Sexwise: Honest advice about contraception, pregnancy, STIs and pleasure

Today, we’ve launched Sexwise, a website to promote open and honest information about sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing.

Produced as part of FPA and PHE’s national health promotion programme for sexual and reproductive health information, it’s a step in our journey to make sure people are staying healthy, and getting access to the information they need to make well-informed choices.

Developed and named in collaboration with both the public and healthcare professionals, Sexwise is designed to be inclusive, accessible and meet the sexual and reproductive information needs of a broad audience, whose needs are likely to change throughout their life course.

The information on Sexwise is drawn from evidence-based guidance from organisations such as the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, BASHH, RCOG, NICE and WHO but research with our target audience found that it was vital the information wasn’t presented in a dry or clinical way.

Some of the things people told us during our research were:

“I want it inclusive – not just hetero – and sex positive, not judgemental”

“I don’t want fluffy language … Frank is good.”

““It must be evidence-based … but it also has to be about having fun with sex as a normal activity.”

However, it was also clear that when people come to us with serious worries and concerns they need to know we can be trusted and will take them seriously. In developing the look and feel of the site we’ve been very mindful of this.

Helping people with their contraceptive choices is one of the key components of Sexwise and it’s no accident that we’ve launched on World Contraception Day. In the UK, we’re lucky that contraception has been freely available to all since the 1970s when FPA handed over our network of family planning clinics to the NHS.

Back then, there were far fewer methods available than the range we have today. You might think that in 2017 we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to contraception. Yet a survey carried out by FPA last year found that only 2% of the GP practices we questioned offer the full range of methods to patients. More than half the GPs we surveyed, also said there isn't time in a standard contraception appointment to talk to patients about all their options.

This comes at a time when spending cuts mean that community contraception and sexual health services are also under increasing strain.

The result is that, all too often, people end up using the pill or condoms, when there may be a method that would be more effective and more suitable for their preferences and lifestyle.

People need up-to-date information about contraception throughout their reproductive lives. New methods may become available and existing methods and guidance may change. And a change in life circumstances, such as giving birth, or starting a new relationship, the start of menopause, or even a change in daily routine, can mean a method that was previously suitable is no longer the best choice.

According to the most recent National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, only around 55% of pregnancies in the UK are planned, with around 16% unplanned and 29% classed as “ambivalent”. There are many reasons for an unplanned pregnancy – and certainly not all unplanned pregnancies are unwanted. But that’s still a sizeable proportion of people who are either not using contraception, or whose contraception has failed them.

No method of contraception is 100% perfect, and there will always be unplanned pregnancies. But Sexwise aims to ensure that everyone has easy to understand information about their contraceptive choices that addresses the queries and concerns they may have. And both the website and the national programme as a whole are here to support GPs, sexual health services, midwives and other healthcare professionals to be able to offer a genuine informed choice to patients.

Of course, Sexwise isn’t just about contraception – it’s about promoting safer sex to help bring down rates of STIs, promoting impartial information on pregnancy choices, helping with planning a pregnancy to give both mother and baby the best start in life and, importantly, talking about sexual wellbeing and pleasure – often overlooked in traditional sexual health information.

The launch of the website is the start of our journey and we plan to grow, developing more information for the public as well as national health promotion resources for healthcare professionals including webinars and digital health promotion toolkits.

We’d love to hear your feedback so please do get in touch if you’d like to comment on Sexwise or to hear more about our future plans.