A CHAT WITH HANNAH WITTON

Hannah Witton is a fabulous YouTube personality in her early 20s.  She creates original video content for her 145k+ subscribers, including a sex and relationships series that caught my eye.

Hannah’s audience is composed mostly of young people, particularly teenage girls, so her sex ed videos are produced with them in mind.  She delivers sex positive advice and information with a cheery, up-beat demeanour that actually feels authentic and trustworthy.

At University Hannah studied history with a focus on the history of sexuality, so she has a wide ranging knowledge of the subject of sex, especially in terms of cultural/social changes in sexual behaviours and attitudes.

I became aware of Hannah and her YouTube channel through her recent collaboration with the Wellcome Collection (Institute of Sexology Exhibition) talking about 'heteronormativity'.  But she has also collaborated with other great organisations and brands, including Durex, which resulted in this sweet Q&A video in which she manages to hold 3 boxes of condoms and 3 bottles of lube all at once.

 

After discovering her YouTube channel and loving the way she was presenting important topics in sex to her young viewers, I wanted to get in touch with Hannah to find out why she got interested in sex history and sex ed, and get her thoughts ON A VARIETY OF THINGS.

 

A chat with Hannah Witton:

 

A photo of Hannah Witton's face

A photo of Hannah Witton's face

I’m interested in finding out how you managed to incorporate sexuality in to your history degree.

I went to the University of Birmingham and it just so happened that there was a tutor (who actually is no longer at the University of Birmingham but I think they got a replacement so are still running the same course), who ran a course called Sexual change in England in the 20th century.  At this point I was already making sex ed videos, so I was already interested in that and I thought, that’s a great course for me to take. And then in my third year there was a module on offer that was the history of homosexuality so I took that as well. 

Do you know why sex was a topic that interested you?

I think it was a lot of different reasons.  When I first started watching YouTube videos I watched Laci Green and she was a big inspiration, and at the time no one else was making videos about sex, especially not in the UK, and so I thought I want to do that. 

I think the reason why I was especially interested in it was because I had a pretty adequate sex ed growing up and I’ve always had a good relationship with my parents and openness in talking about these things. 

So as I got older and I started to meet people in my life who didn’t, it really made me angry.  I didn’t realise how ignorant people were and I was really shocked by it growing up in a really liberal bubble.

“As I started to grow an audience I noticed that they were young women and I kind of wanted to give back and help them.”

Did you think that if you could have this platform (YouTube) to talk about these things it could help people?

Yeah, so also I started making videos about other stuff to begin with and as I started to grow an audience I noticed that they were young women and I kind of wanted to give back and help them basically.

What would you say your approach is to sexuality?

“I feel like if you’ve been brought up learning that sex is shameful ... before you can even start to really find pleasure in it you have to undo all of that learning.”

I guess I say I use the sex positive approach.  Which is kind of just; not shaming people for their sexuality, their desires, their behaviours, their bodies, and kind of encouraging people to celebrate their differences. 

And also focusing a lot on sexual pleasure as well, because I think that’s one that’s hugely missed out.

Well it’s entirely left out the curriculum.

It’s only actually recently that I realised it’s been left out. Because I was always like "Oh sex ed is fine, they taught us about contraception and STIs and stuff".  But then I realised actually all my sexual education has been like "don’t do it until you’re ready", "say no", "wear a condom", "take the pill". 

It’s all things that are preventative and are about problems that come with having sex and here are some solutions.  And it’s like no one ever said ‘oh sex is really fun, it feels good’.

Yes they forget to mention the main reason why people have sex.

So how do you address pleasure with your audience?  How do you think people can best experience pleasure and learn to have fulfilling sex?

It’s a tricky one I think because especially as you have to start to learn it young.  I feel like if you’ve been brought up learning that sex is shameful or that there are certain restrictions to it, and you have a certain world view about sex... before you can even start to really find pleasure in it you have to undo all of that learning.  So you have to unlearn everything before you can relearn, which is always tricky.  It’s so hard because we live in a society where if you want to enjoy sex people might shame or judge you for it.  I guess one of the reasons why I keep doing what I’m doing is because there aren’t so many people out there who are young and female who are also talking about sex like it’s normal.

So as a "young female" what kind of reactions do you receive for talking about sex?  Do you get a lot of negativity?

I get a lot more positivity than I do negativity.  But the negative stuff, a lot of it will be like "oh my god you’re so obsessed with sex can you talk about other stuff".  And I’m like... have you seen the rest of my channel?

“For some people it can be quite culturally shocking just to see a young woman talking about how great sex is.”

Do you get called a whore a lot?

Oh yeah, or slut.  I think just generally the way that we see sex in society and in mainstream culture, the references to sex that we see are either in porn or TV and movies, or spoken about like "wrap it up, be careful".  So I think for some people it can be quite culturally shocking, just to see a young woman talking about how great sex is.  I guess when we talk about sex education we think of fumbling old teachers who are nervous and have no idea what they are saying and how to relate to teenagers.

And also they’re not sex educators most of the time they’re just regular teachers.

Yeah they’re geography teachers and maths teachers. 

What do you think parents can do to help educate their kids about sex?

I definitely think that parents should play a role. I think schools are more important, because if there’s compulsory sex ed in schools and every child goes to school, then you know that everyone is getting the same education.  With parenting every parent is different.  But I would encourage parents to not lie to their children, and not give them the whole "I’ll tell you when you’re older". 

I think the important thing when it comes to parenting, speaking as someone who is not parent at all by the way, but just from observation, is if a child asks "where do babies come from?", or "why does it feel good when I touch my bits?"... Because kids do that.

Yeah that’s something we love to ignore.  Toddlers masturbate all the time.

I think if they’re old enough to ask then they’re old enough to know.  You just give them a direct answer that is the truth. You don’t then have to tell them about blowjobs.  You can just give them the information that they’re asking for.  And then what will happen is that your child grows up knowing that when they have a question about something like that they can come to you for an honest response.  And it means that when they are becoming sexually active and they’ve got concerns and issues and whatnot, then already that trust is there and they know they can come to you.  Rather than getting all their information from porn or their mate at school who knows nothing. 

And it’s not about having “the sex talk”, it’s like sex talk as you grow up.  You learn bits as you get older.

Exactly, I think that’s another huge problem, that we ignore sexuality until basically half way through puberty.

And people can start puberty early especially girls, at like the age of 9.

Do you remember when you first learnt about sex and who it came from?

I really don’t know, I can’t remember an epiphany.  I do remember my parents giving me a book called "Let’s Talk About Where Babies Come From".  It was more about reproductive sex, but I must have been about 9 when they gave me that and I knew what sex was before.

“Teach kids and teenagers how to be critical of porn, so they know when they see a man cum on a girls face at the end of every encounter that that’s not what actually happens every time you have sex.”

There’s a lot of talk at the moment, with people freaking out that kids are learning sex from porn.  What are your thoughts on that?  Do you think it’s really damaging?  And what can we do to counter it?

Well we can’t stop kids from watching porn, that’s not going to stop.  But I think what we need is a counter education to porn. Because at the moment there’s a lot of kids where that is their education, porn is how they find out about sex and the only information that they get. 

It’s nothing against porn, I don’t think we should ban porn, I think porn can be great.  But we need a counter education to it, because if that’s all they’re getting then that’s all they’re gonna know.  We need something to compliment it and go along side it, where we teach what real sex is, and teach kids and teenagers how to be critical of porn, so they know when they see a man cum on a girls face at the end of every encounter that that’s not what actually happens every time you have sex. 

And stuff about body image, and consent, and performance. I think porn can be harmful if it’s influencing your expectations about sex.  Especially as a lot of the porn that people might be watching is more sexually aggressive and adventurous.  You can never be expected to do all of that when you’re first becoming sexually active. 

“If I were writing the [sex ed] curriculum I would completely remove virginity”

The people in the films, that’s their job, they’re professionals. If you’re a 16 year old, you’re not a professional, you’re not expected to do what they do.

Teach kids to watch porn in the same way they watch professional football.  You can enjoy it but you should never expect yourself to do the same shit that they do.  

Yeah it’s crazy to complain about what kids are learning from porn without turning to the obvious solution, which is to make sure that you educate them about sex before they encounter porn…

Are you going to keep a focus on sex education on your channel?

Yeah it’s always been like my niche and I want to keep it that way.  Now that I’m making videos full time, I’ve got more time to research topics more thoroughly and actually put more content out there. 

Well you need to keep making videos because people aren’t comfortable and happy with their sexuality and sex lives yet.  What do you think are the biggest obstacles to overcome at the moment?

I think some of the biggest obstacles are like I said, the sexual pleasure stuff, I think definitely having sex ed being more LGBT inclusive.  I know that when I was taught you were just taught sex was penis-in-vagina and that was you loosing your virginity.  If I were writing the curriculum I would completely remove virginity because I think it’s really quite negative and old fashioned.  It’s something that you 'lose' and it’s like what have you lost? 

And it’s that whole notion of what real sex is and what proper sex is.  If you’re gay and out as a teenager and you’ve never had sex with a woman then there are people in the world who will say you’ve not lost your virginity yet, like your ‘real’ virginity.  It’s just an awful concept.

“It’s not somebody else’s right to tell you that you’re having sex wrong. Do you know what I mean? Like if you feel like you’ve had sex then you’ve had sex.”

That’s interesting I’ve not given much thought to the concept of loosing your virginity, but you think it’s something that is important to tackle?

Not being like ‘virginity is awful blah blah blah’ but just being more inclusive of the different types of sex that there are.  Just being like; masturbation is sex, oral sex is sex, anal sex is sex.  All of these things they’re still sex. It’s not somebody else’s right to tell you that you’re having sex wrong.  Do you know what I mean?  Like if you feel like you’ve had sex then you’ve had sex.

And also penis-in-vagina sex is one of the riskier acts, especially in terms of making babies.  Maybe if people weren’t taught about virginity in that p-i-v-only way then young people might engage in safer sex practices and still feel legit.  Because I don’t think people feel like they’ve had legitimate sex until they’ve put the penis-in-vagina.

Sorry, back to your channel, are you working on any particular topic at the moment?

A couple of years ago I did a video called the History of Homosexuality in 60 seconds.  And so I want to do a part two to that which is a history of lesbianism in 60 seconds.  Because the history of lesbianism is actually extremely different to that of homosexuality.  It was never recognised by the law and criminalised so it kind of has a whole completely different narrative which is really interesting. 

There's A LOT of gay history, and I’ve never seen anything documented about lesbians.  Can you tell me a little something about lesbian history?

So it was almost criminalised in the UK in the early 20th century but the bill was never passed because the politicians thought that if they if made it illegal then actually it would bring attention to lots of women that it existed and it would give them ideas.

Oh ok of course it would make them wanna be lesbian too.


THANK YOU HANNAH FOR GIVING UP SOME TIME TO ANSWER MY QUESTIONS!

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