by Dr. Derie-Gillespie
Did I get your attention? It usually works; it’s kind of like yelling FIRE (but it’s not a good idea to yell “SEX!” in a crowd either!).
In this age of hyping and revering anything that is “natural” (and someone please explain to me how powdered food is ever considered natural), somehow sex – one of the most natural things in the world – is still hidden under the covers (literally). Let’s just accept the fact that all of us, save for those born due to amazing advances in assisted fertility, are only here because of sex.
The sex-positive movement embraces sexuality and tries to resist the idea that sex is dirty, bad or shameful. Sex-positivity still requires appropriate consent and respect, but judgments such as what is “normal” or what is “right,” are discouraged. I had a teacher in social-work school who once taught us that we need to accept that “everybody does everything” and then we would be better able to work with our clients without judgment, superiority or an “us versus them” mentality.
So how does our old harm-reduction standby – condoms – fit in the sex-positive movement? We may not hear the term “safe” or “safer-sex” bandied about as much as in the past but I still believe it should be a part of any sex-positive discussion. I don’t think I need to tell anyone that sex can have consequences, both good and potentially bad. The answer isn’t to avoid talking about sex, it is to normalize the conversation so that information that is factual and honest can replace information that is misinformed, inaccurate and potentially harmful.
Alberta is currently experiencing an outbreak of both syphilis and gonorrhea and rates of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia remain high. In fact, in Alberta we are seeing the highest rates of gonorrhea since the late 1980s. And don’t kid yourself, in South Zone we absolutely see STI infections in our adolescent age groups and well after age 40. It always saddens me that when I suggest having easy access to condoms in various venues (schools, community centres, and at events), I get some pretty aghast looks. Funny that no one looks at me sideways when I suggest having “Buckle Up” seatbelt posters bandied about. Make no mistake, both seat belts and condoms are harm reduction, and during an STI outbreak, how does it make any logical sense to hide the condoms from the people who could use them?
Not talking about condoms or about sex does not mean they don’t exist. Sex is a normal part of life but a part that needs to be respected. It seems like sex surrounds us every day in the media, in magazines or in casual conversation and yet, frank honest discussions are often hard to come by. Although sexual behavior may come naturally, education on how to limit the negative consequences of sexual activity while enjoying the positives, does not. We need to teach healthy sexuality, stop trying to act like we’re a bunch of Kens and Barbies with inoffensive smooth areas, and instead start talking about how to protect those areas for years to come.