taps “cigarette burn scars” into Google and lands up on my blog. Hi there if that’s you, welcome, you’re not alone, I’ve burnt and cut myself, the scars will never disappear, but they have faded. I suspect that’s what you want to know, I burnt myself and am I scarred forever. Yes, probably, sort of, read on.

It depends entirely on how you burnt yourself in the first place. I used to rest a lit fag on my arm until it bubbled up, I never ground it into my flesh, I guess if you’ve done that your scars will be worse.

My scars (pictured below) are about a year old now, I can still see them, I know what they are, I know what they represent. I have very mixed feelings about them. It’s worse for me in the summer when I’m wearing t-shirts and my scars are always on display, not that they’re that obvious now, they probably look a bit like blemishes. Winter and long sleeves are easier, the reminders of my depression and anxiety are less evident.

Cigarette burn scars

If you’ve burnt yourself with a cigarette then it can take up to two years for the scar to fade as much as it ever will. If you’ve just burnt yourself then it’s advisable to treat it immediately as you would with any burn, which is apply ice or run under cold water for at least 15 minutes. If it looks bad or infected then please see a Doctor.

Once you’ve burnt yourself there are a few things you can do to help the healing process, though what you use depends on your skin type, some products will work better than others for you. Vitamin E oils and capsules applied to the scar regularly can help reduce the scarring, Bio Oil can help too and Aloe Vera is renowned for its healing properties. If the scarring is bad then microdermabrasion could be an option, but you’ll probably have to pay for that yourself.

I doubt my scars will fade any more than they have done, so I need to learn to live with them, they’ll serve as a reminder to me of how far I’ve come. Your scars are your own, like me you might have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them, but they do tell the story of you, of your pain and how you’ve survived and continue to survive.

Note: I am not a doctor, this doesn’t constitute medical advice, this is just my experience of having and trying to minimise scarring from cigarette burns.

Marmalade on Toast? Personality Test

I’m frankly terrified of Facebook, I can’t log in without falling down a personality test quiz wormhole and losing three hours. It’s not the worst thing in the world, if I’m honest there’s a secret part of me which loves finding out which Greek God I should be, which character from Friends I am, or how evil I actually am (I’m not completely evil, rest easy).

So when I was sent this cute quiz from jam makers Duerr’s and Roberts Bakery I had to have a little go. It’s been devised to uncover our true personality type, devised with the help of (friend of this blog) Senior Psychology Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, Dr Sandi Mann, she and her team have identified 15 personality types. Apparently factors like the thickness of your bread and what jam you prefer can indicate what kind of person you are. Who knew?

We’ve previously established that I’m fairly evil (and Aphrodite and Chandler by the way) but what does my breakfast say about me? Apparently I’m a “protector” always looking after people and keeping an eye on things, that seems about right, I’m a busy Mum and forever battling to keep my boys out of trouble.

You can take the quiz here, what’s your personality type?

Personality test

Written in collaboration with Duerrs & Roberts Bakery.

WIN Your child’s drawing printed on a ceramic tile RRP £26

Dare I say it, but it’s edging ever closer to Christmas and it’s probably time to start thinking about buying some presents. We really like giving personalised gifts to family members from the small boy, it just makes present giving more special and I think they’re appreciated a lot more by the recipient.

I’m always searching for something different and I stumbled across Live, Love and Create who are based in Brigg, but have recently expanded their business online. They have a gorgeous selection of personalised gifts including plates, jewellery and ceramic tiles. I was particularly taken with the tiles, you just send them a drawing your child has done and they print it onto a tile.

Live Love and Create

Gorgeous aren’t they? Each line drawing is an exact carbon copy of your child’s original art work and is hand painted using black ceramic paint on a 20cm by 20cm ceramic tile. Once completed, the tile is then glazed and fired in the kiln at the Live, Love and Create studio before being carefully wrapped ready for posting.

I’m delighted to be giving away one personalised ceramic tile from Live, Love and Create just in time for Christmas. To enter please use the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions:

  1. This competition is open to residents of the UK only.
  2. There is no cash alternative offered.
  3. To enter, please use the rafflecopter widget above. Please ensure you leave some contact details or I will not be able to contact you if you win.
  4. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a ceramic tile printed with your child’s drawing worth £26.
  5. The competition will close on 1st November 2014.
  6. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this competition.

My Sunday Photo 12/10/14

Silent Sunday

Mental Health Waiting Times

Today is World Mental Health Day, which always gets me thinking about my own mental health. WMHD this year falls just a couple of days after the Lib Dems announced that from April 2015, waiting list targets for people needing talking therapy will be just 18 weeks. Great news. Ish.

When you’re in the grip of a spiralling depression as I was last year, when you’re googling ways to kill yourself because you can’t bear to inflict yourself on your family anymore, or when you’ve used your last bit of strength to reach out and ask for help, waiting four and a half months is still a horrendously long time.

I speak from experience. In August 2013, I was referred by my GP to Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust to see a psychiatrist. I was suicidal, self harming, a danger to myself but not to others. My anxiety and depression were at horrifying levels. My GP was throwing tablets at my problems which weren’t really helping, they were actually making life more difficult and intolerable. I was warned the waiting list was quite long, but I didn’t realise that 14 months, yes 14 MONTHS later I’d still be waiting for my initial appointment.

In those 14 months I have worked bloody hard to help myself, I’m proud of how far I’ve come with no official support, but I know I still have issues, so many issues and that the root of my problems still needs addressing because I could so easily find myself back there. I still need the talking therapy I’ve been waiting 14 months for.

At one stage, I had a paranoid suspicion that mental health waiting lists are so long because they’re just waiting for people to kill themselves and naturally shorten the list that way. It’s an insane thought I know, but maybe there is one person in the system who crosses the names of the dead off the list and thinks “well that’s saved a couple of quid”.

In fairness I can see the situation from both sides. I worked in the NHS for a long time and I know how stretched services and resources are. How massively underfunded mental health provision is and how undervalued and overworked the staff generally are. Most staff and managers are trying to make the best from what little they’ve got.

The National Health Service, the pride of Britain, shouldn’t be run on a make do and mend basis. If you want services to have shorter waiting lists, then the funding and resources have to be put in place to achieve that. If you want quick turn around in clinics with long term positive outcomes for patients, then services will need support to achieve that and patients will need the time, all the time they need to find their own normal and their own wellness.

Six sessions of CBT is in most cases probably not enough. CBT can be brilliant, but it’s not a miracle cure for all mental health conditions. Learning to think your way positively out of situations is great and something I’ve taught myself to do in the last 14 months, but for me and countless others it’s just a patch up job. The root cause of my anxiety and depression needs dealing with. I’m not alone in that.

Having an 18 week target is a fantastic step forward for mental health service provision, but what it really needs is investment in services, help for patients which is easy to access and staff who are paid what they deserve and who are given the resources they need to make their services be the best that they can be.

I’ll be watching how this 18 week target scheme pans out. I wonder if I’ll get my initial appointment before April 2015. I’ll not hold my breath.

mental health waiting times

My Autumnal Top Ten

I love autumn, it’s my favourite season, or my least favourite season, I’m still undecided. So in the style of a teenage girl doing a pros/cons list on a potential boyfriend, my favourite things about autumn are…

1. Kicking through crunchy leaves on walks
2. Hot chocolate with optional whipped cream and marshmallows
3. Warm snuggles under a blanket
4. Halloween parties
5. Stew and buttery mash
6. Rainy day crafting with the small boy
7. Watching firework displays from the bedroom window
8. Collecting conkers
9. The evening sky in autumn is often incredible
10. Stodgy, happy puddings with lashings of custard.

But I really hate autumn for these reasons…

1. Rain, endless rain
2. The dark
3. It’s cold
4. Slippery leaves on the pavement
5. Falling conker concussion
6. Arguing over putting the heating on
7. The resulting heating bill
8. Diets are hard, like really hard, I want sticky toffee pudding
9. It’s too cold to go out and exercise, I wanna stay under the blanket
10. Stupid fireworks, it’s not November 5th yet

I could go on, but I won’t, that angry nerve in my eye is twitching again. I’m still undecided. Autumn definitely is a love/hate season for me.


My Favourite Movie Soundtrack

So what is my favourite soundtrack? I’m a bit of a film buff, alas I don’t get to go to the cinema as much as I’d like, but I do enjoy watching films at home. Plus it’s cheaper and the popcorn is fresher. Given my love of a Tarrantino movie and his usually awesome soundtracks you’d think my favourite movie soundtrack would be one of his, Kill Bill did come very close, but when push comes to shove you can take the girl out of Manchester, but not Madchester out of the girl.

Admittedly it’s not the greatest film ever made, but it’s all about the music scene in Manchester when I was growing up, the soundtrack for me has so many iconic tracks on it, so many tunes which remind me of some special times in my youth, so for me one of the best movie soundtracks is from 24 Hour Party People.

Look, I mean look at it, if you’re a person of a certain age with a penchant for indie music this is just chock full of classics.

1. Anarchy in the UK – Sex Pistols
2. 24 Hour Party People – Happy Mondays (Jon Carter mix)
3. Transmission – Joy Division
4. Ever Fallen in Love – The Buzzcocks
5. Janie Jones – The Clash
6. New Dawn Fades – Moby with New Order
7. Atmosphere – Joy Division
8. Otis – Duritti Column
9. Voodoo Ray – A Guy Called Gerald
10. Temptation – New Order
11. Loose Fit – Happy Mondays
12. Pacific State – 808 State
13. Blue Monday – New Order
14. Move Your Body – Marshall Jefferson
15. She’s Lost Control – Joy Division
16. Hallelujah – Happy Mondays (club mix)
17. Here to Stay – New Order
18. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division

favourite soundtrack

This is my entry into the Currys Movie Night competition, where I could win a home cinema sound system.

My Sunday Photo 5/10/2014

Silent sunday