Amongst the overwhelming array of Freshers’ Week activities and exciting buzz in the bubble, as thousands of students descend once more on the town, it can be easy to get confused about who’s who. In a university that’s so proud of its student involvement, leadership and representation, it’s important to get to know who represents you.
Last week I sat down with Claire Fogarty, an Art History and Philosophy student who is also the Member for Sexual Health on the Wellbeing Committee.
In this role, Ms Fogarty oversees all sexual health campaigns and events, the biggest of which is SHAG (Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance) Week, which is coming up soon.
“I am trying to bring a few different things to the role,” Ms Fogarty told The Saint.
“I think, officially in the constitution, it is a little bit more focussed on things like contraception and sexual health clinics, all of which are of course really important, but I would like to branch out and talk a bit more about some social issues to do with sex, and just some more wellbeing and pleasure issues as well. Things like gender equality, LGBT+ inclusivity, consent issues, porn, sex education. So hopefully that kind of thing is coming into this Member for Sexual Health role as well.”
Ms Fogarty interviewed for this committee role following her increasing interest in the importance of sex education and sex positivity: “I noticed a real gap in society in general, and based on my personal experiences. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences and I think there are a whole range of issues which I just find personally quite upsetting and which I feel quite deeply about.”
Opening up about her experiences when speaking to other students and observing attitudes, myths, and rumours surrounding the subject among friends and peers, Ms Fogarty said she could no longer passively stand and watch: “[I was] sitting around and hearing friends be shamed about their bodies, or people spreading rumours about people. Playing games of Never Have I Ever and being that one person in the circle feeling like the only one not having great sex – because that’s easily how I felt for the entirety of first year – I just felt like there was something physically wrong with me. Then I suppose I did a lot more research and realised this is a much more general problem. So I suppose what initially drew me to the role was noticing a lot of problems and wanting to fix them in some way!”
This year, the Wellbeing Committee are looking to engage people in their campaigns who may not otherwise have indicated an interest, and this is something which Ms Fogarty highlighted to me as being a top goal for her. She said, “I think particularly with words like SHAG, a lot of people who maybe don’t know that much about sex, are quite inexperienced, or didn’t have a lot of sex education, can be quite put off.”
Ms Fogarty admits that the Sex Positive movement can be ‘quite loud’ at times, “As much as I love and I’m really into it, it can be in your face and can be a bit off-putting. So we’re trying to make it more inclusive to people who I guess maybe aren’t quite that confident.”
Relating the issues more specifically to our community here in St Andrews, Ms Fogarty continued: “I think there is still a gap in terms of the actual student body in St Andrews. I think this is just a problem in St Andrews in general – we have so many societies that no one has time to go to all of them. So I think, if anything, people just tend to go to the things they’re already interested in and I think a lot of societies, and this isn’t their fault, end up preaching to the converted.”
As for her target audience, Ms Fogarty is reminded of those she met in first year that encouraged her to apply for such a role. She said, “The people we probably need to be reached are the people I had pre-drinks with a couple of times in first year who maybe still think it’s alright to make rape jokes, or people who don’t know anything about sex or aren’t really involved in these societies.”
In her new role, Ms Fogarty hopes to contribute to the Student Association’s desire to reach these audiences, and explained that the Wellbeing Committee is “not a society, it’s for everyone.” From liking their Facebook page, to approaching them with ideas and comments, to applying to sit on the committee next year, there are many ways people can get involved.
“We’re hoping to have a couple of things throughout the year, including University-wide poster campaigns, which should hopefully reach everyone,” she continued. “Just little things about where you can get yourself checked or other social issues. A big thing is trying to branch out to more students this year. The main target audience for Sexual Health this year are people who missed out on school sex education, people who are inexperienced, and people who are misinformed.”
However, Ms Fogarty made clear that the current work of various University groups has been exceptionally successful, forming an ideal foundation for the new committee’s plans: “I actually think, in comparison to quite a lot of unis, we’ve got quite a lot going on. Sexpression are awesome — they had a conference last year which was really cool and touched on a lot of these issues. They go into schools and provide sex education, they run discussion groups and all kinds of events. The girl who was on this position last year also did a lot. Basically, I think there are students who are doing a lot despite getting blocked a lot of the time too.”
While Ms Fogarty admits she has been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction of the University to the ideas she has proposed, she stresses that striking a balance between strong branding and being inappropriate or alienating, is crucial.
This is particularly true of SHAG Week which, while on the surface may be perceived as a ‘novelty’ event with a funny name, actually includes a number of important and interesting events, which Ms Fogarty is excited to share with the student population.
Some of these include: a philosophy talk entitled ‘What is Sex?’, considered by Ms Fogarty “good for debunking some of our preconceptions about sex and very inclusive”; a Feminist Society discussion on Female Sexual Pleasure; an Inklight Open Mic on issues of virginity as a potentially damaging social construct; a talk on issues of sex within faith run by Coexistence; Safeword BOP; and a big event about sex education from Scarleteen, a platform for teenagers about sex education, followed by a pub quiz.
“I think when people hear the word SexEd, they think of something really boring. So it’s about broadening that umbrella,” Ms Fogarty summarised. “It’s about balancing the seriousness of the issues with making it not so serious that people are put off.”
On the subject of striking that balance, the Wellbeing Committee is headed by Sabbatical Officer Nick Farrer, who Ms Fogarty praises for achieving just that: “I love him, he’s amazing. He’s actually a great guy for being serious but being really fun at the same time.”
Many of the events being hosted this year, as well as the focus on correcting misconceptions and offering informative resources, are based on the belief that sticking solely to “one narrative” is not healthy. One example Ms Fogarty gave was of the popular Little Mix song ‘Shoutout To My Ex”, which includes lyrics that can be perceived to suggest that women should shame their ex-boyfriends by using details of their sex life, among other connotations.
Without being critical of mainstream media such as such a song, and even porn, Ms Fogarty’s passionate discussion of her aims and responsibilities made clear her advocacy for sex education, and particularly, the view that we need to be very aware of the fantastical element of this media and why it can be damaging.
“When we do get all our education from the arts, it can be easy to mistake that for reality. These misconceptions are still rife at university, even if people have already started having sex,” she stated.
Whether through education, humour, fun social events, or just normalising Sexual Wellbeing as a topic openly discussed and addressed among students, Ms Fogarty hopes that this year, as a member of the Wellbeing Committee, her passion and commitment to the cause can bring to the table fresh ideas, improvements and a wider availability of crucial resources. If her determination and good humour are anything to go by, she certainly seems on track to achieve those goals.