SEXUAL HEALTH WITH SH:24

SH:24 are helping to make sexual health more accessible from HIV testing to contraceptive information. We speak to one of the team members Linnéa about what started this innovative project… 

Tell us about SH:24 and what you do?

SH:24 is a London-based online sexual and reproductive health service. We provide free home STI testing in partnership with the NHS, free oral contraception sent to your home (available in Southwark and Lambeth), and support from clinicians via web-chat, phone and text. I am the creative content designer, so I make  illustrations for instructions and leaflets and manage and curate our Instagram account @sh24_nhs. My day to day work life is spent researching and planning posts and campaigns, and drawing occasional genitalia! 

How did the organisation come about?

In England, there have been large governmental budget cuts to sexual health services which means clinics are under a lot of pressure and severely oversubscribed, and many people are turned away due to lack of capacity. SH:24 came about as a way for people not experiencing symptoms to get regular testing without having to go to clinic. This frees up capacity in clinics to deal with more complex cases. We are part of an integrative service with clinics, which means we work together to offer sexual health and contraceptive support to a larger number of people, rather than replace clinics.

What do you see as one of the main issues people ignore about sexual health in the UK?

There is a lot of stigma attached to sexual health, and I think a big problem is the way we ignore the impact this has on people accessing sexual health services. Public health campaigns often use fear-mongering as a way to get people to take charge of their sexual health and access services, which I don’t think works and only feeds feelings of shame. It’s important to see sexual health as part of your general health, just as you would regularly go for check-ups at the dentist or GP. Anyone can get an STI, and it’s important the we work towards de-stigmatising STIs as a way to get more people to take responsibility for their own health. I think many people also ignore the impact that stigma and shame has on their actions – I can definitely say I used to be like that! Before working here I had only done a STI test once even though I was sexually active, and I was too scared of going to a clinic for fear of being judged.

How can people get involved with SH:24?

Join our new contraceptive forum – it’s about bringing together clinical expertise and user experiences, so that people considering their options for contraception can get a nuanced view of the pros and cons about different methods by reading other people’s experiences and having accurate medical information. It’s a place where contraceptive users (of any gender) and clinical staff can meet to support each other and answer questions around contraception. This part of our service is still being developed so we would love feedback from users!

You can also follow us on Instagram. I love hearing from people on Instagram,so whether you’re a service user who wants to share your experience of using SH:24 or a sex educator looking to collaborate on a campaign, get in touch!

Is there a service you find people aren’t aware that SH:24 provides?

We are working on expanding our contraceptive services, and besides the above mentioned forum, we also offer contraceptive advice via web-chat with a clinician.

Another service people aren’t always aware of is that if you test positive for as STI you have the option of opting in for partner notification, which means we will text any current or previous sexual partners that might have been exposed, so they can get tested. The notification is anonymous so there is nothing should be nothing in it that links back to you.

Tell us a campaign or movement that is close to your heart and why?

I love HERO and GMFA’s recent campaign “I test for: Me. Him. Us.”. The campaign, developed by and for BAME gay and bisexual men, aimed to increase HIV testing but also address the lack of representation of BAME queer men in public health campaigns. As Marc Thompson from BlackOutUK, an advisor on the campaign, put it: “The lack of visibility of men from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities in sexual health promotion has been well documented as having an impact on BAME men’s sexual health and risk taking, which ultimately plays a role in the disproportionate rates of HIV infection in this population.”

I love the positive message of the campaign. The images are of loving, caring, black queer relationships, without the common stereotype of hyper-sexualisation, and positions HIV testing as a natural part of a healthy relationship. It shows HIV testing as an act of caring, for yourself and for others. Positive accurate representation is so important in determining if people feel included and engaged in public health, and I really believe this approach is an important step towards changing people’s attitudes and eradicating sexual health stigma!

Visit the SH:24 website for more information…