Does sexual health need a rebrand?

Budget cuts are pushing sexual health services to breaking point, but could creativity be the key to tackling the problem? We speak to non-profit Brook and online service SH:24 about how design is shaping the way we think about sex

It’s no secret that our sexual health services have been feeling the squeeze in recent years. According to health charity The King’s Fund, the public health grant given to local authorities in the UK fell by 8% between 2013 and 2018, with services providing sexual health advice, prevention and promotion among the biggest losers. Couple this with the longstanding taboo around sexual health and an increase in STI rates – syphilis, a potentially life-threatening infection that had virtually been wiped out in the UK increased by 5% in 2018, and there have been reports of antibiotic resistant strains of ‘super gonorrhoea’ doing the rounds – then there’s clearly cause for concern.

In the private sector, a new wave of sexual wellness and femtech companies are beginning to make some headway when it comes to the stigma that still surrounds sex. Audio app Dipsea is rethinking our attitude to porn with its racy audio stories, in the US Tia is making a trip to the gynaecologist (almost) Instagrammable thanks to its sleekly designed wellness centres, and designer condom brands such as Hanx are helping to take the shame out of buying contraception.

For non-profits like Brook though, which have been on the sharp end of budget cuts in the UK, there are still big challenges ahead. Founded in 1964 by Helen Brook to help women who couldn’t access contraception, the charity runs sexual health clinics for young people offering STI testing and treatment, contraception, pregnancy testing and support, as well as offering help and advice online.

“Sexual and reproductive health services like Brook are continually being challenged by funding restraints, which remains an ongoing concern,” says the charity’s head of communications, Isabel Inman. “The closure of services coupled with the rise in demand has left the whole system in a really critical situation. Our priority is protecting specialist young people’s services, and ensuring that they are accessible for those visiting. To overcome all the challenges we face it’s really important for us to continue developing new strategic partnerships with brands and like-minded organisations, and thinking innovatively to find new solutions.”