How I became an Agony Aunt

I'm sitting with a notebook on my knee and writing an answer. This was a staged photo taken for the first online chat we did for MyKindaPlace
Answering a problem for Mykindaplace

Advice columns fascinated me when I was a teenager and I used to read the problem pages in Jackie, My Guy, Just 17 and Cosmopolitan, and listen to Anna Raeburn on Capital Radio whenever I could. I mentioned wanting to be an Agony Aunt while at university and was firmly told by my personal tutor such work was very competitive and I should forget about it. A heart tattoo on a black background surrounded by blue fire. On one side of the heart it says 'want respect?' on the other 'use a condom'. The arrow going through the heart is covered by a condomBy my late 20s I was lecturing in a university on International Primary Health Care. I had access to a wide range of peer reviewed scientific papers, and experience of talking to thousands of people about their intimate lives in my research.  I was regularly asked for quotes from journalists for their relationships coverage, but I grew frustrated with poor reporting on sex issues – especially the endless pinning of stories onto whatever had featured in that week’s episode of Sex and the City. I started writing to editors pointing out how stories could be improved. Someone had to eventually tire of this and it turned out Men’s Health were the first to crack. In 2002 Simon Geller, then editor of the UK magazine invited me to be their advice columnist. Closely followed by Annie Auerbach editor of teen girl’s website mykindaplace (MKP).

Condom Essential Wear campaign advert

Once established as an Agony Aunt I applied my skills as a consultant for the Department of Health advising on their public health media campaigns including Want Respect? Use a Condom; Condom Essential Wear; and Sex: RU Thinking About It? (2002-2011). I also worked with the World Service Trust on HIV programming for radio (2004) and served on the UK Government’s Inquiry into Self Harm (2004-2006).

 

My Agony Aunt CV runs across print, online and broadcast media, including

Beauty Zambia Front Cover

The teen girl’s website mykindaplace (2002-2007).
Men’s Health (UK) print magazine and online (2002-2006).
BBC Radio 5 Live’s Up All Night weekly advice phone-in (2003-2007).
Beauty Zambia (2004-2008).
Channel 4’s The Sex Education Show (Series 1, 2 and 4 – 2008-2011).
More! Magazine (2009-2011).
The Telegraph Newspaper (2012 – 2017).

I'm wearing a purple beaded bracelet and holding a copy of Coping With Pregnancy Loss. It has a light green cover with a bare tree drawn on it. 3 birds are sitting in the tree while two others fly away.
My self help book ‘Coping With Pregnancy Loss’

Alongside this I’ve written or presented advice columns for the magazines B, Sugar, Grazia and TV Hits. The men’s websites mansized and monkeyslum. NHS Choices. BBC World Service (What’s the Problem?), BBC Radio 6, BBC Asian Network, LBC, Choice FM and BBC Radio 1; plus ITV’s This Morning and GMTV. While providing sexual health and relationships advice at academic conferences, science and music festivals, museums, pubs and cafes; undertaking academic research; and writing self-help books including Coping With Pregnancy Loss (2018) and Being Well in Academia (2020).

 

 

Recognition I’ve received for my advice giving work
2018 – runner up for Human Interest Audio at the Association of International Broadcasters Awards (2018) for the BBC Radio 4 documentary documentary Impotential made with Loftus Media, that explained how men and their partners live with psychosexual problems.
2014 – shortlisted for the Rosemary Goodchild Award for Journalism for my weekly advice column at The Telegraph newspaper.
2011 – longlisted for the Orwell Prize for political writing for blogging on sexual health information and advice.

Being Well in Academia

2010 – joined 100 other members of the Family Planning Association’s Achievers Club for people who’ve made a significant contribution to improving the sexual health of the UK.
2009 – I was among a small number of scientists picked to deliver a centenary lecture at the Science Museum, my talk addressed the need to improve public sex education. Plus delivering an OWL (Otto Woolf Lecture) for Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health on the importance of advice giving for young people.
2003 – The Guardian newspaper picks me as one of their ‘Women to Watch’ for being the UK’s first ‘evidence based Agony Aunt’.
2001 – Psychology Prize from the International Female Sexual Functioning Forum for addressing ways to improve research and education on women’s sexual health.
2000 Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Woman of Achievement Award for education.

I'm holding a certificate and smiling happily after winning an award at the Association for International Broadcasters. The CNN team who had cleaned up with prizes took my photo
With my certificate at the AIBs

 

Every Agony Aunt job I’ve had, whether it’s only lasted a few weeks to several years has been a privilege. I’m always humbled by those who chose to share their worries and problems with me. I continue to work to have media advice giving accepted as a recognised part of journalism, and social and health care; a suitable area for in depth academic investigation; and an occupation with definite standards of good practice. If you’re a journalist, editor or producer; or are organising science or other outreach events please get in touch. If I can’t help you I’ll know someone that can.