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My sex and relationships predictions for 2009

January 1st, 2009

Dr Petra

Each year after I’ve stuffed myself full of Christmas leftovers I settle down and have a think about the things I think we can expect in the coming year in relation to sex and relationships. You can read my summary of sex predictions for 2008 here.

Here’s what I think will happen in 2009.

We’ll see a definite shift to sexual health self management
Over the past few years there have been a number of studies and evaluations looking at how sexual and reproductive health services can be improved. These have indicated that people are far better able than expected to manage their own sexual health. Improvements in rapid testing for Chlamydia and HIV, as well as changes to testing to ‘pee in a pot’ for many common STIs, plus alterations in the role of pharmacists mean that STI testing and contraception provision no longer only have to be delivered within specialist settings.

So in 2009 we can expect to see a shift to contraception being prescribed within community pharmacy settings alongside GP and family planning clinics. Pee in a pot STI testing will be available in GP surgeries, pharmacies, clubs and pubs as well as GU services, while initiatives for self-referral to termination services will make things quicker for those seeking abortions.

The reason for this shift is to ensure a wider spread of services offering contraception and STI testing and treatment. It’s a means of reducing waiting times and pressure within traditional contraception/GU services, and also encouraging the public to have greater ownership of their own sexual health. Alongside this we can also expect a shift in public health promotion campaigns towards an emphasis on Chlamydia testing as well as preventing STIs via condom use.

These changes may seem small, but are actually set to transform how we manage sexual and reproductive health services. As a result you can expect critics to oppose them fairly vigorously and argue they will lead to greater promiscuity and unwanted pregnancy. This runs counter to the scientific evidence around what works for sexual and reproductive healthcare, but nevertheless I anticipate a bumpy journey as these new initiatives are rolled out.

Pornography addiction will replace sex addiction (although we’ll still be flapping about sex addiction too)

Sex addiction has been a media favourite for many years, not least last year with several celebrities arguing they’d been ‘diagnosed’ with the condition. In 2009 the focus will become more specific with pornography being seen as a primary factor in addiction. This won’t be based on scientific evidence, but will be promoted by those without appropriate therapeutic qualifications, many of whom have particular anti sex agendas. It will make it difficult to have critical discussions about porn, and may well mislead many couples who have relationship difficulties but not a pornography addiction. I’ll continue to expose quackery around this issue, while sharing any research evidence about the varied impact of pornography on our lives.

There will be a new focus on family relationships
Following on from some shocking child abuse cases in the UK and evidence from scientific research it is clear the level of abuse of children is far higher than previously accepted within the UK. Moreover research has shown emotional abuse, neglect and general disinterest plus poor parenting skills are causing countless psychological problems to young people. This in turn will affect their abilities to have positive relationships as adults, their capacity to be good parents, and makes them prey to abuse and coercion while young.

As a result there will be more initiatives to improve social care, but in particular there needs to be a focus around improving people’s interpersonal relationships and parenting skills. Many charities, educators and healthcare providers are now poised to take action in 2009 to ensure families are better supported. We can expect to see a greater focus on the needs of children and young people – particularly highlighting the risk to them from violence, coercion and emotional neglect.

Reproductive rights will be overlooked in conflict zones
Sadly with the number of conflict zones around the world growing rates of rape, child abuse, and maternal and infant mortality are rising rapidly. Meanwhile restricted reproductive health services and problems in access to basic items such as sanitary towels are compounding problems of reproductive and sexual wellbeing. We tend to forget the impact of conflict on reproductive, sexual and maternal health but they will continue to be a major problem across the world in 2009. I’ll be running a series of blogs in 2009 to highlight these problems and provide information on services and resources for any of you who live or work in areas affected by conflict.

Prostitution and pornography will remain high on the political agenda
As with 2008, continuing political debates over the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and prostitution policy will keep sex work on the agenda. There are a number of initiatives planned to try and persuade politicians towards a more evidence based approach and away from the acceptance of rhetoric many have been swayed by. You can expect debates on porn and prostitution to continue to be unpleasant and emotive, and it seems likely that we will see greater restrictions recommended.

Sex drugs for women will be a major focus
Last year I predicted female sexual dysfunction would come back into the news. That didn’t happen in the public domain, but did continue behind the scenes with drug companies working on products for female sexual dysfunction (particularly Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder) trying to get healthcare practitioners and therapists poised to promote their forthcoming products. Events to promote sex drugs for women are due to increase this year and you can expect to see pharmaceutical companies spending a lot of time and money persuading practitioners to see HSDD as a problem and their products as a solution. The media will also be targeted so watch the women’s press and newspaper health pages for tales of widespread female sexual dysfunction and the promise of a ‘cure’.

Bisexuals will be in the news
There will be a number of TV programmes about ‘being bi’, plus new research discussing how bisexuality is conceptualised and measured. Within this you can expect some dodgy reports where ‘bisexuality’ is another name for birds who have threesomes or women who’ve opted for lady love because they’re so fed up with men. The male bisexual will still remain more of a taboo area while bi women will continue to titillate.

The cult of the ‘sex expert’ will be replaced by the ‘sex educator’
TV programmes will shift gear and move away from the current lifestyle format of aspirational sex led by ‘sexperts’ towards programmes purporting to be ‘educational’. The amount of education and accuracy will vary, and most will eschew evidence based information for outdated or inaccurate messages that fit the ‘televisual’ brief. The result will be a mixed bag of programming with some useful and contemporary information provided amidst a dominant message of gimmicks, Cosmo-esque sex tips and sensational mis-reporting of sexual behaviour.

The myth of the year will be – being ‘healthy’ = having lots of sex
Over the coming months there will be a focus within the media (and from some charity groups) suggesting more sex leads to better health. Within these accounts you can expect a sprinkling of pretty bad science – misunderstanding the role of hormones, inaccurate descriptions of physiological functioning, advocating dodgy diets, and confusing the role of health, sex and exercise. Join me in the New Year when I’ll be outlining some of the key errors in this kind of reporting, along with tips and pointers about your physical and mental health as well as your sex life.

Whether or not people really are having more cosmetic surgery, we’ll be told that’s the case
As the credit crunch bites you can expect a large scale effort from cosmetic surgery companies telling us that more-people-than-ever-before-are-having-cosmetic-surgery. In particular there will be an emphasis on female surgery, but male enhancement will also be promoted. It will be difficult to assess whether folk really will be seeking more surgery, or whether the news that this is happening will create demand. Either way the realities of such surgery, and the effectiveness of interventions (particularly genital cosmetic procedures) will be underplayed.

Keep an eye out for this story as it’s really going to be a case of free advertising for cosmetic companies – who will be the journalists to uncritically cover this issue? [If you are a journalist who wants to take a more investigative approach please drop me a line as I'm happy to provide you with some of the latest clinical evidence on this topic].

The recession will impact upon our relationships
Towards the latter end of 2008 we started seeing a fair amount of dubious media coverage about sex and the credit crunch. These were largely hypothetical and not really based on any observed trends. However, we are undoubtedly in the grips of a global recession now and as a result we can expect to see people under pressure with financial hardship, housing problems and job losses taking their toll. This will sadly lead to increased separation and divorce rates, substance and alcohol abuse, violence within relationships, and extra marital activity.

More people will therefore be seeking relationship therapy, but we ought to anticipate problems. Hopefully sex educators, practitioners and journalists will do their best to offer information on how to survive relationships during this difficult time. On a positive note usually in recession we also see an increase in birth rate, so it may be by this time next year a few more of you will be experiencing the patter of tiny feet. If that’s not something you want to happen make it your new year’s resolution to sort out your contraception!

Happy New Year!

I hope 2009 is a good year for you – one that brings you good health, happiness and success. I’ll continue to blog with updates on sex research, taking down poor sex science, and delivering brickbats and bouquets for media sex coverage. New for 2009 will be a wider range of advice, reviews, tips and resources for you on sex and relationships, along with interviews with some sex pioneers whose work you’ll love hearing about.

As ever this blog is there for you to get good sex information, so if there’s anything you want covered please let me know – drop me an email at

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