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Professor Julia Hirst PhD, BSc Hons, PGCE, SFHEA, FRSA

Professor of Sociology


My background lies in education, sociology and health. My research and teaching concerns health, wellbeing and education, with specific interest in sexualities, sexual health and gender, relationships and sexualities education, young people and qualitative research methodologies. This work is informed by feminist theories of embodiment, sexualities and power.


I am actively involved in research, teaching and doctoral supervision. Current projects (research, conferences etc) focus on sex-positive relationships and sex education (RSE) and integrating pleasure into learning about sexualities and relationships; masculinities, sexualities and schooling.

My writing and publications are underpinned by numerous primary research studies which involve a variety of reflexive research methodologies and cross-disciplinary, statutory and voluntary partnerships. I have experience of securing and managing externally funded research, directing research projects and submitted in the past three RAEs and REF 2014.

As one of the Research Leads for PSP in the College of Social Sciences and Arts, I serve as a conduit between the university and external organisations/markets for research, knowledge transfer, business development, education and professional development. As a Professor in Sociology and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, I offer leadership in research and mentorship, together with a broad teaching portfolio and evidence of excellence in teaching.


Department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics

I lead undergraduate and postgraduate modules on health, sexualities and research methods.

I am committed to teaching and research approaches which help us to understand these subjects in relation to our everyday lives and equality of opportunities.

  • BA Sociology;
  • MRes.

  • Power, Sex and the Body
  • Health (Various);
  • Qualitative Research Methods.


  • Critiquing the place of pleasure in SRE;
  • Evaluating the impact of pleasure resources for sexualities and relationships education.


Journal articles

Hodgson, S., Painter, J., Kilby, L., & Hirst, J. (2021). The Experiences of First-Time Fathers in Perinatal Services: Present but Invisible. Healthcare, 9 (2), e161.

Wood, R., Hirst, J., Wilson, L., & Burns-O'Connell, G. (2019). The pleasure imperative? Reflecting on sexual pleasure’s inclusion in sex education and sexual health. Sex Education, 19 (1), 1-14.

Shearn, K., Piercy, H., Allmark, P., & Hirst, J. (2019). Clarity, conviction and coherence supports buy-in to positive youth sexual health services: focused results from a realist evaluation. BMC Health Services Research, 19, 503.

Shearn, K., Allmark, P., Piercy, H., & Hirst, J. (2017). Building realist programme theory for large complex and messy interventions. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16 (1), 1-11.

Hirst, J. (2012). It's got to be about enjoying yourself: young people, sexual pleasure,and sex and relationships education. Sex Education: sexuality, society and learning, 13 (4), 423-436.

Burrows, J., Baxter, S., Baird, W., Hirst, J., & Goyder, E. (2011). Citizens advice in primary care: A qualitative study of the views and experiences of service users and staff. Public Health, 125 (10), 704-710.

Formby, E., Hirst, J., Owen, J., Hayter, M., & Stapleton, H. (2010). 'Selling it as a holistic health provision and not just about condoms ?' Sexual health services in school settings: current models and their relationship with sex and relationships education policy and provision. Sex education, 10 (4), 423-435.

Owen, J., Carroll, C., Cooke, J., Formby, E., Hayter, M., Hirst, J., ... Sutton, A. (2010). School-linked sexual health services for young people (SSHYP): a survey and systematic review concerning current models, effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and research opportunities. Health technology assessment, 14 (30).

Hirst, J. (2008). Developing sexual competence? Exploring strategies for the provision of effective sexualities and relationships education. Sex education, 8 (4), 399-413.

Hirst, J. (2004). Researching young people's sexuality and learning about sex: experience, need, and sex and relationship education. Culture, health and sexuality, 6 (2), 115-129.

Rosie, A., Bufton, S., & Hirst, J. (2001). Sociology as a moral discourse: a case study of social theory teaching. British journal of sociology of education, 22 (2), 217-226.

Rosie, A., Bufton, S., & Hirst, J. (2001). Sociology as a moral discourse: A case study of social theory teaching. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 22 (2), 217-226.

Conference papers

Shearn, K., Piercy, H., Allmark, P., & Hirst, J. (2016). Provision of positive sexual health services for young people: a realist evaluation. The Lancet, 388 (Supp2), S105.



Book chapters

Hirst, J., Wood, R., & Marshall, D. (2018). ‘Boys think it's just a hairless hole’: Young people’s reflections on binary and heteronormative pedagogies in school based sexualities education. In Sanjakdar, F., & Yip, A. (Eds.) Critical pedagogy, sexuality education, and young people. New York: Peter Lang:

Hirst, J. (2014). Get some rhythm round the clitoris’: addressing sexual pleasure in sexuality education in schools and other youth settings. In Allen, L., Rasmussen, M.L., & Quinlivan, K. (Eds.) The politics of pleasure in sexuality education : pleasure bound. (pp. 35-56). New York: Routledge

Hirst, J. (2014). 'Get some rhythm round the clitoris': addressing sexual pleasure in sexuality education in schools and other youth settings. In Allen, L., Rasmussen, M.L., & Quinlivan, K. (Eds.) The politics of pleasure in sexuality education. (pp. 35-56). Routledge:

Ingham, R., & Hirst, J. (2010). Promoting Sexual Health. In Aggleton, P., Dennison, C., & Warwick, I. (Eds.) Promoting Health and Well-being through Schools. (pp. 112-132). London: Routledge:

Formby, E., Hirst, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Pathways to adulthood: reflections from three generations of young mothers and fathers. In Duncan, S., Edwards, R., & Alexander, C. (Eds.) Teenage parenthood: what’s the problem?. (pp. 85-111). London: Tufnell Press:

Ingham, R., & Hirst, J. (2010). Promoting sexual health. In Promoting Health and Wellbeing through Schools. (pp. 99-118).

Hirst, J. (2005). Sexuality. In Taylor, G., & Spencer, S. (Eds.) Social identities: multidisciplinary approaches. (pp. 64-90). London: Routledge:


Tod, A., & Hirst, J. (Eds.). (2014). Health and inequality: applying public health research to policy and practice. London: Routledge.


Hirst, J., Wood, R., & Burns-O'Connell, G. (2017). Initiatives to support the inclusion of pleasure in sexual health and sex education work with young peopleAn impact evaluation. Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University.

Hirst, J. (2015). Evaluation of Sexual Health Sheffield's services in community settings : perspectives from young people aged 15-25 years. Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University.

Formby, E., Hirst, J., & Willis, B. (2009). Socialising and sexual health: an evaluation of the needs of gay, bisexual men and men who have sex with men (MSM) in Sheffield. Sheffield: Centre for HIV and Sexual Health.

Hirst, J., Formby, E., Parr, S., Nixon, J., Hunter, C., & Flint, J.F. (2007). An evaluation of two initiatives to reward young people. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Hirst, J., Formby, E., & Owen, J. (2006). Pathways into parenthood: reflections from three generations of teenage mothers and fathers. Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University.

Theses / Dissertations

Burns-O'Connell, G. (2018). Catholic parents' perceptions of young people's learning about sex and relationships. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Hirst, J.

Shearn, K.M. (2018). Delivering positive youth sexual health services: a realist evaluation. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Piercy, H., Allmark, P., & Hirst, J.

Stevens, G.N. (2005). Identity change and mature learners in higher education. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Ashworth, P., & Hirst, J.

Hirst, J. (2001). Identity, discourse and practice : a qualitative case study of young people and their sexuality. (Doctoral thesis). Supervised by Rosie, A.


Shearn, K., Piercy, H., Allmark, P., & Hirst, J. (2018). Interpretations of 'positive' approaches to youth sexual health services: concept defining as one phase of a realist evaluation.

Other activities

Membership of professional bodies

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

British Sociological Association (BSA)

British Association of Sex Educators (BASE)

IASSCS (International Assoc. for Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society)

European Sociology Association Sexuality Research Group

National Addictions Forum

Sex Education Forum: National Children’s Bureau

International Women's Health Network


Postgraduate supervision

Georgina Burns O'Connell (Catholic parents views on their children's learning about sex education).

Katie Shearn (Realist analysis of positive sexual health services).

Daisy Marshall (Masculinities and schooling).

Suzanne Hodgson (Grounded analysis of new fathers' experiences of becoming, being and doing fatherhood). 

Graham Stevens, SHU, Identity change and mature learners in Higher Education, PhD.

Denise Malpas, SHU, A Qualitative Feminist Analysis of Health and Social Care Services to Illegal Drug Users, PhD. 


Julia is a professor of sociology and has 30 years experience in education, sociology and health. As a teacher and researcher, her work focuses on sexualities, sexual behaviour, HIV, STIs, teenage pregnancy, sexual health and wellbeing and with a focus on young people. Julia has led several evaluations of services and provision in her areas of expertise.

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