The subject of sex and sexuality is not only mystifying but quite often awkward or downright embarrassing for people to talk about, especially for those who are still discovering the complicated landscape of their own bodies and emotions and those of the people around them.
The North Coast Positive Adolescent Sexual Health Consortium (PASH) is a network of over 30 North Coast organisations with a mandate of youth development, safety and health, particularly targeting young people and families on the North Coast.
PASH is dedicated to working to pool resources, knowledge, understanding and best practice for the sexual health and well-being of young people by providing a network of support and collaboration; identifying strengths and gaps in service delivery; conducting research; supporting youth engagement and a youth-led approach; community consultation; education and events; service provider training, and; PEEPS – Peer Educators engaging Peers.
Following on from the huge success of PASH 2014 – a region-wide youth sexual health conference – the PASH Consortium again joined forces with local young people, who have had enough of cringing at the mention of sex and sexual health, and launched the PASH 2015 regional conference at Byron Bay on Wednesday and Thursday.
High school students from across the north coast converged on Byron for this year’s event.
Programmed by a group of local young people, youth workers and health experts, PASH 2015 presented a series of program of workshops, talks, multimedia and arts based platforms to develop skills and healthy behaviours around issues of sex, sexuality, sexual health, body image, bullying, and homophobia, consent, accessing services, social media and healthy sexual boundaries.
Other skills development and specific education included condom use, how to reduce HIV/STI risk and how to access HIV/STI testing and treatment was covered.
Dr Mellissa Kang from Sydney University is a well-known youth sexual health researcher and clinician and is better known for her work with the youth magazine Dolly as the ‘Dolly Doctor’, says that sexual health, like sex itself, can be difficult to talk about honestly.
Dr Kang was part of a panel who spoke to the youth gathered for the final even of PASH15 at the Byron Regional Sports and Cultural Complex yesterday afternoon.
’We tend to focus narrowly on the negatives such as diseases, especially when it comes to young people’, she says. ‘Yet young people of high school age are often just beginning to experience the joys, pleasures, heartaches and worries of new romances, new sexual feelings and their new and changing bodies.’
‘If we ignore this and pretend it’s only about the bad things that can happen – we deny young people their right to information and services that acknowledge the complexity and diversity which comes with sexuality.
‘I support PASH because it involves young people at its core, acknowledges the positive aspects of sexuality as well as the need for becoming responsible and confident about looking after one’s sexual health. PASH includes the adults who want to support young people as they grow and develop – parents, carers, teachers, health professionals and community members.’
Franklin John-Leader, Program Coordinator with HIV and Related Program of the North Coast Public Health and one of the organisers of PASH 2015 says that the PASH conference is a not-for profit event that is solely supported by a group of passionate parents, volunteers and staff from various health and youth organisations who go way out of their way to make this community event happen.
‘Although the 2015 conference will be conducted over two separate days to accommodate double the number of young people from last year – due to the interactive format of the conference programming – we had to restrict registration to a maximum of 780 young people and 140 adults including teachers, health/youth workers, parents and carers’, he said.
Franklin says that 93% of the youth participants, who completed evaluations at the 2014 conference, rated the conference excellent or very good.
‘PASH 2015 is an avenue for adults to hear directly from young people themselves as well as young people learning about effective ways to influence the policies, programs and services that can ultimately improve the sexual health and other services for regional youth.
‘This is an evidence-informed conference guided by health, education, research and other clinical experts highlights the importance of cross sectoral collaboration in an ever-shrinking community resource setting.’
For more information about PASH visit their website: www.pash.org.au.