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IReSH events Autumn/Winter 2023

We warmly invite you to our upcoming Autumn/Winter network 2023 meetings.

Network meetings include a presentation followed by Q&A, and time for further discussion and networking.

Meetings are open to anyone with an interest in SHBBV research in Scotland – please do save the following dates in your diary, and share with others who might be interested. All welcome!

The schedule for all upcoming IReSH meetings is as follows:

  • Tuesday 5th September:
    Speaker: Ese Johnson (Waverley Care). Discussing HIV testing and PrEP in culturally sensitive ways with People of Ethnic Minority
  • Tuesday 3rd October:
    Speaker: Dr. Chase Ledin (University of Edinburgh). Exploring Imagined Futures of Sexual Health in Scotland
  • Tuesday 7th November:
    Speakers: Dr. Rebecah MacGilleEathain (University of Highlands and Islands) and Isabel Steele (Senior Health Improvement Officer (Sexual Health, BBV & Youth Health), Western Isles). Sexual wellbeing among young people in remote and rural communities: research and service perspectives
  • Tues 5th December: 
    [speaker/s TBC]

All meetings are at 12-1pm on Zoom, with meeting links circulated via the IReSH mailing list. If you are not currently on the mailing list for the IReSH network, you can sign up here.


IRESH events in 2023

We warmly invite you to our Spring/Summer 2023 meetings, now with newly confirmed speakers. In light of industrial action, we have had to reschedule some of the previously announced dates, including the decision to cancel the February date entirely.

The schedule for all upcoming IReSH meetings is as follows:

Tues 14th March: 

  • Speaker: Marie Larsson (Lund University, Sweden). Investigating young people’s experiences of pregnancy and/or STI prevention through the concept of “Contraceptive Work”​

Thurs 20th April: 

  • Speaker: Lesley Maxwell (NHS GGC). PrEP service delivery at the Sandyford Sexual Health Service: Moving on from COVID

Thurs 25th May: 

  • Speakers: Dr. Carrie Purcell & Professor Lesley Hoggart, Open University. Social connectedness and supported self-management of early medication abortion: Experiences from the Covid-19 pandemic and learning for the future (seminar co-hosted with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships)

Tues 20th June: [speaker/s TBC]

All meetings are at 12-1pm on Zoom. 

Monthly IReSH meetings (online)

After a quieter period in 2022, we are planning to restart monthly meetings for the (IReSH) Interdisciplinary Research in Sexual Health network in 2023.

Meetings are open to anyone with an interest in sexual health research in Scotland.

Please join us to discuss sexual health research happening across academic, policy and practice sectors, and to connect with others within Scotland’s sexual health community. Each meeting will include a 15 minute presentation followed by Q&A/discussion, and time for further discussion and networking. If you would like to share your research on one of the upcoming dates, please do get in touch!

Meetings will be 12-1pm on Zoom. Please do save the following dates in your diary!

  • Thurs 26th January: Presenters: Jill Wilson (NHS GGC) and Rachel Barr (NHS Lothian): “Moving from research about sexual consent communication into action – development of the Awkward Moments campaign
  • Tues 21st February: [speaker/s TBC]
  • Thurs 23rd March: [speaker/s TBC]
  • Thurs 20th April: [speaker/s TBC]
  • Thurs 25th May: [speaker/s TBC]
  • Tues 20th June: [speaker/s TBC]

Wishing you a restful break over the holidays, and we look forward to seeing you in 2023.


Reflecting back on Sex, Drugs & Scotland’s Health Virtual and forward to 2022

As we head towards the end of 2021 we wanted to share some reflections on the Sex, Drugs and Scotland’s Health conference, and look ahead to plans for the Scottish Interdisciplinary Research in Sexual Health (IReSH) Network in 2022.

We recognise that 2021 has continued to be a challenging year across the sector, including for IReSH members and partners. While Scotland has moved into what has been described as a period of COVID recovery, and plans are set out to ‘reset and rebuild’ sexual health and blood borne virus services across the country, individuals, communities and organisations continue to navigate uncertainties that demand ongoing adaptations to ways of working and connecting with one another. Within the IReSH network we have continued to focus on our aim of bringing together people from academia, the third sector, health practitioners and communities to collaborate and coordinate research activities related to sexual health and blood-borne viruses. Much of the focus of IReSH members in 2021 has been on the Sex, Drugs and Scotland’s Health conference co-hosted by us and HIV Scotland.

Drawing on the aims of the IReSH network, the conference sought to bring together people across the sector to share research and practice, provide a space to listen and reflect on work done, and consider current and future challenges. The conference was originally scheduled to take place in Dundee in June 2020, but COVID-19 meant that the event had to be reimagined for a pandemic world. It was clear that the conference would need to bring the sector together virtually to share important learning, and lots of work focused on how to do this in a meaningful and inclusive way.  The ‘pause’ also provided a chance invite presentations on the rapid and far-reaching shifts in practice across NHS and community services, in response to the unfolding public health crisis, and their implications for sexual health and social justice beyond the pandemic.

We know that many of you reading this were able to join us for the conference, and we hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did. As much as we would have liked to attend everything, the sheer range of presentations and parallel sessions made that impossible (in a good way!). With that in mind we want to highlight that many of the recorded sessions are available through our conference co-hosts – HIV Scotland – YouTube Channel. This is an important IReSH and HIV Scotland resource, and we are delighted that it offers the opportunity to watch and learn from sessions you may have missed. We thought we would highlight just a few. The sessions included a diversity of topics and issues, including multiple presentations around sex and drugs (part 2), chemsex, innovations in HIV testing, Hep C eradication and prevention, the role of digital sexual health in delivering health services, sex and diversity in later life and learning from good practice in coproduction in peer support activities. There was a timely session focusing on developments in abortion care, considering what has changed in abortion care over time, and reflecting on future directions in Scotland. We had great presentations on diverse aspects of HIV including the experiences of people living with HIV, healthcare use and post-AIDS health promotion. We heard about the importance of public health and decriminalisation approach to sex work and drug use, learned about digital intimacies, smartphones and gay men’s sexual wellbeing, and focused on the value of partnership working in encouraging people to talk about sex! We hope that these resources may continue to spark conversations and interest in new collaborative research projects.

Another highlight of the conference were the roundtable discussions on trans health, racism and sexual health and wellbeing, the sexual health and wellbeing needs of migrant communities, asylum seekers and new entrants to Scotland, drug deaths in Scotland, chemsex, and intergenerational perspectives on consent. Roundtables offered a safe space to bring people together to engage in action oriented discussions, with a focus on advancing work in these areas – IReSH plans to take forward related workshops in 2022 and beyond.

The closing plenary brought together the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health & Sport, Maree Todd MSP with partners from IReSH and HIV Scotland to highlight successes in the sector wide response to the pandemic, as well as reflections on future challenges.

We know that we face continued challenges in sexual health and blood borne virus sector and in our efforts to bring about social justice, and we must ensure that we can learn from and listen to each other and work together to support sexual health, wellbeing and social justice in Scotland. We trust that this conference has made an important contribution to these collective efforts, and IReSH looks forward to supporting collaborative work to build on and extend keys issues over the coming year. Look out for events, discussion groups and networking events throughout the course of 2022!

Wishing you all happy time over the holidays.

Discussion, collaboration & social justice: Looking forward to Sex, Drugs & Scotland’s Health

October is an exciting month for those working across the sector in sexual and reproductive health and blood borne viruses as it marks the start of the Sex, Drugs & Scotland’s Health Virtual Conference 2021, which will take place between the 19th October and 21st October.

The conference is being co-hosted by us – the Scottish Interdisciplinary Research in Sexual Health (IReSH) Network – and HIV Scotland, and has been organised in collaboration with third sector, clinical and community partners, including Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, Waverley Care, Scottish Drugs Forum, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health Scotland, NHS Lothian and the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The conference is happening at an important time as Scotland moves into what has been described as a period of COVID recovery, and plans are set out to ‘reset and rebuild’ sexual health and blood borne virus services across the country. We see the conference as a timely intervention that will support a cross-sector, interdisciplinary space to support the development of the renewed Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework. We also hope that this conference can help highlight and support the revisions to the Sexual Health Standards due to be issued by Health Improvement Scotland in early 2022. The IReSH network is keen to promote and advance an intersectional and holistic approach to revising these key policies and service standards, and facilitate discussion about how to advance this work with colleagues across the sector in the coming months. In particular, we see the conference as way to energise conversations around, and take forward, work that seeks to respond to structural barriers to sexual and reproductive justice in Scotland.

The Sex, Drugs & Scotland’s Health Conference offers the opportunity for researchers, health practitioners, third sector and community organisations to come together to explore challenges around sexual health and blood borne viruses in Scotland, and work that seeks to address these. It’s going to be an exciting and energising space in which to engage with those working in this diverse interdisciplinary area. The three-day event aims to:

  • share research findings and examples of good practice
  • facilitate discussion and engagement with key issues
  • reflect on the developments made over the past 10 years, since the launch of the Scottish Government’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework
  • identify and respond to current and future challenges
  • develop and support collaborative partnerships to address contemporary health challenges

IReSH members have been working incredibly hard alongside the other conference organisers to put together an exciting programme that helps showcase the range and diversity of work that is happening across Scotland, and developing creative ways to engage virtually. The conference programme brings together a mix of presentations, panels and roundtable discussions that focus on research findings, reflections on service delivery, and facilitated discussion on critical issues in sexual and reproductive health and social justice. We encourage you to explore the programme to see the range and diversity of topics being addressed, including:

  • Work with key communities, including people who use drugs, trans communities, gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men, African communities and sex workers
  • Community outreach in sexual health and harm reduction
  • Roundtable discussions on trans health, race, racism and prejudice in sexual health, migration and asylum, drug deaths, chemsex, and consent
  • HIV prevention and testing, including PrEP, self-testing and service provision
  • Abortion access and care
  • Sexual health wellbeing and inequalities across multiple communities
  • Hep C eradication and prevention

The work of members of the IReSH network is showcased across the conference, so look out for (among others!) presentations, panels and workshops with Ingrid Young (Conference Co-Chair), Sally Brown and Nicola Boydell (IReSH co-chairs), Julie Riddell, Ruth Lewis and Jamie Frankis. Look out too for a visual timeline of HIV in Scotland, drawing on material from the Lothian Health Services Archive and being developed by the Centre for Biomedicine Self and Society.

The conference also offers the opportunity to visit virtual exhibition stalls – including our IReSH exhibition stall – that highlights work being undertaken by community organisations and academic institutions across Scotland.  As part of our virtual exhibition space we are keen to hear your thoughts on activities and events that you would like IReSH to take forward in the coming months, and your views on what would make it easier for you to be involved in IReSH. Look out for links to our interactive ideas board to share your thoughts on this! In the meantime, if you haven’t already signed up, we would encourage you to join the network.

If you know of people that haven’t yet heard about the conference, it’s not too late to register for the conference so do pass on the link. We are so looking forward to spending time with you during the conference – see you there!

Sex, Drugs & Scotland’s Health Conference: Programme Launched

We are pleased to announce that the programme for the Sex, Drugs & Scotland’s Health virtual conference is now live!

Running virtually from the 19th until the 21st of October, this cross-sector conference will ask the question ‘Where do we go next for Scotland’s Health?’ At its heart will be discussion and debate around sexual health, blood-borne viruses and sexual wellbeing in Scotland.

You can read the full programme here.

To register your interest for the conference and further information please visit the conference website:

Registration for the conference will open in the coming days. Keep an eye on this site or our twitter account @IReSH_Scot where we will be announcing when registration is open.


IReSH calls for an intersectional and wholistic approach to revising the Healthcare Improvement Standards for Sexual Health

A working group comprised of members of the IReSH network operations group developed a response to the consultation on the Healthcare Improvement Scotland Standards for Sexual Health in July 2021.

Given the cross-sector and interdisciplinary nature of IRESH, our aim was to avoid duplicating responses from clinical services and third sector organisations that have specific expertise relevant to individual Standards. We sought to complement this by sharing overarching comments on the draft Standards as a whole. Our main comments on the Standards highlight the need to centre an intersectional approach to sexual health and justice, and to be explicit in naming and responding to the structural inequalities that currently affect sexual health, wellbeing, and justice in Scotland.

We suggest that there is a need to explicitly acknowledge the increasingly hostile environment (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic) in relation to sexual and gender rights, racism, immigration, ableism and increased socio-economic inequalities. These factors directly impact the availability of, and access to, sexual and reproductive health services. This is important because it affects the sexual health and wellbeing of individuals and communities across Scotland, and beyond.

We commend the importance of championing human rights and taking a rights-based approach in the Standards. However, we suggest that this should be expanded beyond the current focus only on young people and emphasised across all the Standards with concrete acknowledgement of, and suggested responses to, the structural barriers to sexual and reproductive justice in other areas of service provision.

We recognise the limits of the Standards in tackling structural social inequalities. However, we suggest that they do not go far enough; neither naming such issues, nor in providing further guidance on addressing inequalities and ongoing discrimination. In our response, we draw attention to examples of where there is an absence of this approach, and where this has potential material consequences for the sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing of communities

In line with participatory engagement principles, we strongly support the need for involvement of key stakeholders (community, third sector, research, clinical) in determining the implementation and monitoring of Standards at a local level. Given the strong emphasis on ‘engagement’, and recognising the diverse ways in which this term is used and applied, we suggest that more explicit reference is made to using local data to inform meaningful engagement work (and links to guidance on community engagement), so that such work does not inadvertently replicate the inequalities that boards seek to address.

We recognise the challenges associated with drafting the updated Sexual Health Standards at a time when there are rapid and ongoing changes in local and national policy and current clinical best practice in the context of COVID-19. We suggest that it may be worth revisiting the current structure of the Standards, which represents a mix of broad areas for improvement (leadership and governance, sexual wellbeing, access etc.), service delivery (STI prevention, detection and management, abortion care etc.) and key populations (young people, GBMSM). In particular, we note that this ‘siloed’ approach, with explicit sections focused on the needs of some key populations (young people and GBMSM), but not others (communities of colour, disabled people, including people with learning difficulties, LGBTQ+ people etc.) could inadvertently lead to further exacerbating inequalities. As such, we suggest that there may be benefits to reframing using an intersectional approach that acknowledges overlapping identities, and intersectional issues that shape availability, access, and experiences of sexual and reproductive healthcare.

As an interdisciplinary network of researchers, health practitioners, third sector organisations and community stakeholders, we welcome the chance to respond to sexual health Standards, and encourage further discussion on how sexual health provision can be central to acknowledging and addressing entrenched structural inequalities that affect us all.

Click here to download the full IReSH response

Save the Date! 19-21 October: Sex, Drugs & Scotland’s Health

IReSH, HIV Scotland and our partners are delighted to announce that our Sex, Drugs and Scotland’s Health Conference will be held on 19-21 October 2021. Originally planned to take place in Dundee, our conference will take place online, providing our attendees with a virtual slice of the city!

Where do we go next for sexual health in Scotland? Organised by a cross-sector partnership, this brand new biennial conference will be used to highlight new and emerging issues and research, support workforce development and connect communities and those working within the SHBBV field in Scotland, the UK and internationally. At its heart will be discussion and debate around sexual health and blood-borne viruses in Scotland.

Further information about our exciting new conference is available now at this link.

The conference will bring together third sector organisations, academics, researchers and healthcare professionals who are committed to making Scotland a healthier country.

The time is now to share amongst your peers and colleagues before the abstract submission process goes live. More information on our submission guidelines are available here.

Calls for abstracts and general registration for the conference will open shortly, details will be posted to the Conference Information Page.

Follow Sex, Drugs and Scotland’s Health 2021 on Twitter via @HIVScotland and @IReSH_Scot, and join the online conversation using our official event hashtag #shbbvscot


Sharing abortion experiences online: how my research is being shaped by the global pandemic

I know that I am not the only researcher whose project has been impacted by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. But, in an unexpected twist, my research might become ultimately more relevant in the long run. You see, I am a PhD student looking into how women talk about their abortion experiences, and interact with the experiences of others, in online spaces. One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, making it the most common gynaecological procedure worldwide. And yet, many women choose not to talk publicly about their abortion experiences because it remains a stigmatised procedure, criminalised in many countries, and highly regulated in others. Whilst choosing to remain silent about their abortion may protect them from the stigmatising reactions of others, this also prevents women from accessing social support, and further perpetuates the silence and stigma around abortion more generally.

Why research online abortion disclosures?

My Masters research (conducted in 2018) looked at who women chose to talk to about their abortion with friends, family, and conception partners. But several women described sharing their abortion experiences online. For some, they looked online because they didn’t know of anyone in their life who had previously had an abortion, and were looking for some direct experience to comfort them. For others, posting about aspects of their experience was their way of fighting abortion stigma and normalising the procedure. However, little research to date has focused on how women use the Internet to share their abortion experience, despite the existence of many designated online spaces in which to do so (shoutyourabortion.com, womenonweb.org, etc).

We know that individuals with other healthcare needs and conditions have utilised online chat rooms, support groups, and message boards, and benefit from disclosing their experiences through computer-mediated communication. Online, people can connect with others without geographical boundaries, when it is convenient for them, and from the comfort of their own home. The anonymity provided by Internet communication has been demonstrated to encourage those living with stigmatised conditions, such as HIV to speak with others in a similar situation. The support provided in such contexts is sometimes perceived to be more valuable than that provided by those without that shared experience. These online spaces may foster empowerment by offering experiential knowledge of, for example, what a medical procedure will be like, knowledge that is often not provided by healthcare professionals.

Abortion online and COVID-19

My study explores how and why women use these online spaces in the context of their abortion experience, in the hopes that with this knowledge, I can contribute to better support for women and reducing abortion stigma. But with current government guidelines about social distancing and the importance of staying at home, these online resources might become even more vital for women in the UK (and globally). We all have to be more creative with communicating with those outside our household at the minute. But there is a particular question around how women can access abortion services safely, without exposing them to unnecessary risk by requiring them leaving their homes during this pandemic (for further information regarding this topic read Carrie Purcell and Nicola Boydell’s blog post here)

This unprecedented time could be a chance to utilise existing online resources for women during and after their abortion. For instance, womenonweb.org provides abortion pills and telemedicine for women where abortion is illegal. They have demonstrated the safety and utility of women accessing abortion services online. Initially the UK governments refused to embrace this option, however, they have since changed their guidance. Women in Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (with the help of British Pregnancy Advisory Service) can now have the consultation using telephone or video calls, and can take both early medical abortion medications (mifepristone and misoprostol) at home during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

With these movements towards telemedicine abortion care, and in this time of heightened computer-mediated communication and uncertainty, it is crucial to understand how and why women are using online spaces to post about their abortions and interact with other women’s stories. Are they receiving the healthcare and social support they need? Are they experiencing abortion stigma either on or offline? This study seeks to answers these questions by interviewing women and speaking to them about their personal experiences with talking and reading about abortion online.

Want to contribute your story/experience?

I have recently requested an amendment to my study’s ethical approval, adapting my research methodology to allow for interviews via Zoom or telephone. I want to hear from women about why they have used online resources and spaces before, during, and after their abortion. If you would like to participate in this study or just find out more,
Check out my study’s Facebook page
Please follow me on Twitter for more updates: @Rwilsonlowe