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Celebrating this blog’s fifth birthday!

November 30th, 2009

Dr Petra

Fifth birthday candle

What made me start blogging?

Five years ago I sat down on a dark November evening and wrote my very first blog entry. It was a bit ranty. I’d been misquoted by a journalist and was anxious it would get me into hot water (again).

I didn’t have a game plan when I started blogging. My partner (who’s way more tech savvy than I am) thought it might be a good way of sharing ideas I was struggling to convey via the mainstream media (I was writing several advice columns in magazines at the time, as well as hosting a regular radio phone in for BBC Five Live).

I approached the blog as a form of therapy. I wanted to work with the media but was getting a lot of stick for it professionally (I’m an academic as well as a sex educator). Having a place to blog would allow me to correct any errors in reporting and disclose bad journalism. I even hoped it it might even let me bring evidence into sex/relationships reporting – and show it was possible to do so without things becoming worthy or dull.

One thing I felt sure of early on was this blog was something I enjoyed writing, but I wanted to be useful, and most importantly to deliver things about sex, relationships, science and journalism that readers wanted to know about. Which is why the blog has always been shaped by things you’ve asked for.

Readers make this blog (or “why don’t you have comments?”)

Last summer I asked regular readers to give me feedback on this blog and got some very helpful responses. It’s taken me a while to implement some of these, but I have now upgraded the blog to include the things you asked for – photos and images to liven things up, a better blogroll, summaries at the start of most entries so you can decide if you wish to read on. And categories. Something I didn’ think about five years ago and really wish I had. I’m now in the process of going back through all the 800+ posts and adding categories to them, which I hope will make this blog a lot more useful to you.

The one thing this blog doesn’t have is comments. I did start off having them, but encountered several problems. As I was offering advice within columns and websites elsewhere I hadn’t planned to also answer problems on this blog. However, not all readers understood this so I frequently found requests for advice on anything from infidelity to penis size included in discussions about blogs relating to research design or journalism ethics. This sometimes led to some readers mocking those asking for advice, which of course is completely unacceptable for me as an educator.

Moreover, I’ve always blogged openly – never behind a pseudonym. I work within the community on sex/relationships projects and educational activities (in the UK and internationally). This meant I was very accessible, and felt vulnerable when those whose comments were deleted or not posted, made very personal threats.

I found moderating the comments was time consuming and took me away from other educational activities which I felt were more worthwhile. So I decided to remove the comments option. When I’ve asked readers if they want them back the general response is ‘no’. That’s mostly from people who feel the blog’s a safe space to get information which they can use as they wish elsewhere.

Of course I strongly welcome respectful email feedback and am always happy to add information or correct errors within the blog. You’re always welcome to start discussions on other forums or your own blog about issues raised here. For now I’ve no plans to reinstate comments, but since I’m occasionally asked why I don’t have them I thought this was a good a time as any to clarify the issue.

Achievements so far

Having read back to 2004 I’m pretty pleased with this little blog. It’s nice to see it’s grown into a resource that people trust and enjoy reading.

The things I’m most proud to have written are activist blogs that highlight medicalisation, exploitation and abuse. These include the debates around female sexual dysfunction, questioning high street stores stocking ‘herbal’ erectile dysfunction drugs (not approved by the FDA), exposing the Advanced Medical Institute’s aggressive sales technique for men affected by premature ejaculation, or highlighting misleading media coverage of the availability of Viagra on the high street.

I initially planned to use the blog to set right bad sex coverage in the media (or occasions where I’d been misquoted). This has been a theme within the blog although I think it’s become more focused over time (although not necessarily less ranty than my very first post). I can’t say whether it’s made much difference to journalists, and I hope it’s not put people off working with the media. I’ve found it helpful to describe poor practice – not least because the general trend for ‘experts’ working with the media is to act grateful for any exposure, not publicly discuss poor experiences or document bad practice. Gems for me include an expose of GMTV sending a cab to my home at 6am on the off chance I might wake up and come to their studio. Or how a TV show wanted to discuss female sexual confidence without mentioning genitals or masturbation. Or some rather nasty experiences with snotty TV producers just after I’d had a baby. Not to mention the hilarious case of the science journalist who really took a dislike to me (and colleagues). Oh, and let’s not forget the journalist who wanted me to recommend them an ‘unethical psychologist’ .

Of course, the past five years have not been spent simply slagging off journalists. No. Sometimes I’ve also turned my gaze to bad science too. Where it’s been depressing to report on a carnival of studies which seem to set us back sexually. Studies complaining women orgasm too easily, or there’s a ‘clitorocentric conspiracy’ against the vagina, how sex with a partner is 400% better than any other kind of sex you might have, and you can tell whether a woman has vaginal orgasms by her walk.

Let’s not forget my other bugbears. The fake formula and shonky surveys and my goodness this blog’s a treasure chest for those. And if I’m not being irritated by that, then there’s always the problem of psychologists talking about celebrities, or the general ethical issues raised by Big Brother for me to moan about.

Of course, it’s not all been bad news. Anyone would think this blog is only about gripes and grumbles. I’ve always wanted to showcase a variety of sexual experiences within this blog and not just think about sex just for a Western audience. I’ll continue to discuss issues relating to sex and seniors; teenagers; disability; transsexuality; lesbian, gay and bi issues; open relationships; BDSM; sexual health; contraception; prostitution; pornography; reproductive health; pleasure; desire; asexuality; dating; psychosexual problems; showcasing great sex pioneers; talking about safer sex; and as many other topics as I can find for you to read about.

Where to next?
Unlike five years ago, I’m now thinking strategically about this blog – who it’s for, what it does, and seeking to find ways to assess any impact it may have. I’ve noticed over the years it sometimes deviates into areas that interest me, but may not appeal to all readers. So my aim is to ensure the focus of the blog remains around the core things you’re most interested in when you visit – sex, science, and media.

I’m currently involved in overhauling the site so in the new year I hope to have far more open access materials available for you – relationships and sex guides, information about sexual and reproductive health, more advice and links to sources of help, along with practical information for journalists, healthcare professionals, parents, teens and teachers.

I’ve been asked by many readers for more information about how to become an agony aunt/media sex educator, so I’ll be blogging about this – as well as how to write a sex blog – in the not too distant future.

I’ll also be making use of twitter soon, as sometimes I blog about issues people need to hear about fast (particularly developments in science/health), so hopefully that will make messages more accessible. I’ll let you know once I’ve sorted it.

Obviously I’d like to hear what you’d like to see. How would you like this blog to develop over the next year (or five!). Are there any particular things you’d like to see more/less of? Topics you want covered? People you’d like me to interview for the ‘quickies’ section of the blog? Campaigns you want covered? Let me know what your vision is for this blog.

So, happy fifth birthday blog. Big birthday kisses to those of you who’ve been with me from the beginning. For those of you who’ve only recently found this blog I hope you like it enough to stick around for the next half decade. I notice one of my favourite other blogs Mind Hacks has also celebrated it’s fifth birthday too, so congratulations to them.

Time to blow out the candles and make a wish. Of course, I can’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to come back in five years to find out if it’s come true.

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