“If I could fix one thing [with the course] it would be the whole stigma around sexual health. Because that would stop the sh*tty comments from guys, some of the misogyny and hatred,” she tells us over the phone.
“Ending the stigma around sexual health and sexual knowledge would also help with people who are trans and nonbinary, gender non-conforming, who are in the LGBTQIA+ community.
“It's all about education and knowledge, and I think those things can break down stigma. That's why I'm so excited to be part of the University of Down Under!”
The 26-year-old may be a total sexual health knowledge buff these days, but she knows it can be really hard for teens to access information about sex and everything that goes with it.
She was lucky enough to have a “pretty decent” sexual education as a teenager, even though she went to a Catholic all-girls shool (“I'm not sure how that happened!” she laughs), but many teens can struggle with a lack of education about their own sexual health.
“We got taught a decent amount in science class… but it was more about wearing protection and STIs, the risks of sex - not general reproductive health,” she says of her own sex ed.
But Abbie says that there needs to be a bigger focus on education around reproductive health for people with vaginas (we stan an inclusive queen).
That education should start in high school and cover more than just how to put on a condom, like on common experiences for people with vaginas, such as getting thrush.
Even though an estimated three in four people with vaginas get thrush in their lifetime, most people have no clue what it is or how to treat it the first time they experience it. Not to mention there’s still heaps of stigma around talking about the condition.
“The first time you get something like thrush, you're like ‘what the f--k? What is this? Do I have an STI?’,” Abbie tells us.
“And obviously thrush isn't an STI, but people think of it in a similar way. I think it would be great to reduce stigma and get educated around these things.”
That’s where the University of Down Under comes in, providing easy to understand sexual health info with the click of a button – and no stigma or shame.
Abbie was lucky in that she didn’t experience much stigma around sexual health growing up, but many teens face major shame when they try to talk about these kinds of things.
“Going to all-girls school, you’re more open about speaking about these things,” Abbie says, adding that she learned a lot about sexual health through pop culture and the other girls around her.
Even so, she says it would have been “very helpful” to have a resource like the #UoDU when she was a teen, because she is still learning new sexual health info at 26 through the course.
And yeah, we’d definitely prefer to learn about sexual health online and through credible social media campaigns like this one, compared to some school experiences.
“Some random, sixty-year-old male science teacher probably isn't the most ideal vessel for that information, you know?” Abbie laughs.
As for what she hopes teens get out of the #UoDU course, it’s not just about the facts and stats.
“I want people to start conversations. I hope that if people don't know about thrush or sexual health, they can send the link to their friends like ‘I just found this random thing, isn't this this cool’,” she tells Girlfriend.
“It kind of acts as a way to bring up these conversations rather than keeping it in the dark, [it’s] minimizing stigma. When it comes to talking about these things it might be easy to send a link to a podcast, or to the University of Down Under.”
In fact, that’s exactly how she used to start sexual health conversations with friends when she was a teen, by “sending podcast links and memes” to get the discussion started. And if Abbie can do it, why can’t we?
Of course, there will always be some people (“d—kheads” is what Abbie calls them) who will try to shame or silence young people who talk about sexual health.
Her advice for dealing with these ignorant people is to literally just ask them what their problem is and why they hold such outdated views.
“Just questioning what they mean by that [rude comments] and why they are so grossed out by thrush, or periods or any talk of vaginas. That’s probably the main thing to confront them on,” she says.
While there is still a lot of shame and stigma around conversations about sexual health, people are definitely becoming more open, and Abbie is so excited to see even more progress in the future.
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