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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Vulva Is Socially Responsible?

My mom is in the process of writing her comprehensive exam for her PhD (go girl!) and I have had the privilege of having some really interesting conversations with her about her thesis development and research she has come across. One thing she noted is the discrepancies between the ways in which people talk about and understand themselves, and what they actually do. For example, I assume the role of a sexual health educator in my professional life and it would be assumed that I never have sex without protection, nor do I engage in ‘risky’ activities in my sexual life because those are the values according to that professional role that I should assume. But realistically, the other roles in my life may not exactly match up to those values. Does that make me dishonest? And what prompts me to act differently?

I have been thinking about how the values associated with the different roles in my life influence how I think about my sexuality and act on my sexual preferences. More specifically, my role as a sexual health educator. I have to admit to having a hand in disseminating and perpetuating certain values around sex/sexuality that I would call limiting and I hadn’t until I started more actively exploring my thoughts, thought about it. But where do these ideas even come from?

The different roles we assume in our everyday lives are intentionally intertwined in public health information because health institutions tie population health measures to certain ‘values’ such as, caring for your fellow person, honesty, loving yourself, integrity etc. For example, public health tells us that condomless sex is bad, anal sex is dangerous; not getting tested is not fulfilling your social responsibilities and not disclosing your HIV-positive status is dishonest among many other things. These suggestive yet morally coercive policing measures are embedded in values associated with other roles in our lives that create the illusion of full autonomy in sexual behaviour. When in reality I am also acting to fulfill a state enforced mandate with limited options in exercising my sexuality freely. My sexual desires, health & sexuality become linked to social responsibility inducing feelings of guilt, shame and fear to engage in the kinds of sex I want to have, because I am repeatedly told they are bad.

So in regards to the discrepancies between what people do and say, of course people (including myself) are more likely to lie about what they do because if we are honest about our lived realities we are assumed to be dirty, dishonest, careless and ultimately socially unacceptable.  We are socially reprimanded for having sex! This ongoing train of thought has forced me to acknowledge that I too have internalized these body and sex negative messages to a point where it impacts my sexual experiences. Sexual health education should not be about enforcing values or certain types of behaviours, but about empowering people in their personal choices. We need to be able to educate one another outside of formal institutions where we have the power to share knowledge around ourselves, but first we have got to start having these conversations and more importantly listening (in the ways that we can).