27 September 2018

At YMCA St Paul’s Group we believe that every young person should have someone they can trust. Everyone should enjoy the benefits of good health and wellbeing. Francesca Thomas is the Sexual Health Advisor at YMCA Walthamstow in East London. Her work in the borough is not only to educate young people about sex, but also to talk about the emotional impact of having sex and how it can affect mental health, wellbeing, body image, addiction and even parenting. “In essence, having sex can affect everything around you,” she explains.

Francesca visits school and colleges as and when she is needed, to deliver workshops or group work. She covers subjects like consent and highlighting the intricacy of the issue, especially for young people who feel pressured. Relationship advice is also a big part of the job. “Often when a young person comes to see me about getting condoms or information, there is usually a story behind this. It’s my job to understand it and advise them.”

Talking about sexual health

With drop-in sessions out in the community and at the hostel in Walthamstow, Francesca never knows from one day to the next what she will encounter. But the key thing is to be there to talk, to listen and not to judge. “People are frightened to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Often they are affected by past abusive relationships which is damaging.”

At the hostel in Walthamstow there are a number of residents from the LGBT community and their safety and wellbeing is crucial. “We try to provide a safe space for people to talk and feel supported.”

“Sexual Health advice is so much more than distributing leaflets and condoms. My job is to give young people tools to empower themselves and take control in having a positive relationship and sexual health experience.”

What are Francesca’s top tips? “Never let anyone force you to do something you don’t want to do; be honest with yourself. Never be scared to talk to someone about a sexual issue that’s bothering you and never be scared to be tested. A test is a positive thing to do.”

Pictured: Francesca on her stall at the University of East London