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Revisiting my sex predictions for 2009

December 30th, 2009

Dr Petra

You can read my full list of predictions for 2009 here.

These included…

We’ll see a definite shift to sexual health self management
This did happen within some PCTs across the UK and innovative projects internationally – it included shifting access to sexual health services (for example making more facilities available within pharmacies or youth centres), simplifying tests for STIs, and opening up waiting times and advertising contraception and GU (genitor urinary) clinics. However, there was not the major shift I’d expected – and this was partly due to funding and improving services, and partly because the only media coverage on such ventures was predominantly negative – sadly something I did foresee (see here and here for example). Modernising our sexual and reproductive health services is an ongoing activity so this will continue, but we can probably expect to see continued resistance from the media and some faith based organisations.

Pornography addiction will replace sex addiction (although we’ll still be flapping about sex addiction too)
While there were some discussions around ‘porn addiction’ we actually shifted back to the all encompassing ‘sex addiction’ (where porn use was included within the diagnosis). And this was particularly illustrated at the close of the year when Tiger Woods was diagnosed by media (and self-publicising experts) as a ‘sex addict’.

There will be a new focus on family relationships
Given the shocking stories of child abuse within the UK and internationally I had expected to see a lot of discussions around parenting and family. Disappointingly opportunities to help families and offer more support, resources and education failed to materialise, although politicians all focused on ‘family values’ and the importance of marriage to society. With elections in 2010 we can expect to see a lot more chat about ‘family’ but very little in terms of offering genuine support to those with parenting, relationship, economic or housing problems.

Reproductive rights will be overlooked in conflict zones
This was always sadly going to be a prediction that came true. Many things are lost within conflict zones, but access to reproductive and maternity services are undoubtedly one of them. We have no idea how many cases of adult and child sexual abuse and mother and infant mortality have occurred in conflict zones over the past year. All we do know is this is an ongoing problem and one that’s often overlooked by the media and those working in conflict situations. Efforts are ongoing to include reproductive health within a positive context, although this is proving difficult to establish. It’s the one resolution I’d really like to have got wrong.

Prostitution and pornography will remain high on the political agenda
Sadly this was a prediction that came true although many academics, healthcare professionals and sex workers all worked hard to try and challenge. At the start of 2009 we heard the ‘extreme porn’ bill had been passed and in the Autumn witnessed a festival of bad science as the bill was heard in the House of Lords. There was some excellent news coverage by Nick Davies for The Guardian indicating the flaws in the government’s misuse/misinterpretation of trafficking statistics. This was not enough to prevent the government pushing forward legal changes they based on opinion, not evidence. Shocking that at the close of the decade we’re still witnessing a government who systematically refuse to meet with or listen to academics studying prostitution.

Sex drugs for women will be a major focus
All seemed quiet on this story for most of the year and I began to suspect nothing was going to happen – then at the close of the year Flibanserin was launched to the media following a poster presentation at a European conference. Cue much excitement about the new desire drugs for women. Although of course there were plenty of questions to ask about the trials, the drug and whether it will end up as a standard treatment. Find out more here and here.

Bisexuals will be in the news
At the end of 2008 there seemed to be a real interest within the media around focusing on ‘bi’ issues – particularly bi girls. However, many of the planned programmes ‘investigating’ this issue were not made (or at least weren’t aired) and it seems that being bi was not the media splash I anticipated.

The cult of the ‘sex expert’ will be replaced by the ‘sex educator’
A number of television programmes in the UK and other countries promised to provide educational messages for the public. In the UK they got it partly right (although failed to completely listen to consultants employed on programmes – including me). Behind the scenes many sex educators and advisors have worked hard this year to up their game, network, increase their online presence through websites and blogs, and have attempted to work more closely with the media or through training of healthcare/teaching staff to improve sex education messages.

That’s not to say that ‘sexperts’ are still not a problem, but encouragingly it does seem that internationally those who are working responsibly and from an evidence based position are doing what they can to challenge those who only draw on their own opinions and preferences. I’ve also been encouraged to see a real effort from ‘sex positive’ educators to think about what they’re doing and evaluate their approaches – which can only go to inform the work of others.

The myth of the year will be – being ‘healthy’ = having lots of sex
Although this view did underpin a fair few dodgy sex stories and self help books, in general there wasn’t the major focus on ‘healthy’ sex being linked to quantity rather than quality. So I wasn’t quite right in that prediction. Of course ‘healthy’ sex was misleadingly linked to things like superfoods, loads of exercise, brain activity and hormones (not understood by journalists but mentioned just the same).

Whether or not people really are having more cosmetic surgery, we’ll be told that’s the case
This was an issue for 2009, although it didn’t get quite the media coverage I was expecting. Nevertheless the focus on genital surgery as a means to improve one’s sex life was something that rumbled away in private healthcare across the world. Interestingly during the year we did see research suggesting there was no clinical evidence that genital surgery did improve sexual functioning – or indeed was always successful. As an antidote we saw activist events celebrating the vulva and renaming female genitals in numerous sex positive events that look set to grow over the coming years.

The recession will impact upon our relationships
During 2009 I was approached several times by journalists writing about the recession and sex – specifically on how sex toy stores were showing huge profits despite the economic downturn elsewhere. Although this may technically make sense (after all in a recession why not cheer yourself up with a low-cost vibrator?), worryingly no journalist I spoke to had verified this information, requested the financial details from the company, or considered they may be providing advertising for sex toy manufacturers keen to survive the recession. So the recession has impacted on poor media coverage.

But has it influenced other areas of our lives? Well, relationship therapists in the UK and other Western countries are noting more clients presenting – with problems linked to unemployment or the threat of redundancy. That may not be necessarily negative as seeking help for relationships does not mean they are automatically doomed. That said, there are reports of increased domestic violence coming in from charities and relationship therapists. We will have to wait to hear more from our statistics on violence and also around divorce (the latter of which may not show up immediately). However it sadly does appear the recession is having a negative impact on relationships – not least on those who are in the lowest income group (in the UK and internationally). Problems with housing, health and homelessness are undoubtedly rising.

We are, however, seeing an increase in the birth rate across the UK – so it seems we’re busy doing something! Look to see that trend continuing in 2010 – along with increasing strains on overstretched maternity services. If you want to do a good deed in the coming year, campaign for better training, support and funding for midwives.

So that’s what I came up with last year. Some of it was right, some of it wasn’t quite spot on. And some of it I wished hadn’t happened. Join me at the start of January when I’ll be looking ahead with more sex predictions for 2010.

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