By Jack Wrixon – Sexpress Editor
Since we’re all sitting at home doing nothing (or should be anyway), many people have found themselves listening to more and more podcasts, and there are a lot of great options for listening out there. There are also unfortunately a lot of bad ones, but we won’t mention them today. Anyway, no matter what the topic is, so many people have found solace in listening to people chat away for an hour or so. One of the standouts is the Glow West podcast, and it covers many important and informative topics with a focus on sexual wellness and body health. And the best part, it’s run by a wonderful Irish professor named Dr. Caroline West who is truly an expert on all things body and sex.
Co-opting the name from the infamous Pet Shop Boys song Go West, each episode features a relevant and well-informed guest to speak on a topic. Alongside are special “Tortoise Shack Sunday” episodes that cover many important social and cultural events that happened in the previous week, so this podcast has something for every listener out there. I was thankful for the opportunity to interview Dr West and I’m so excited to share our conversation about both the podcast and Caroline’s other ventures in this article.
So, where did the idea for the GLOW West podcast initially come from?
“I had wanted to do a podcast for a while but I was finishing my PhD in Sexuality Studies, so I didn’t have the time. I did do a lot of public talks during the PhD and every time people would wait afterwards to ask me questions in private. The desire for a calm, fun space to talk about sex was something I saw and recognised. I’m not a fan of gatekeeping knowledge behind paywalls or solely in academic language, so a podcast is a great way to communicate with more people in an accessible way. There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to sex in Ireland, and we need to be accessible to people so we can all learn together.”
I know you also run a “Sustainable Sex’ workshop alongside the podcast. For those who don’t know, what is this workshop about?
“I do also run occasional workshops for the general public, in addition to my sex education workshops for students. This workshop looks at how we can make our sex lives more eco-friendly – did you know you can now get biodegradable vibrators? I also talk people through how to choose body-safe sex toys and lube, as many lubes have ingredients that can cause thrush. Sex doesn’t have to cost the earth – literally!”
Your episodes cover a range of different topics, going from more fun ones to very serious and relevant social issues. Where do you find your inspiration for these episodes?
“Some of the inspiration comes from the questions that people have asked me after public talks over the years, or feedback from listeners. It’s also a form of the kind of sex education that you wished you had earlier in life, so you don’t have to dive into relationships without proper preparation. I spent a lot of my life in toxic relationships and I wish I had known what I know now, so I hope the podcast helps others in similar situations.”
What is your process in deciding what topics you want to cover on your podcast episodes? And how do you find such a wide range of guests to speak to about the topics?
“Some episodes are timed to coincide with book releases or events, such as an episode with trans people for trans awareness day, or an episode with an asexual activist for asexuality awareness day. I try to ensure a mix between the technical side of sex, and the activist or social side of sex and sexuality. Throughout the course of my PhD I went to lots of interesting conferences and met a lot of people researching sex, so I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of them. I also find a lot of professionals on social media who are always happy to chat away on the podcast with me.”
Now, you also run a sex column with Evoke, Ireland’s premier womens’ magazine. Do you find there is a lot of crossover between the podcast and column in terms of topics?
“There can be sometimes [when] readers write in with their queries. I get a lot of questions from readers asking me if they are ‘normal’. I feel strongly that the more sex is spoken about openly, the less stress people will have about their sex lives.”
Ireland may be moving forward in terms of sex and sexual education but there is still a long way to go. Have you received any backlash from speaking about so many “taboo” topics so openly on the podcast?
“No, thankfully. I did receive backlash from the far-right in Ireland before for calling for people to contribute to the review of sex education in Ireland. I argued that people deserve objective, inclusive sex education as in countries where people have this, there is lower rates of STI transmission, unwanted pregnancy, and the age of first sexual intercourse is higher. For this, I was called a pedophile and subjected to abuse for months. Thankfully, the Gardaí were very supportive.”
On that note, do you think Irelands attitudes towards sex and sexuality are changing fast enough?
“I think it’s moving along, but we also need to address the traumas of the past, as seen with the recent events regarding Laundries, Mother and Baby homes, and lack of access to abortion. The people who have unfortunately been traumatised by these issues are still with us, and trauma can be and very often is passed on through generations. Shame and stigma have long been associated with sex in Ireland, and it’s about time that sexual wellness was viewed the same as physical and mental wellness – a normal, healthy part of the human experience.”
And finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to do research in this area but feels afraid of what others might think?
“Life is too short to limit your dreams because of what others think. If you feel passionate about researching a particular area, go for it and you might end up helping a lot of other people who might otherwise be suffering in silence.”
And there you have it. The Glow West Podcast is available to listen on both Spotify and Apple Podcasts. You should also follow the main Twitter account – @glowwestpodcast – for updates and more information on the episodes, as well as links to Caroline’s other ventures. With Ireland’s sexual climate slowly but surely changing from what it once was, keeping up to date and staying informed is key and thankfully, we have resources like the Glow West podcast to do so. We, as citizens of a country that fails so many people, have a responsibility to become educated and to educate others on matters that impact us all. Ireland’s history (and our present circumstances, given the recent cervical check scandal) unfortunately boasts so much neglect and repression, and it is pioneers like Dr West that bring us into the modern world with simple things such as a weekly podcast episode. Podcasts like this are important because they start so many relevant and necessary conversations around sex and sexuality, very often covering material that, for most of us anyway, wasn’t even touched on during our schooling years.
Dr West herself can be found at @CarolineWest_IE and her profile boasts all the fantastic work that she does. You should 100% check the podcast out as every week covers a different topic in a new way, and with such relevant and informative information, you could and you definitely will learn something new.
If you want to get involved with me and with the Sexpress column, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m always happy to chat about what’s going on, and accept submissions for the column or put you in contact with other editors. Stay safe and stay sexy everyone!