We Exist Too – Black Women’s Sexual Health Behaviour and Attitudes
We Exist Too is an initiative launched by Rianna Raymond-Williams, founder of the sexual health social enterprise Shine ALOUD UK, an enterprise that prides itself in developing creative solutions to address sexual health inequalities among marginalised young people and adults who work with young people.
Rianna applied for funding from the SOAS Decolonising Grant initiative and although she was not successfully awarded money for her venture, she was given space and a budget for refreshments to host focus groups over two weekends in September, where she aim to recruit black women to feed into the design of her perspective study.
This is her story.
We Exist Too was born out of an array of interests. One being my postgraduate journey, the second being my career in sexual and reproductive health, my interest in sharing and hearing stories through interviews and research and lastly my passion to create solutions to address sexual and reproductive health needs in the community. I have worked in sexual and reproductive health for the last 10 years for a combination of charities and the NHS, and as a frontline worker I’ve become increasing aware of the challenges and barriers faced by particular communities and groups.
During my late teens, I developed Shine ALOUD Magazine, a sexual health publication for young people to share and discuss sensitive topics in relationship to sexuality. Although this was exciting and propelled me into a range of opportunities, allowing me to secure funding and travel, I’ve always been keen to develop more ways of working, fundamentally influenced by research and data.
After completing undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Arts in London in 2012, I took a break from academia. Here I began pursuing a range of career paths that led me freelancing as a journalist for The Voice Newspaper, working as an Education and Outreach Facilitator in sexual health for the NHS, working as a Fieldworker for Mayisha, a community-based survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles among black African men and woman living in London in addition to working as a support worker with young women at risk of grooming and sexual exploitation for St Christopher’s Fellowship. All of these experiences encouraged me to return to academia to pursuit my masters in 2016, with the aim of developing a greater understanding of theoretical models and concepts to improve my professional practice. Here I enrolled on an MSc in Reproductive and Sexual Health Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
As a student with a media background, but practice in community development and health it was great to take modules on health promotion approaches, evaluating health interventions, health policy and more. But throughout the process, I became increasingly aware of the multiple challenges and barriers faced some community groups particularly, when accessing reproductive and sexual health care and with this new found awareness I became keen to do something different.
Whilst studying, I came across data from the The British National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and lifestyles, which are among the largest and most detailed scientific studies of sexual behaviour in the world. During a lecture data from (NATSAL-3) revealed, that the use of Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) was most commonly reported among Black Caribbean women in the UK.
As a black Caribbean woman, myself, I was stunned by this data and decided to undertake a qualitative systematic review with the aim of understanding the perspectives of women from this demographic, who looked like me, in relation to emergency hormonal contraceptive use. All of this was a very interesting and extensive process and although I was able to find some data, it was not enough to gain and accurate picture of the attitudes and behaviour of black Caribbean women.
This was because out of nearly 10,00 papers on emergency contraception use worldwide, only fourteen papers adequately met the criteria for inclusion in the review. This is because, a large majority of the research papers found through the search:
– Were outdated
– We’re not conducted in the UK
– And most importantly did not exclusively represent the voices of black women
Unfortunately, black women experience negative reproductive and sexual and reproductive health outcomes, in addition to barriers accessing sexual health and reproductive healthcare, some of which include but are not limited to:
- difficulty negotiating condom use,
- increased rates of domestic violence,
- language barriers,
- concerns about confidentiality and
Additionally, data taken from, the Naz Project London reveals that 82 percent of women living with HIV in the UK are from Black and Minority Ethnics communities, all the above place black women at higher risk of sexual and reproductive health inequalities.
In line with this, the review highlights a gap in the literature, revealing that more research is needed to understand the lived sexual health experiences of black people, particularly Black Women.
This then encouraged me to collect my own data on the lived experience of black women so that their needs and behaviour can be better understood and in turn both policies and programmes can better meet their needs.
The focus groups supported by SOAS enabled me to speak with black women first-hand and gain insight on the types of challenges they face accessing sexual and reproductive health care. It also gave me an insight into what questions some women from this demographic would be comfortable answering as well as the general logistics that should be considered when launching a study, particularly among this demographic.
The whole experience has been completely invaluable and has given me a lot to think about going forward in terms of the study I aim to launch, particularly in relation to how I aim to recruit participants to the study as well as considering what data is important for me to collect.
The study aims to explore a wide range of topics with black women such as emergency contraception use alongside other forms of contraception, pleasure, STIs and HIV, accessing sexual & reproductive health care, substance use and more.
Here is a short video about the study.
As the study is being designed, Rianna is keen to allow black women to make suggestions and provide feedback.
Feel free to email her if this is something you’d like to take part in firstname.lastname@example.org