I discovered online sexual educator and Youtuber Hannah Witton this year while discovering the huge amount of bookish and sexual content available on Youtube and decided to create a list of subscriptions to check every day. Her channel – with more than 300,000 subscribers – focuses on sex and relationships, and although I would be weary of anyone talking about such issues from a feminist perspective – I have had some terrible experiences watching other vlogger’s videos – Hannah does a good job by speaking openly, candidly and open-mindedly about sex. When I learnt that she had a book coming out this Spring called Doing It: Let’s Talk About Sex I requested a review copy to the publishers and they kindly sent me this early review copy:
The first thing to say about Doing It: Let’s Talk About Sex is it is aimed at a 14+ audience, meaning that this is one of the few non-fiction YA books out there talking about body issues, sex, and relationships. Witton’s candid tone translates perfectly from her videos to the text, and she often illustrates her theories with her own experiences and even her own drawings. However, she is quick to recognise her privilege as a thin cisgender while female in Western culture and she does not shy away from including diverse voices in her book. Many of the contributors are Youtubers whom Hannah has met during her career and who offer another take on sexuality. The book includes testimonies from non-normative people including transgender, asexual people, homosexual, and disabled making the text a landmark in contemporary non-fiction for young adults.
As Hannah Witton is known for her irreverent approach to sex, Doing It also includes a very interesting (and feminist!) section in which the author interviews her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother about their sex educations hence bringing together more than 100 years of sexual discourse together. The historical perspective is not new to the author, who is a History graduate and did research about Victorian sexual manuals during her time as a student. Even though I am usually weary of judging people only by their studies, Hannah’s past in Medical Humanities helps bring together science, art, and story-telling to offer young readers a fresh take on their sexuality. One of the book’s themes is the necessity to talk about sex always in the negative: Do not get pregnant. Do not get an STD. Do not lose your virginity too soon/late, etc. So, as much as sex-positive texts for teenagers, Doing It is a game-changer.
However, I was disappointed to hear Hannah on her Youtube channel, and then on the book talk about a contraceptive method that she labels ‘Fertility awareness’ and that basically consists of: “Figuring out when you are fertile during your cycle and avoiding unprotected sex during this time. Must be taught by a specialist. You monitor your body temperature, cervical mucus, and the length of your cycle”. For me this method sounds very much like the Knaus–Ogino method which has been proved not to be a reliable contraceptive method. Plus, if the book is aimed at teenagers I think that other external factors such as stress, medication, and hormonal changes could affect the monitoring hence resulting in unplanned pregnancies. I understand the body-positive idea behind the method, which would probably make women more familiar with their reproductive system but I deem the risk too high. Several scientific resources online associate a failure high as 15% for this method while Witton describes it ‘over 99% effective’. And while adult women may have more resources (physical, emotional, economic, plus the right to do as they want despite of their parents’ thinking), this method could put teenagers in a risky situation.
Doing It: Let’s Talk About Sex is a wonderful book for young adults that I wish I had had 15 years ago. Not only it provides great information about sex, gender identity, consent, and body image among other things, but Hannah Witton’s body and sex-positive attitude translates perfectly to the reader. Highly recommended to the teenagers in your life (boys and girls!), just make sure you mention the many contraceptive methods available today that have been proven more effective than the Ogino one.