Hannah Witton is the award-winning author of Doing It! Let’s Talk About Sex, and she also runs a YouTube channel that focuses on issues around sex and relationships, as well as featuring several issues on disability as Hannah has recently had her colon removed and a stoma fitted due to her ulcerative colitis. She also has a blog (www.hannahwitton.com) where she shares blog posts on similar topics.
Before I read The Hormone Diaries, I went to Hannah’s event in Nottingham, which was a conversation with Sanne (also known as BooksandQuills), followed by an audience Q&A, then a signing/photo op with Hannah. It was a really enjoyable evening, and one of my highlights was when Hannah declared “Periods are political!” The talk with Sanne was really informative, and offered a great insight into the sorts of things covered in the book, as well as some interesting tidbits of information about the writing process, and importantly, the research process. Hannah talked about some studies she read while researching for the book, and also talked about areas where there are no research (nobody knows why PMS exists!).
A fair amount of the things that were covered in the talk are also mentioned in the book, so I won’t go into too much detail about the talk to make sure it’s still worth reading the book! The Q&A section after the talk was really interesting though, because some audience members offered up some of their own personal experiences, and asked some really thoughtful questions that weren’t necessarily all covered in the book. The event also felt really friendly and supportive of all the questions being asked, which meant it didn’t feel too daunting to put up your hand and ask a question.
I got around to reading the book recently, which is why I’m only now posting about it. It’s a fairly quick read, which was nice, but it’s also super educational, funny, sad, and interesting, all in equal measures. I really appreciate how inclusive Hannah was with her own language, as well as inviting people from all different walks of life to contribute their own experiences and stories to showcase a variety of different experiences. The book is split into 5 main parts, focusing on periods, contraception (with focus on hormonal contraception as it’s The Hormone Diaries), disorders, diseases, and infections, hormones and being trans, and finally pregnancy. The conclusion also features a letter from Hannah’s mum on the topic of menopause, and there are letters from Hannah’s audience throughout the book. The letters are how Hannah is able to incorporate other experiences and viewpoints, especially in areas she herself has little experience, for example the chapter on being transgender and the sections on disorders like PCOS and endometriosis. These letters are at times hilarious, upsetting, empowering, and educational. One of the main messages of the book is that everyone’s hormone diary is different. No form of contraception will work the same for everyone, no two people have the same periods or the same PMS symptoms, and everybody has different emotions and experiences with periods.
One of the sections I found really interesting was the part about PCOS, as it’s a condition I’ve been diagnosed with and am living with, and it was really interesting to see the letters that other people with PCOS had submitted. As someone with PCOS, I was already familiar with the information about the condition provided, but I found it really helpful to be able to read about people who have had similar experiences. Conditions like PCOS, vaginismus and endometriosis are really common, yet they aren’t commonly talked about, and this can lead to difficulty receiving a diagnosis, as Hannah explains further in the book. By including sections like this in educational books, by talking about them on social media platforms and by sharing the experiences of others, Hannah is really helping to raise awareness, and potentially make it easier for diagnoses to be made in future. A lot of people experience symptoms of these conditions and either ignore them, or get dismissed by doctors claiming it’s normal period pains, but if people are more aware of these conditions and their symptoms, they are likely to feel more empowered to walk into their doctor’s office, explain their symptoms, and ask to be tested for these conditions. I was diagnosed with PCOS after my mum started to suspect I had it, and I went to the doctor with the intent of requesting to be tested for it, and fortunately, he was extremely receptive to me, agreed with me and my mum’s suspicions, and organised for tests to be done, and when the first round was inconclusive, he arranged for a different test, which confirmed the diagnosis.
My own experience with PCOS has really made me realise how important this kind of education is, and how hard it can be to find. I received sex education in school – firstly in primary school, where we were taught how our bodies would change during puberty, and again in high school when I was around 14, where we were taught about anatomy, sex, relationships, STIs and contraception. Hormonal disorders were never mentioned, as far as I can remember, and the sex, relationships and contraception education wasn’t as comprehensive and inclusive as it could have been, which is why work like Hannah’s is so important. Between her first book, Doing It!, and her new book, The Hormone Diaries, I feel far more equipped to navigate the world of sex, relationships and hormones as a person with a vulva. I only wish I’d had these books when I was a bit younger!