Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Sexual Health Activism is Important to Us All

I've done a lot of reflecting this week. Especially with the Empower launch, and it being World AIDS Day yesterday, I've been rethinking my position on not being a sexual health activist, and I've realized that maybe I couldn't help but be one after all.

Sexual health is a really tricky thing. Access to sexual health information is so controlled. So the first impact I guess would be colonialism. That according to the WASP values of our society, no one wants to talk about sex, or admit to having sex outside of marriage, so you end up with abstinence-only sex education, which they already know does not work. You also end up with this learned discomfort around discussing sex. I think that the learned discomfort is so dangerous. If people can't talk openly and honestly about sex then how will they get access to the information that they need.

I think then that is where this starts to also move over into feminist views about sex and sexuality and the enjoyment of sex. Or sex-positive perspectives. That was the term I was looking for. The idea that we can teach people that it is okay to find pleasure from sex. I know this is a shocking and radical idea, but in our society sex really isn't about procreation anymore. I think that it is also about empowering women to be able to find control and ownership of their bodies and their sexuality. I think that when you create conditions that allow for people to feel like it is safe to talk about sex being something that they find pleasure in it opens up the door to talk about other things too. I think that when it is safe to talk about sex being a positive experience for people, it makes it okay to start dialoging about when sex isn't positive. It allows you to start having discussions about things like sexual abuse, harassment, assault and rape. Conversations that when they don't get had make these epidemics invisible. When we don't talk about them the women who have survived them feel isolated and alone, feeling like there is no one who can understand what they have lived through or provide support. It allows the silent acceptance of these evils, and allows them to continue. If we continue to accept that women have no say in what happens to their bodies, and no right to enjoy sex then how can we expect to move forward and address the sexual exploitation of women, when we have already tacitly accepted it as matter of course in our society.

I think from here I'm going on to touch on homophobia and ableism.

Sexual health education and sexual health care as it exists today is quite homophobic. I know queer woman who have been told that they don't need any kind of sexual health care because they were only having sex with women. I know that there is not a lot of information available out there on safe sex practices for queer women, and even though queer guys can extrapolate the always use a condom lesson that is pounded into most high school students today, for queer women their needs are never addressed by the mainstream school system, and often ignored by the health care sector as well. The only group who I think really gets worse sexual health care is the trans community, and that's related to sexism, and how and where they fall on the gender-binary.

Ableism is huge. I know how hard the Deaf community works to make sure that sexual health information is accessible to them. I also know that there is always more work to be done. I know how many stories I've heard of so many many disability communities not having access to appropriate sexual health information. How much mainstream information is there on sexuality that is written in braille or available through an audio format? How many of the mainstream brochures discusses how to modify sex for persons with mobility issue? Is this information available at all from credible sources? How many times are persons with developmental delays not given any kind of sexual health information at all? I understand that it has to be developmentally appropriate, and it can take time to teach it, but that is no excuse for failing to teach it at all.

Having the opportunity to participate in the panel last week gave me the opportunity to reflect on the fact that I feel like many of the barriers that I've discussed are the reasons why I did not identify as a sexual health activist, and the exact reason for why it is that I should and that I need to. One thing that rang for me that I said at the panel was basically, if we don't speak to our experiences who will, and what are they going to say and decide for us?

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