Hannah Witton On 'The Hormone Diaries,' YouTube, & What Talking About Sex Online Is Really Like
Hannah Witton has spent her entire adult life lifting the lid on what many are too shy to talk about, and her 579 thousand YouTube followers love her for it. Over the last decade, Witton has built up a loyal following who continually come back to her for open and honest videos on everything from sex toys to life with a stoma bag. Following the release of her second book, I spoke to Hannah Witton about The Hormone Diaries, her YouTube career, and what talking about sex on the internet can really be like.
Like so many of her followers, after seeing Witton's videos for the first time, I was instantly drawn in by how warm she is. And the same sense of warmness can be felt in her books. Doing It was released in April 2017 and answers all of the questions you’re too afraid to ask about the sex you’re having, want to be having, or aren’t having. In June 2019 she released her second book, The Hormone Diaries. Born out of a series on her YouTube channel The Hormone Diaries documents Witton’s journey coming off hormonal contraception and all things menstruation, and is full of reassuring advice about things you feel like you should know the answer to but aren’t quite sure. I spoke to her about how the book came to life and whether there’s anything she wouldn’t talk about.
Alice Broster: What inspired you for The Hormone Diaries initially?
Hannah Witton: It really felt like a personal project. I had been thinking about coming off the pill for a while because I’d been on it for seven years and I hadn’t had a period in that time. I was curious and maybe, even a little bit concerned. I wanted to see what would happen to my body and then thought “I should document that.” The name The Hormone Diaries came to me and I thought “well it has to be a series now.”
I started making videos on it and it really resonated with a lot of people. I think a lot of people had started to realise they hadn’t been taught that much about contraception and they didn’t really know what their options were or what the side effects were. I got the impression that a lot of people were thinking about it and I started talking about it.
AB: How did that go from being a YouTube series to a book?
HW: I had just published my first book, Doing It. A few months into The Hormone Diaries [Youtube series] Wren and Rook, who are my publishers, contacted me and asked if I had thought about doing another book and the first thing that I thought of was The Hormone Diaries. The series was very much as the title suggest, a diary. It was my journey but the comment section on the videos were people sharing their experiences so it seemed obvious to me. Making it a book was a way to move away from my experience and share everything I’ve learnt making it a companion for anyone who has periods or wants to learn about periods and contraception.
AB: As it’s your second book, did it feel different releasing The Hormone Diaries to when you released Doing It?
HW: A little bit. I felt more prepared and I knew what was going on. The response has been amazing. Because a lot of my work is online, and I’m interacting with people online it’s nice to create something for the physical world because it means I get to go out and interact with people who’ve watched my videos and read my books.
AB: Like you say a lot of your work online is instantaneous, how do you find the writing process?
HW: Very tiring. No, it’s very intense. You have to hermitt your way to having a manuscript but with the [YouTube] work that I do I’m pretty much always on my own because I work from home. I think because I make YouTube videos and that involves creating one video, posting it, and moving on to the next when writing books they have a longer lifespan, I’d forget. I’m very much like “right that’s done. What next? Why are you still talking about this?”
AB: Both of your books, as well as your YouTube channel cover deeply personal topics. Was it a choice to cover sex and relationships?
HW: Initially it wasn’t about sex and relationships, that came a bit later. Within the first year I started making sex ed content because I had grown a bit of a small audience who were mostly young women and I’ve always had this idea that if you’ve got a platform then you should do good. There’s an amount of responsibility that comes with people watching what you’re doing and listening to what you’re saying. Sex is something I am comfortable talking about and I’m interested in sex education. I was very aware that the sex education that myself and a lot of my peers recieved was not great.
AB: You’re so open about so many aspects of your personal life, have you ever found a topic or an anecdote that you weren’t so sure about sharing?
HW: Oh, definitely. I don’t have a fixed line on what I’m willing to share and what I’m not. But as I’m approaching that line I start to see it and I take a step back. I don’t really have any rules about what I share. It all depends on if I’m comfortable or not. Context is also really important because there might be some stuff that I feel more comfortable writing in a book that I wouldn’t share in a YouTube video. I like to have some privacy.
AB: Another part of your life that you’ve been super open about is your Stoma surgery, has talking about that been easy?
HW: I think talking about it has made going through all of that easier. It’s become part of my healing process. When I first had the surgery I started watching YouTube videos and reading blogs by other young women who had stomas and that was so helpful for me. So, while I was ill and in hospital not making any videos I thought if I come back to YouTube no one will care and I’ll get lost in the YouTube algorithm. But I did feel like I needed to post an update video to explain what happened.
A lot of people were very curious but there was also a lot of people who were already part of my audience who had stomas or other chronic illnesses and disabilities and they came forward, shared their stories, and offered support.
There was a whole part of my community who were like “what’s a stoma? I’ve never heard of this before.” So that really spurred me on to break the silence.
AB: Lastly, are there anymore books in the future or would you like to write anymore books?
HW: I don’t know, we shall see. I feel like there are some more books in me but I don’t know when. I’ve got some life to live.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.