Modern Contraception – When Will We Leave the Idea of a ‘Normal’ Woman Behind?

By Rose Stevens

In school, whether it is in sex education or in biology, we are taught about the normal woman’s reproductive system. We are taught that the normal woman’s menstrual cycle is around 28 days. We are taught she has regular predictable periods. We are taught that in a normal woman these periods are 5 days in length and start at age 12 or 13. Our doctors and our politicians grow up ascribing to this idea of the normal woman. However what we are never taught is that she does not exist. Calling the reproductive biology of any woman ‘normal’ is misleading when the existent natural variation both is huge and critically under acknowledged in education and medical practice. Ignoring this variation could well be leading to unnecessarily high levels of side effects from hormonal contraception and certainly leading to young girls thinking their bodies’ reactions may be abnormal or dysfunctional. We need to appreciate and account for this diversity when planning sexual health policy and education.

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Pills and Policies at NHS Expo 2015: The Need for Health Innovation

It’s my first time traveling to Manchester, and despite the 5-hour coach ride on a stuffy Megabus, I’m looking forward to it. This isn’t just because my whole existence revolves around London and I desperately need an escape, or because ‘The North’ is somewhat mysterious to me, but because I have managed to secure free tickets to the biggest NHS event of the year: the annual Health and Innovation Expo.

On arrival, I find my way to Manchester Central, just opposite the grand Milibank Hotel. Aqsa (my Mancunian HumSci buddy) is waiting for me, ready to explore the conference. Having recently completed an internship at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, she informs me that the city is at the forefront of health technologies in the UK, and it is no coincidence that this is where the expo is. I am excited.

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Pills and Policies at Pride: Health Equality Means Acknowledging that Certain Groups Have Specific Health Needs

Empowered people uniting in public displays of solidarity, equality and activism, marching to vibrant sounds: This is Brighton’s 25th anniversary of Pride. Pills and Policies joins the celebration and protest for LGBT rights, with a specific focus on health equality.


25th annual Brighton Pride

“Never Kissed a Tory”

Although the day was not centred on LGBT health, there was an underlying emphasis that this was a key area of concern and that the current state of health provision is inadequate. It was nice to see a strong NHS presence at Pride, with representatives from various departments such as paramedics and nurses. On the other hand, the involvement of politicians (mainly from Labour and the Liberal Democrats) was viewed by many as a contradiction to the Pride movement, and was almost intrusive. Clearly, individuals too often felt that policies do not represent their concerns as LGBT youth.

The numerous charities in the parade overshadowed whatever influence the NHS and politicians had, perhaps symbolic of their relative importance in addressing LGBT health concerns. These charities, such as Samaritans and Grassroots suicide prevention, took an active role, providing helpline information whilst other charities handed out condoms. The government does work with such voluntary groups and the private sector, but more should be offered on the NHS.

thumb_DSC_0236_1024 NHS lgbtthumb_DSC_0159_1024 thumb_DSC_0176_1024 thumb_DSC_0173_1024martletsthumb_DSC_0135_1024 thumb_DSC_0152_1024

In general, the health needs of LGBT communities are similar to non-LGBT, but there are some unique needs. Admittedly, the LGBT communities are very diverse and have varying experiences as a result of other factors, including their ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion and gender. Social factors play a significant role in the uniqueness of the LGBT health needs, with various social agents involved – such as teachers, health service providers, peers, parents and policy makers. There are too many variables occurring simultaneously, making it difficult to pinpoint who should – if anyone – take overall responsibility of LGBT health.

To explore all of this, we spent the day with Luke and Saj, members of London’s Mosaic LGBT youth group. Whilst enjoying the event, we found some time to discuss their specific health concerns as gay men. Amongst other issues, they identified that there were few spaces for the LGBT youth to talk about the challenges they face – something that is a necessity given that many can’t speak freely to their peers, teachers and parents. For Luke and Saj, Mosaic was the answer to this concern, as it was their only source of reliable health information. However, many are unable to access such safe spaces or are even unaware of their existence.

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An Introduction: Your Biggest Health Concerns

To mark the launch of Pills and Policies, we took to the streets of Oxford Circus to ask Londoners what their thoughts were in regards to the following question: What is the biggest health concern affecting young people in the UK? As expected, there were a variety of responses to the question, ranging from mental health to obesity. This introductory post documents a few of the responses we received.

Inge and Sam

Inge and Sam


In the UK, 1 in 10 young people experience mental health problems.

It is therefore no surprise that mental health was one of the main concerns raised by the young people we interviewed. In particular, Inge and Sam from New Zealand thought that policymakers should do more to address the stigma associated with mental health problems, and that they should not be deemed less important than physical health problems, which are more easily diagnosed. They also strongly opposed the government’s cuts to the funding of mental health services.

Inge, a science student, stressed how untreated mental health problems may have negative long-term implications both to the individual and society as a whole. Having a mental health problem may increase the risk of developing further health complications such as cardiovascular disease, which health policies currently prioritise. Any cost savings that cuts offer would only be temporary, as in the future there would be a higher proportion of people suffering from once preventable chronic illnesses. Sam praised the way in which the stigma on male mental health was tackled in New Zealand, where popular rugby players brought issues to the forefront. He suggested that a similar campaign was desperately needed in the UK.

Furthermore, with regards to male mental health, Julliet spoke to us about her boyfriend’s experience of dealing with severe depression; She discussed how having a continued personal relationship with the same psychiatrist during the course of the treatment was important in his recovery. This idea of personalised patient care overseen by an assigned consultant is one of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s recent proposals on how to improve the NHS. He aims to readdress the issue of patient care being “a series of brief encounters” with professionals.




Young people as a demographic are often seen as the healthiest, and any diversion from this is dismissed as the result of risk-taking behaviours such as binge drinking, smoking, overeating and unsafe sex.

This idea of the ‘young invincibles’ is detrimental to the healthcare of young people and their future wellbeing. The health issues that young adults face should be treated as legitimate. Jeremy Hunt has noted that more needs to be done in relation to prevention and public health promotion, although many of the people we spoke to felt as though the policies still remain disengaged from young adults. This group of people are left isolated from policies which stress the importance of early childhood intervention and the management of old age diseases. The short terms that governments have and their focus on being re-elected could be a reason for this, since the gains of focusing more on young adult health would only be noticeable in the long-term.

Max and Zihad thought that there should be more educational campaigns on healthy eating targeted specifically at young adults, not just children. They also suggested that healthy food should be more readily available at affordable prices, which is especially important in the light of the cuts being made to student finances.

In addition, Harriet, Matt and Debo spoke a great deal about improving sexual health education in schools, to better young peoples’ understanding of safe sex and dismantle societal taboos. To quote Matt, “Teachers should be able to have open and frank conversations about sex with their students. They shouldn’t be pressured to just focus on exam preparation”. Many young people also agree that there is a need for more non-binary, non-heteronormative sex education that includes content about consent.

Ynn and Maite

Ynn and Maite


Who will look after us when we are old?

The funding of the NHS and its future was an overarching concern among the majority of the young people we spoke to. Most people said they were proud of the NHS, and how it was free at the point of use, although many were worried that this may not be the case for much longer. One person however, who wished to remain anonymous, thought that the NHS being free was its biggest downfall, arguing the need for an American-style privatised health system. He thought that the NHS should be “run more like a business and less like a charity”. For most, this is their biggest fear, as it would increase the already worsening health inequalities in the UK. How then, does the NHS remain accessible to all without becoming inefficient and unsustainable? Pills and Policies will dissect and analyse these concerns amongst others in upcoming posts.

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