‘I want this book to educate you, I want this book to feel like your friend gossiping with you, I want this book to make you feel normal, comfortable, empowered and in control of your body.’
Hannah Witton is best known for being a YouTuber, and overall sex-positive vlogger. Her YouTube channel aims to educate young people and make them feel confident and empowered. She is also a founding member of the Banging Book Club with friends Leena Norms and Lucy Moon and the group reads a book every month about sex and relationships and the three do a podcast about each book. In 2016 she won the award for Best Sex and Relationships Influencer at the Cosmo Influencer Awards. Doing It is her first book.
I first discovered Hannah on YouTube and consequently followed many of her other social media accounts. From this, I heard about her book and was intrigued. I have been trying to read a variety of books, and have been exploring non-fiction books on topics that interest me, topics I think I should learn more about, or written by people who inspire me. I think that Doing It falls under written by someone who inspires me and about a topic I should learn more about. Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) is really important and is not a topic I am totally comfortable talking about so a book is great for me. Also, I really admire how open Hannah is about sex and relationships and although being so open is not for me, I am glad that she is able to educate young people like myself.
Structurally, the book is split into chapters covering each main topic and within each chapter there are sections covering smaller parts of the overall topic. For example, in the LGBTQ+ chapter there are smaller sections covering gender, sexuality, coming out etc. The book begins with a short introduction which Hannah uses to introduce herself and to talk about how and why she came to write this book. I like this because the book does have some personal moments, so for anyone who does not know Hannah at all it is good to have a little introduction. Something that I really like about the book overall is that the pages are patterned and designed. Somehow this makes the book feel more relaxed and fun and less like a hard-hitting non-fiction book. Due to the structure of the book, the reader is also able to read any chapter in any order. This is one of those books that you can dip in and out of which makes it useful as a guide to young people because they can look for whatever it is they need or want. The book ends with a conclusion during which Hannah talks more about herself and why writing this book and SRE is so important to her. The conclusion creates the perfect rounded ending to the book. There are also resources in the back of the book which I think is always important in non-fiction as it enables the reader to do further research, or find the help that they require.
One of the things I really like about this book is that Hannah has invited some of her friends, and a couple of experts, to talk on certain topics. I think that this is a really good idea, especially in the LGBTQ+ chapter, because Hannah has not experienced everything first-hand and may not feel educated enough to talk about it in detail. So, she invites friends who have first-hand experience and knowledge to share their story which means they can explain and communicate really well. I admire Hannah for knowing that this would be a good idea and for being honest enough to say that she does not know everything and that someone else could actually talk about it and explain better than she could.
Although there are guest writers, this book is ultimately Hannah’s. Writing this book is a personal achievement for her and I am sure that she is very proud and pleased to be able to share her knowledge and experiences with a wider audience. There are some personal stories in the book, especially when it comes to break-ups, and I respect that Hannah is willing to be so open. Having watched some of her YouTube videos, I could feel Hannah’s personality coming through the narrative and I really like that. There were moments where I could really hear her voice. Additionally, this has been a learning experience for Hannah too. She has had to make sure that she is giving the correct information and says a few times that no one knows everything about sex and relationships, everyone is always learning.
There is a wide variety of topics covered in the book, and whilst some are important and serious, Hannah adds some lighter and sometimes funny moments where appropriate. It is clear that Hannah feels SRE education in school is all about the seriousness and dangers of sex rather than admitting that it can be enjoyable and sometimes funny. There are a few sections that I felt were particularly important or that I really liked, so I would like to talk a little bit about those.
Firstly, the part about break-ups. I think that this is one of the parts that felt the most ‘real’ because Hannah actually went through a break-up whilst writing this book. Also, I think that this is one of the only moments in the book that is actually slightly sad. A lot of readers will probably have been through a break-up and will empathise with this section and have memories of what it was like for them. However, I think that Hannah gives some great advice on how to get through a break-up and I wish I had had this book to read previously.
Something really important in SRE is healthy relationships and yet I have no real memory of what a healthy or unhealthy relationship is like ever being talked about at school. It is really important for young people to be able to recognise whether their relationship is healthy and what that actually means. Yes, it is important for young people to learn about safe sex, but surely before you even think about that, you want to make sure you are in a safe and healthy relationship?
Chapter 3 of the book is called ‘Four generations of Witton family sex ed’ and I found it interesting to see that Hannah obviously comes from a family who are happy to be fairly open about sex and maybe that is why Hannah has gone down the path that she has. Additionally, looking at how things have changed over the years with regards to sex ed was really interesting, and even though there is still a lot to be improved, we have made progress already.
I think that the section I learned the most from was the LGBTQ+ chapter. This is something that I do not personally know much about but it is being talked about more and more, which is great, so I wanted to be more educated on the subject. I found myself re-reading bits a couple of times to try to understand it because for someone who has never experienced a lot of it, some of it required some understanding. This is a section where the guest writers really helped me to understand things and I think any young LGBTQ+ people would feel really supported by their words.
The chapter about consent begins with the words, ‘When I was in school, all I was taught about consent was ‘no means no’’. Looking back, I feel like I was really taught the same thing. Of course, that is a great start, but it is not enough. For starters, not only the word ‘no’ actually means no. Consent is so much more than that and this is something I really believe should be taught better in schools. My favourite part about this section was that Hannah invites a criminal barrister to talk about consent and the law. Kate, the barrister, explains the two things a jury needs to convict someone of a sex crime and what consent actually means. She then gives 3 example situations for the reader to see whether they think there was consent and whether there could be a conviction. After each example Kate gives her explanation and I found this so interesting. Even something as simple as that in a lesson at school would teach young people so much about consent. If you are going to read any part of this book, I would urge you to read the section on consent. Hannah also includes a ‘Rape: myth vs reality’ page which is designed to get rid of all of the false myths around rape as so many seem to have crept into society.
The section on consent also includes some vital information about what to do if you are a victim of rape or sexual assault and I am so glad that Hannah included this because such information is really important, additionally, some victims/ survivors feel unable to ask someone for help and do not know where to look, so it is great to have the information there and easily accessible.
Being happy with your body and the way you look is actually really important when it comes to relationships. Feeling confident within yourself shows and being body-confident could make you more prepared for an intimate relationship and more likely to be assertive of what you want and feel comfortable with. Being body-confident is, above all, important for yourself and your own happiness. Familiarity with your body adds to your confidence, helps you to notice any changes to your body that could be important and helps you to register what your body needs. A part of our bodies that we are generally least familiar with is our intimate areas. Hannah includes some of her own labelled diagrams with the aim of helping her readers to understand what goes on in these areas and become more familiar with them. I think that it is important to be familiar with all aspects of our body and I love that Hannah also uses this section to talk honestly about periods, boobs and how to find a good-fitting bra (it makes a lot of difference). Today, there are more and more girls, and boys, suffering from eating disorders and body-confidence issues. This is largely due to the constant comparisons made between bodies on television, in films, magazines and especially on social media. Hannah has some really great advice on things you can do to become more body-confident and a couple of her friends speak on their experiences too.
Naturally, a book about sex and relationships needs to cover contraception and how to be safe. I think that this is actually one of the sections that I learnt the most from. At school, we were always taught to name the types of contraception, but we learnt little about how to use them, how they work and what makes them good and bad. Hannah has included a table covering 14 different types of contraception and I would advise anyone who is looking for a form of contraception, or wants to change their current form, to take a look at this table. Reading about how each form of contraception actually works and therefore what it does to the body was interesting. I think it is important to know what medications etc. are actually doing to your body even though it is often assumed that all you need to know is that it’ll work. Knowing what it will do will help you to decide which form is the right one for you. Reading the pros and cons of each contraceptive method also provided significant information, again useful for choosing which form is correct for you. This section of the book also provides vital information about condoms (how to use them correctly) and emergency contraception (methods to be used only if your regular form of contraception fails you for whatever reason). Overall, this section was much more engaging, interesting and informative than the lessons we had at school about contraception.
Linking to contraception, Hannah also dedicates a section to STIs. When I first saw this section I was not sure I wanted to read it, but I quickly realised, with help from Hannah, that my thoughts were because of how we had been taught at school. I think this was the section where I realised that school SRE really does have it wrong. We were shown horrific pictures of STIs and 4 years later I still remember that lesson. This approach appears to be designed to scare students and make them not want to have sex, but this is so wrong. It would be far more productive to teach students about staying safe and about getting tested and how easy that is. Not once were we told about sexual health clinics and about how easy it is to go to a drop-in and get tested. Additionally, it is vital to add that you should get tested regularly or when you change sexual partners. School made us feel like anyone who has an STI is gross but it could happen to anyone, and that is why being tested is so important.
Realistically, all of the things that I have just talked about should be taught better to young people, whether that is by teachers, people who are specially trained or organizations. It is unrealistic to expect that young adults are not going to have sex, but schools should take the opportunity to educate them into the important things. Young people need to be aware that they have power over their body and what they do with it, they should be taught more about being confident with who they are and the choices that they make. I totally understand that teachers do not necessarily want to have these conversations with teenagers, it can be awkward and embarrassing, but there are already people who can be brought in and SRE education really is important. No one should have an experience that they do not really want, feel unprepared for or feel forced into. Reading Hannah’s book has really opened my eyes to the severity of this issue. I thought my SRE had been decent, but now I see that there was a lot missed out. Additionally, SRE needs to remain current. At school, we never talked about social media and technology and the role that that plays in our relationships. I really think that our SRE needs to be reviewed and I know that there are plans to make SRE compulsory from the age of four (the topics would be suitable for the age of course) but those plans are for 2019 and with the current instability, who knows if it will really happen.
I think that the most important thing about this book is that it makes the reader feel educated and confident. Having knowledge on the subject could really affect the choices that teenagers make and help them to feel happy, confident and comfortable with those choices and, most importantly, within themselves. SRE should not be about trying to dictate to young people when they should have sex or making them feel bad, it should be about helping them to make the right choices for themselves, and that includes understanding of what a healthy relationship is and looking at wider relationships in their lives, not just those that are romantic. I think that Hannah really has the right approach, she makes SRE accessible and interesting, whilst including loads of really vital information. There is no judgement in her book and she is realistic about young people and the information that they should have.
In all honesty, I completely recommend this book. I think that Hannah is a great sex and relationships influencer and if anyone wants to know more, I would recommend some of her YouTube videos, especially the Hormone Diaries (you can read a bit about this in the book). The book is recommended for readers aged 14+ and I would say that is a good recommendation. There may be some chapters that a reader may not feel comfortable reading about and that is fine, you can easily pick and choose which chapters you want to read. If there are any parents reading this, I would say that this is a great book to give to your teenage daughter, or son, and you can feel confident that Hannah is giving great advice and is very responsible. If, by chance, there are any teachers reading this, I would recommend Hannah’s videos for SRE and would say that this book is one to recommend to pupils. Overall, I am really glad that I decided to read this book and I feel so much more educated and empowered thanks to Hannah.
Doing It – Hannah Witton, first published in 2017 by Wren & Rook, RRP £7.99, ISBN 978-5263-6003-8