She’s the UK’s leading Sex Education vlogger, and has just seen success with her debut book Doing It and its supporting tour. TenEighty chats to author and sex and relationships YouTuber Hannah Witton about sex, changing minds, and using YouTube for good.
Having finished the Doing It book tour, which consisted of a self-scripted stage show, Hannah Witton is finally getting some time to slow down. “The tour was mad,” she says. “I’ve not done anything like that since Drama GCSE.”
Inspired by Caitlin Moran, Hannah wanted this show to be more than just your standard book tour. “She sells out theatres and gets on stage and effectively does stand-up. People want to go and see Caitlin Moran speak because they know it’s going to be a great evening… I wanted to emulate that.”
The show included a lot of audience participation, with audio clips sent in by her YouTube viewers about their funniest Sex Education experiences, and audience members being matched up into couples. “We had no trouble getting people up on stage,” Hannah says.
“I feel like I can relate to my audience on all kinds of different levels,” she adds. “For some of them I’m the big sister, for others I’m just a mate.”
It’s this relationship with her audience that originally influenced her decision to start making Sex Education videos. “I saw my audience growing a little bit and it was mostly young women and I felt like I wanted to help and give back in some way.
“I didn’t know what to do with that interest or where to channel that energy,” Hannah says, referring to her longstanding interest in Sex Education. “Then YouTube just happened and I was like, ‘Oh! This is perfect!’”
Hannah started making YouTube videos in 2011, and was inspired by creators such as Charlie McDonnell, and John and Hank Green. “I basically watched the whole of Brotherhood 2.0,” she says.
However, the spark which led Hannah to create her first Sex Ed videos came from watching Laci Green. “She was really inspiring to me – like, what she was doing with her platform.”
In January 2012, Hannah uploaded Sex Education 01- Contraception. It was the start of a journey which would lead to hundreds of videos on sex and relationships. She now describes her channel as “Sex Ed, feminism, and culture”.
“If you have a platform and the power that comes with it, you have a responsibility to do some good”
Using YouTube for good is clearly important to Hannah, and she takes the idea of being a role model very seriously. “You can’t control who thinks of you as a role model and I know that a lot of people look up to me,” she says. “That in itself is an honour and a responsibility.
“I’m still being me, but being the best me,” she adds.
Do all YouTubers have a responsibility to use the platform for good? “Obviously not everyone feels comfortable talking about sex,” Hannah says. “But I do feel if you have a platform and the power that comes along with it then you do have a responsibility to do some good, in whatever area that you feel most equipped and comfortable to do that in.”
Hannah encourages creators to find the issue that matters to them; be it sex, politics, mental health, body confidence, or something else. “It doesn’t mean that you have to be a massive activist,” she says, but ultimately, “we should be using our platform for good.”
She brings up Akilah Hughes, Melanie Murphy, and Calum McSwiggan as examples of creators who are doing “wonderful, wonderful things”.
Hannah has two very clear goals which ultimately drive everything she does. The first is normalising talking about sex.
“I had a very open household growing up. Lots of what people might call inappropriate dinner table conversations, but that was just the environment I grew up in and I think it definitely rubbed off on me.
“I think, a lot of the time people, are scared of talking about things in terms of what they do and don’t want,” says Hannah. “They fear they’re going to be judged… it’s that ‘am I normal?’ question.
“The answer is, most of the time, yeah,” she affirms. “Yeah, you are normal!”
In her efforts to make honest conversations about sex less taboo, Hannah uses her personal experiences. For some creators, knowing what and what not to share can be a difficult task, but Hannah feels she has a good grasp of it.
“I am quite good at judging where my personal line is, where my personal boundaries are, and what I want to share,” she says. “Everything I put out online is obviously me, but it’s a constructed version of me.”
For example, in Truth Or Drink With My Ex! (TimH), Hannah and Tim Hautekiet talked openly about their past relationship. “It’s not just ‘let’s share some personal information’,” she says. “To me, that video was showing how to have a healthy relationship with an ex and how you can have good conversations with people that you have been intimate with, and how communication is really important. It doesn’t have to be awkward and difficult. It can be a really pleasurable, cathartic experience.”
Her second goal is is to change minds and help people become more open-minded, something she spoke about during her TEDx talk in 2015.
Does she still have this goal? “Absolutely!” she affirms. “There’s been a lot of talk online about the echo chamber recently, and how we only talk to people that are like-minded to us, so we never really effect real change because we’re not talking to people who disagree with us.”
When Do I Look Like a Slut? went viral, she found an opportunity to reach people outside her usual audience. “You actually are reaching people who don’t agree with you,” Hannah says. “A small portion of them are people that disagree with you, but are open-minded and will listen and start to ask more questions.”
“We’re all human which means we all have relationships, we all have sexual experiences – this is something that we all experience”
While talking about taboo topics has been empowering for Hannah and her audience, being one of the few UK creators tackling these issues does have its drawbacks. “I definitely feel the pressure. I get a lot of impostor syndrome, especially when it comes to qualifications,” she says, explaining that many of the other sex educators on YouTube have relevant qualifications.
She doesn’t present herself as an expert, however. “I always sell myself as someone who is just like you and asking questions and trying to make sense of it all, and who happens to have maybe a bit more knowledge than the average person, because I’ve made this my work. Just like how someone else knows a bit more about carpets than me!”
And this approach has clearly worked for her. In 2016 Hannah was named “Best Sex and Relationships Influencer” at the Cosmopolitan Awards, and was named as one of the eight “Girls’ Champions” as part of the BBC’s 100 Women series.
“Everyone is qualified to talk about this. Anyone can educate themselves,” Hannah states. “Anyone can talk about it because we’re all human which means we all have relationships, we all have sexual experiences to some degree or another, [we all have] relationships with ourselves and our bodies. This is something that we all experience so we can all talk on it.”
However, there can be challenges. Hannah acknowledges that there are some issues worth addressing that she doesn’t have experience in, but she has found a way to combat this. “Whenever that happens, I try to bring someone on with that expertise and with that personal experience,” she says. “It gives them a platform to talk about it rather than me being the definitive voice on it, which is kind of what I did in my book with the LGBTQ+ chapters.”
This way of working has led to collaborations with creators such as Lucy Moon in a video about alcohol, Ash Hardell when speaking about mental health, Daniel J. Layton in a video about masculinity, and LGBTQ+ YouTubers such as Calum McSwiggan and Arielle Scarcella.
“Hey! Everyone is different but it’s okay”
Creators like Hannah may be paving the way for Sex Education online but she acknowledges that there hasn’t been an adequate amount of change with how these topics are taught in schools. “A lot of the stories I hear are the same,” she says.
“There needs to be an emphasis on healthy relationships, and abusive relationships: how to spot them, how to deal with them, like if your friend is in one,” she says.
She also believes there should be better education on LGBTQ+ issues, consent, pleasure, and porn. “Most teenagers, if they’re not getting Sex Ed in school or from their parents, then the only place they’re really learning about sex is from porn.
“There needs to be a counter-education to that,” Hannah states. “And we need to be giving young people the tools to think critically about porn.”
And for Hannah, the shift in attitudes that needs to take place is pretty clear. “It’s not just about not judging people for having loads of sex, [but] also not judging people who choose not to have sex.
“Hey! Everyone is different but it’s okay. You do you, it’s your private sex life. Don’t judge other people,” she affirms. “Have an open mind!”
Despite these challenges, Hannah’s success on YouTube and her interest in Sex Ed has led to opportunities she never would have expected. Not bad for the girl who wanted to wear “clippy cloppy shoes” and carry a clipboard: “I wanted the high heels to feel authoritative, and the clipboard because, to me, that was the sign of organisation,” Hannah amusingly recalls.
From her own radio show on FUBAR Radio, presenting on ITV’s Love Fix, and, more recently, Doing It and its accompanying tour, it’s safe to say her career turned out a bit different to what her younger self envisioned.
“We forget to credit ourselves as writers, talent, editors, all of these things,” she says. “I wrote and directed and performed my own live show!”
Of all these achievements, Hannah mentions that the creative process of writing her book was the most challenging (and rewarding) compared with any of her previous projects.
“You don’t get the instant feedback that you do with videos,” she says. “Now the book is out in the world, it so strange because it’s like, ‘oh, there’s nothing I can do now!’ It’s a year and a half of my life’s work that is out now and I can’t change it!”
And she’s got plenty more in store for the future. “I would love to write more books, I would love to do more radio, I would love to do more TV,” Hannah excitedly reels off. “I don’t see myself moving away from YouTube because I just love the platform and I love making videos but I definitely see it just building and expanding more.”
Digging for a scoop, we ask if she has any concepts for another book. “I do, but I’m not going to tell you,” she laughs. “I’ve got a few ideas floating about in my head right now but nothing’s set in stone.”
While Hannah has big plans for her future, she remains focused on her YouTube channel and projects such as her successful series The Hormone Diaries, which follows her journey in coming off the contraceptive pill. Videos from the series include a chat with Hannah’s mum about birth control, a recount of her first smear test, and a very well-documented foray into the world of menstrual cups.
“I do want to encompass other people’s stories – there’s so much to explore”
“I think it’s done so well because for a lot of people it’s quite shocking,” says Hannah. “There’s nothing really like it out there on YouTube in terms of really getting into the nitty-gritty of what’s going on with our bodies on a personal level.”
“[I’m] putting myself out there,” she adds. “[And] really unashamedly talking about hormones and periods and things like that.”
However, she admits that The Hormone Diaries can be trickier to film than other videos as she has to wait for her body to cooperate. She brings up her video on using a menstrual cup as an example, for which she needed to be on her period before she could film it: “I’m kind of a slave to my body in terms of what and when I can film.”
And she has a few ideas about how she could expand the series. “I do want to encompass other people’s stories,” Hannah says. “I’m one person with one set of hormones but obviously we know that hormones affect everybody differently.
“Some of my friends have been telling me all sorts of stories about the way their cycle works, their mood swings, their hormones, their reproductive system, and also my trans friends who are on hormones for entirely different reasons,” she continues. “There’s so much more to explore within that… [I want to] just go all-out in exploring everything.
“There’s nothing embarrassing about it,” Hannah states, “and I want to set that example.”
You can find Hannah on Twitter @HannahWitton and on her website www.hannahwitton.com. Hannah Witton is a leading sex and relationships YouTuber. Her debut book, Doing It, can be purchased for £7.99 (Wren and Rook).
Photos by Rebecca Need-Menear.
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