New sexual health hubs

January 18th, 2022 7:05 AM

By Emma Connolly

Catherine Kennedy, manager Sexual Health Centre, Aine O’Callaghan, Emma Challacombe, both YMCA Carbery; Muire O’Farrell, health promotion officer Sexual Health Centre, Dr. Martin Davoren, executive director Sexual Health Centre; Holly Cairns TD, Elaine Howley, YMCA Carbery, Olivia Teahan, communications & engagement lead Sexual Health Centre and David Backhouse, YMCA Ireland, at The Sexual Hubs’ free period products initiative launch by Deputy Holly Cairns, at The Shack Youth Centre, Clonakilty. (Photo: Jim Coughlan)

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A hub to make sexual health information more available to young people is proving very successful in Clonakilty, and has recently expanded to provide users with a range of free period products

A SEXUAL Health Hub which is up and running in Clonakilty is providing invaluable information to young people in a space they already attend, and where they feel comfortable enough to seek it out. 

And it has recently expanded to also provide free period products to young people.

The initiative is spearheaded by the Sexual Health Centre and funded by Cork ETB and aims to make sexual health information more accessible to youth in communities.

It launched in the city in September 2020, with the first hub arriving in The Shack, Clonakilty in December 2020.  A hub is also established in Bandon Youthreach.

The hubs are essentially stands, filled with information and resources that can be placed in any organisation to allow easy access to sexual health information and resources for young people.

They are designed to be the first point of contact for many young people, enabling them to access leaflets on sexual health topics including navigating relationships, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), LGBTQIA+ information, along with relevant signposting information to specific sexual health services.

In addition, condoms are also available for free from hubs for youth aged 17 years or older. This is aimed directly at reducing the barriers to contraception found by the Working Group Report in 2019 such as lack of local access, cost, embarrassment and inconvenience and in turn reduce negative sexual health outcomes and risk-taking behaviours for young people.

Health Promotion Officer at the Sexual Health Centre, Muire O’Farrell explained the need for youth-oriented services in relation to sexual health: ‘Young people are often discouraged from taking care of their sexual health and wellbeing. We are committed to changing that through the Sexual Health Hubs by partnering with youth groups, outreach workers and resources centre across the county. The Hubs can provide a solution to the limited reach of current sexual health specific services in Cork.’

Muire said the impact of the pandemic highlighted the need for sexual health education/services that are accessible, accurate and comprehensive.

‘While many young people are meant to receive sexual health in school in Ireland, we are aware this is not being delivered. Relationships and sexual health education remains under review in the Department of Education and therefore, there is no standardised curriculum resulting in sexual health education not being received by all.

‘As such many young people turn online for information or to friends, whereby the information they access can be varied, overly complex and often incorrect.

‘Providing sexual health in local youth services and community settings, normalises the topic and creates opportunities for accurate education, intervention and support.’

Muire O’Farrell, health promotion officer and Holly Cairns TD, at The Sexual Hub.
(Photo: Jim Coughlan)


Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns launched the free period product element of the Clonakilty service just before Christmas and stressed the importance of the resource for local youth: ‘The Sexual Health Hub in Clonakilty is a wonderful addition to the town that will help empower local youth with accurate information about their bodies and health.

‘It also gives young people an opportunity to engage with staff who can explain about specific sexual health services that they otherwise wouldn’t hear about,’ she said. ‘We know that access to menstrual products is a luxury that many do not have.

‘So, it is very encouraging that as well as sexual health information and condoms, free period products are also now available to young people in West Cork, in an environment that is familiar and safe for them.’

Elaine Howley, youth worker with Carbery Youth Service and based in The Shack, said the hub was proving a fantastic conversation starter.

‘It’s about normalising these topics, in the presence of a youth worker,’ she said.

While young people may not feel comfortable enough to walk into the likes of a pharmacy looking for information, she says they will take a leaflet, containing accurate information, into their bag at the centre.

The new free period product service, she said, has been especially helpful for their non-binary service users, who don’t identify as female but who do menstruate. 

‘Buying period products might be more uncomfortable for this group, and thenfor others it might be a cost issue,’ she pointed out.

Muire concluded: ‘Our goal is to work in partnership with organisations across the city and county, eg youth groups, resource centres, outreach workers etc, to bring sexual health to youth from Castletownbere to Charleville, Kinsale to Kanturk.’

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