Laura Coryton: Sharing the importance of sexual education

August 14, 2023


Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your experience.

I grew up in a rural town miles away from the capital city and I never thought I could ever impact policy or change the country for the better in any way. But then, I decided to give online campaigning a try while studying feminism at University. I wanted to start a petition against the unfair additional tax rate applied to all period products which I would later dub ‘tampon tax’.

Although I never thought anyone would sign my petition, they did!! It soon gathered hundreds of signatures, and that’s when I realised change is possible. We can all be the change we want to see. So, with the backing of hundreds and thousands of people, I started campaigning hard! I wrote to politicians, journalists, and local lobbying groups to try and end the unfair and sexist tax on period products. 

After seven years of campaigning and when the petition gained over 300,000 signatures, my campaign was finally successful in January 2021 when the tax on period products was axed in the UK. This showed me the power we have to make changes.

As part of this campaign, I went into schools up and down the country to try and gain their support and signatures and I found period education in general was often lacking. This was partly due to a lack of support and training teachers had in sex education in general. Often students would tell me they hadn’t learned what menstruation was before they started their first period so they thought they were dying. Others would say they don’t have access to period products and so skip school every month. I knew I had to do something to change this. That’s when my social enterprise was born.

Please describe your company story. What led you to start your social business? How did you come up with the idea to start your social business? 

As part of our campaign to end the tampon tax, we visited schools up and down the country to talk about the petition and try to gain more support. However, we discovered something we weren’t expecting. We heard many young people tell us they felt too embarrassed to ask for period products when they needed them and that as a result, they often had to miss school when on their period. That’s when we discovered teachers needed more support to deliver confidence-building period education.

Then, we realised the stigma attached to periods often exists in relation to many other sex education topics, including sexuality, consent, and bullying. These topics are often overlooked or reduced to biology, which doesn’t align with their social and political reality.

Then, in 2020, the new sex education curriculum was launched in the UK. For the first time in UK history, this curriculum made it mandatory for all schools to deliver lessons on consent, expressing boundaries, LGBT rights, periods, and bullying. 

We know this new curriculum has the power to make the world a better place. So we set up our social enterprise to strengthen sex education across the country.

What is the main challenge you want to solve? 

Today in the UK, only 6% of young people “strongly agree” their prior education prepared them for the reality of sex and relationships in higher education and beyond, 45% of young people learn about consent through tv shows and films and 26% of students start their periods before knowing what menstruation is.

The negative impact of a lack of consent and healthy relationships education is clear throughout society, as 97% of young girls have been sexually harassed in public, 43% have experienced harassment in the past 12 months, and 18% experience this daily.

We think everyone deserves better. 

That’s why we work with as many schools, universities, and organisations as possible to strengthen sex education across the UK for everyone so we can all live in happy, healthy communities.

How did you first hear about the social business concept? When did you realize you were leading a social business?

I’ve always been interested in both doing something socially impactful and making money, as a form of feminism. Often we think we can’t do both, but personally, I think this is because we’re taught that ‘soft’ skills like caring for others and doing the moral thing are for women and we traditionally haven’t been paid for their contributions to society. As a feminist, I think it’s important to make sure socially positive initiatives also generate revenue so they can be done as sustainably, professionally and effectively as possible.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? And the least? 

I love being innovative and having the power to bring a vision to life. In contrast, being an entrepreneur comes with serious risks and this can be quite scary and overwhelming. But this course has really helped to mitigate those risks and give me a community of social change makers which makes me feel at home in the social entrepreneurial space!

How did you hear about the Y&Y Fellowship Program?

I was lucky enough to join the Obama Foundation’s European Leaders course last year and heard about the program through its Social Entrepreneurship Community of Practice.

What motivated you to apply?

I went full-time at my social enterprise this February and initially it felt really scary and lonely. At this very early stage, I thought I would benefit a lot from the community of social entrepreneurs which this program offers and the mentorship opportunities. 

How has your journey as a Y&Y Fellow been so far?

It’s been wonderful! I feel really supported and more able to make a change than ever before. In particular, my mentors are really keen to help and I’ve made a really close bond with them.

Why is it important to have the support of a mentor?

It’s so important! I started my social enterprise in 2019 and was the first person I knew to start a social business. As a result of having no guidance from someone more experienced, I made so many mistakes which really took a lot of time to overcome. I was also only able to think in one way. Having a mentor will not only help my company succeed in making a positive impact and a sustainable income, but also it will help me think more creatively and be challenged when I need to. A mentor is not ‘nice’, it’s essential!

What advice would you give to a young person that is starting a social business?

Please reach out to those you admire and ask them for guidance and support. They will help you and you will gain a lot from this connection. Also, please embrace what appear to be ‘failures’ as you will grow so much from these. Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable, because the entrepreneurial journey is one FULL of growth and evolution. Embrace it because it’s magical.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying to the Y&Y Fellowship Program?

Please do it! I worried I wasn’t ready or wouldn’t be chosen, but this was not the case at all. The mentorship provided is unbeatable and the community you join is really loving and supportive. Focus on the sustainable social impact you want to make and the rest will fall in place.

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