The ‘good sex’ project: Research, teaching and practice

In the third post of our MACYS series colleague Dr Ester McGeeney reflects on the crossroads between research, teaching and practice with children and young people.

When I first started teaching on the MACYS programme at Sussex I was also writing up my PhD – a mixed methods study of young people’s sexual cultures that explores how young people understand and experience ‘good sex’. I was also working as a practitioner, co-facilitating group work programmes for women experiencing domestic violence and working on a one-to-one basis with young people who were using violent behaviours in their intimate and family relationships.

This blog forms part of a series of posts aimed at celebrating MACYS and exploring what is unique and important about the programme that we are delivering. For me, as a researcher, practitioner, informal educator and university lecturer, the programme offers a rich opportunity to bring together research, teaching and practice in a range of creative ways. As I shift back and forth between research and practice, teaching and research, I am able to draw on a wide range of resources and techniques to inform each area of my practice. The case studies that I use in my teaching, for example, are based on the lives of the young people and families that I have worked with as a practitioner and the activities that I ask students to take part in frequently draw on techniques that I have used in sex education sessions or in violence prevention work with young people. And as the students respond and draw on their own experiences of violence or sexuality I am continually learning – about national and cultural difference and about the challenges of creating safe spaces for talking about such sensitive and contested areas of children and young people’s lives in educational spaces.

Since finishing my PhD last summer I have started a one year ESRC funded knowledge exchange project called ‘Good sex?: Building evidence based practice in young people’s sexual health’. This project involves a collaboration between researchers at CIRCY, young people and practitioners at Brook and a documentary film maker. Our aim is to explore creative ways of using research to inform practice, with a focus on developing ‘sex-positive’ strategies for working with young people. So far we have run a workshop with young people, a theatre director and a film maker exploring ways of reanimating my PhD data using film and developed a one day training course for practitioners on working with young people on sexual pleasure. At the moment I am half-way through a new 7 week project based a Brook Brixton where we are exploring ways of working with sensitive interview data on young people’s first sexual experiences. For this new project, I selected all the data excerpts relating to first sex from my PhD data and have given them to the group of young people and film-maker I am working with to identify how and why we might want to use this material to make one or two short films. As we look at the data together I am learning – not just about how to turn ‘research’ into ‘film’, but about young people’s sexual cultures and sexual values. As the group discuss and respond to the data, we talk about sexual morality and inequality and about contested areas such as consent, religion and what counts as ‘bad sex’. The group don’t always agree and I am learning that what it is possible to say in a ‘youth work’ session is not the same as what it is possible to say in a research encounter, or in a short film.

We will be posting the new films that we make if and when they emerge and we decide as group what it is possible to say and to show about first sex on film. For more information about the project you can follow the good sex project blog or watch me talking about the project at a recent CIRCY event, Research for the Real World. And for my current and future students – I am sure you will hear about this project and see excerpts from all the films as I draw on this new material to inform my teaching as well as my research and youth work practice.

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