C/O Yoohyun Park

The key role of community-based education in sexual health 

By: Ahlam Yassien, Contributor 

Education and promotion of sexual health are just as important as the education and promotion of nutritional and physical health. However, conversations about sex education often occupy little space in homes or classrooms as this topic is still seen as taboo.  

Despite this, many believe it is the responsibility of schools to teach kids about sexual health. In 1979, an overwhelming percentage of sex educators argued parents were not providing their children with the right sex education, with just under half believing this education was properly supplemented in schools. While the data obtained in this survey is reflective of the opinions on an outdated curriculum, it is also indicative of a larger pattern — the constant battle between parents and schools about the responsibility for sex education.  

Flash forward nearly 40 years and parents have protested and threatened to pull their children from classes due to the introduction of a newer, more focused curriculum. While studies indicate that family-centred education programs reduce poor health outcomes and shame, conversations on sexual health are still too often ignored, usually treated as something you should already know and never ask about. Additionally, when considering the implications of different cultural and religious values, these conversations can be uncomfortable and daunting for both parents and children.  

Like many other second-generation immigrants, I did not have these conversations at home. However, in 2015, when Ontario announced it would be updating its sexual education curriculum for the first time since 1998 to include conversations about explicit content online and gender identity, my mom was among many who insisted these conversations could be taught at home.  

Despite this, I still went to class and learnt about consent and internet safety. I engaged in discourse with my classmates and teachers and then came home, assuring my mom that we were not watching explicit content in class.  

While I learned about sexual health at school, this education was supplemented by that enforced by cultural perspectives taught at home, both of which have grown to hold an important place in the ways I choose to go about my personal health.  

They have also served to reinforce the importance of having these conversations at home, at school and between classmates. I had not realized it then, but I had been actively engaging in discourse with various people from different communities and these discussions helped frame the ways I approach conversations with people holding opposing beliefs.  

I had been deeply embarrassed by my mother’s disproval and immediately sided with those who called parents too conservative. However, I, along with those who took on this view, had been actively ignoring the role social and cultural determinants played in the introduction of sexual education in many households. The importance of diversifying education and considering these perspectives has become immensely clear to me. By considering these perspectives, we can reframe the conversation and the ways we view the various actors in these conversations, particularly those we might consider “too conservative.” In many cases, the term “too conservative” itself ironically appears too conservative and narrow to encompass the perspectives and thoughts of the individuals in question.   

I had once believed sex education was a responsibility of the curriculum while my mother believed it was a parental responsibility. Now, I am not sure it is either.  

In thinking about the continuous disagreements between educators and parents, I noticed the importance and responsibility of healthy eating and exercise are not something commonly debated between parents and teachers. I knew the dangers of smoking and doing drugs before I learnt about the importance of consent. I learned about the value of consistent oral hygiene before I had learned about vaginal hygiene.  

But if I were asked to pinpoint where I had learned all these things I would not be able to give a definitive answer, mainly because these principles had been swiftly introduced and reinforced by various actors in my life. From family members to teachers, I had been taught about these things by the communities around me. As a result, I can make decisions regarding my health with these lessons in mind. Similarly, I think the goal for sex education should be to implement a curriculum not only taught at school or at home but also consistently enforced and endorsed by the community at large.  

Students reflect on the importance of sex education both before and during university

Growing up, I took a lot of art lessons. I remember one class our teacher brought out a rickety, old, wooden chair from the back room and put it on top of her desk. The chair would be the focus for this lesson, she explained, but we weren’t going to draw it.

We were going to draw everything around it — the desk it was standing on, the wall behind it and all the papers tacked to it, just not the chair.

Sex education is often defined in the same way: in terms of everything that it isn’t. This is especially true of sex education in schools. Long since a controversial topic, the debate around the content of sex education in schools often revolves around the negatives, that is, what shouldn’t be featured or what isn’t.

However, though the emphasis is typically put on sex education in schools, it is also worth noting that education doesn’t end in an institution. We’re also educated, implicitly or explicitly through our culture, our experiences, our families, the media we consume, our religion and many more places. Education happens everywhere.

It also happens in the negative space left behind and what we don’t say or do is just as important as what we do.

It also happens in the negative space left behind and what we don’t say or do is just as important as what we do.

“It's kind of like cultural conditioning. Whatever you're conditioned to do at home, you're going to do outside of the home as well. So if at home, you're taught to be embarrassed about menstruation, about sex, you're going to project that once you leave home as well. It's hard to unlearn things, especially when they've been culturally inherited because that's just all you've known,” said third-year student Japleen Thind.

“I come from a culture that doesn’t really value sex education. This is a very dangerous mindset . . . it caused me to have the wrong idea about sex education and it caused me a lot of trouble,” explained fourth-year student Shae-Ashleigh Owen.

In my conversation with students, there was a very clear distinction between their experiences and thoughts about sex education before and after coming to university.

Before University

Before coming to university, most students described sex education as something that happened almost exclusively in schools. For many students, it happened with male and female students having separate discussions, often in entirely different rooms. 

“When I think back to my experiences, I remember any time that boys and girls were together, it would be a lot of hushed giggles and a lot of people being embarrassed and not really wanting to talk. So having that divisiveness in all honestly was kind of effective. Like when the girls were learning about periods, we could ask questions, we could be open . . . That being said, there are repercussions. That is a very fundamental way that we install stigma around things like periods and other sexual education topics,” said Raisa Ahmed, a fifth-year student.

“That kind of separation throughout sex education was definitely very prevalent in my experience. We were split up into our groups, we’d go into separate rooms and we learned different things. And then it kind of felt like this secret, like, “I know all these things now that the boys don't know” and I feel like you don't think about that when you're younger, about how you're learning different things than they are. But then when you get older, you realize it's kind of important that everyone learns the same thing so that we're all equally knowledgeable about sexual health and anything relating to that,” said Micaela McNulty, a fourth-year student.

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It should be noted that while the Ontario public school sex education curriculum was revised most recently in 2019, students currently in university who attended Ontario public schools would have been taught using the 1998 curriculum. A smaller portion would have also been taught using the 2015 curriculum put forward by former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.

The 1998 curriculum was not as comprehensive as the 2015 one, as it did not address gender identity and sexual orientation. This lack of representation was something that many students felt strongly about, both at the time and looking back. They wished it had been discussed in more detail.

“[We] didn't cover queer and trans sex education, which for many queer trans students is super harmful. And it's hard for them because they don't get that knowledge from anywhere else, especially if they're not living in an environment or a home that may be conducive to having those conversations,” explained Christian Barborini, a fifth-year student.

“[We] didn't cover queer and trans sex education, which for many queer trans students is super harmful,” explained Christian Barborini, a fifth-year student.

Looking back, students noted they had a much better understanding of what they wished they had learned, while as children they didn’t quite grasp the gravity of the topics being discussed. Some suggested that this might have been because they hadn’t yet had any experience applying their education. 

At University

Experience tends to fill in the gaps of education, however, those experiences aren’t always positive.

“Truthfully, I feel like most of my sex ed learning has come from being sexually active and being in university. It's such a crazy environment. I feel like you're so young and you're going into these experiences and there's just so much I didn't know . . . I wish I knew about consent and stigma and UTIs and yeast infections and so much stuff that wasn't covered. And it sort of makes me angry a bit . . . I just had to learn by experience and that sucked,” said Mavis Lyons, a fourth-year student.

Some students also noted that negative experiences in particular can isolate students, making it difficult for them to feel connected to the community or leaving them vulnerable to further negative experiences.

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Overall, experience brought up questions or thoughts that students may not have even considered in the classroom education. This is why many students felt that sex education shouldn’t end in Grade 9, as it does in most Ontario public schools. Like all education, it is an ongoing process and it would be beneficial if the formal education system reflected that.

“Obviously, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't start early. But I think when we teach developing kids and young adults, it doesn't resonate as much until they're older and have actually experienced that stuff. You're not going to remember everything you learned in Grade 8 or Grade 9. So you need that constant education and to be constantly connecting those points as you go along, otherwise it's not really going to mean anything,” explained Ahmed.

Sex education —  or lack thereof — can have significant influences on students’ wellbeing and sense of community. But open conversation can go a long way to improving both of those issues.

Since coming to university, many students have gravitated towards spaces where there is the opportunity for such conversation, such as the Pride Community Centre, the Women and Gender Equity Network or clubs like Period at McMaster.

“I needed a space like the PCC when it came to university because I didn't have that before. So I think that that speaks to the importance of community and community organization, especially for marginalized communities when it comes to sexual health because we don't get that anywhere else. I know that for me understanding sexuality and my sexuality specifically was a journey that did affect my mental health at one point when I started university and, connecting it back to the PCC, that's the reason why I value the PCC and other queer organizations that I have worked for. Because they've offered me that space to explore my identity that I didn't get in elementary and high school,” said Barborini, who is also the coordinator at the PCC.

“It felt almost therapeutic just having a space to discuss what your experiences are, especially on a taboo topic. I think that can be really helpful . . . just having an open space to talk about your experiences has been really valuable,” explained Thind, who is a member of Period at McMaster.

Students felt that these spaces have been especially beneficial to their mental health and their overall sense of wellbeing. Their involvement in groups such as these has helped them better understand topics related to sex education and health.

“Now that I went to university, especially with [Period at McMaster], I found more people who have had experiences like mine and I don't find it embarrassing anymore . . . I feel super comfortable talking about it now,” explained Celia Arrecis, co-president of Period at McMaster.

These groups also provide a vital sense of community.

“I think just the sense of community in the sense of having like-minded people around me who care about the same things [has] been a pretty positive influence on my mental health,” added Ahmed, who is the founder and co-president of Period at McMaster.

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Conversation is essential to encouraging education and both are integral to fostering a sense of community. There is an increasing awareness about the importance of both, thanks in part to McMaster clubs and community organizations. Moving forward it’s important that we continue to have open conversations and educate ourselves so that we can bring sex education out of the negative space it’s occupied for so long.

How pelvic floor physiotherapy can help with sexual dysfunction

The Silhouette sat down with McMaster University graduate and currently licensed physical therapist Dr. Iman Banerji to discuss pelvic floor physiotherapy and how it can help folks experiencing pain or discomfort with sex.

Banerji graduated from McMaster in 2017 with a bachelor of science and is now a pelvic and orthopedic physical therapist working in North Carolina after graduating from Duke University in 2020. Banerji always knew that she wanted to be in healthcare.

“I was always told as a child of immigrants that I need to become a doctor, but I never really thought about what that meant until I was actually in the thick of undergrad thinking about grad school,” said Banerji. “I started looking into other different realms of healthcare, other ways that I could be part of the healthcare team and combine my love for human connection and science with being a health care provider and upon looking into it a little bit more I realized that physiotherapy was actually more so the path that I wanted to take.”

“I started looking into other different realms of healthcare, other ways that I could be part of the healthcare team and combine my love for human connection and science with being a health care provider and upon looking into it a little bit more I realized that physiotherapy was actually more so the path that I wanted to take.”

When asked about how she became interested in pelvic floor therapy, Banerji said a friend brought her to a student-run pelvic health meeting where she learned about the different conditions and about the patient population.

She felt that through PFT, she could challenge the historical and present issue of women in healthcare not always being believed or taken seriously. She also wanted to be a healthcare provider for all genders.

“With pelvic floor physiotherapy there's a great chance to work with the trans population, who also has a very difficult time navigating the healthcare system, unfortunately. Again, I wanted to be a part of that and I wanted to be a healthcare provider that was inclusive to all genders,” explained Banerji.

The pelvic muscles are an important part of urinary and digestive health as they support the bladder and bowels. They also play an important role in sexual dysfunction.

“So if you are having pelvic pain or pain with sex, sometimes these muscles can be the root of the cause. [If] you notice that insertion or penetration or ejaculation or arousal or anything of the kind feels a little bit painful, the culprit could actually be your pelvic floor muscles,” explained Banerji. 

PFT can help reduce pain and increase pleasure in sex through both emotional components and physical exercises. Banerji stressed that consent is essential in all physiotherapy and with consent, a physiotherapist may conduct a pelvic floor assessment to understand and intervene with the pain.

“We can see if your pain is reproduced and if it is, can we do some type of manual intervention to the pelvic floor to see if it can calm down and relax a little bit more, if we can relieve some of that pain . . . we find ways to exercise the pelvic floor in such a way that it can relax and lengthen and not feel so painful on its own. So, there [are] many different strategies and many different techniques that we can use to help reduce pain,” said Banerji.

PFT relieves pain through a multi-modal approach. Banerji emphasized that physiotherapy is holistic and often includes an acknowledgement of the different factors that contribute to pain, including past experiences and trauma. 

“I like to take an approach of: I’m your physical therapist and your guide, so I’m not here to fix you or change you or anything like that,” said Banerji. 

“I like to take an approach of: I’m your physical therapist and your guide, so I’m not here to fix you or change you or anything like that,” said Banerji. 

Part of this approach includes working to help her patients feel that they have a bit more control in their lives. She does a lot of education with patients to both help them understand their bodies and to empower them. 

Stigma, shame and systemic factors around sexuality and sexual dysfunction can contribute to patients feeling disempowered or prevent them from seeking care.

People with vaginas are often socialized to believe that pain with sex is inevitable, prioritizing a heteronormative and patriarchal notion that sex is only about men’s pleasure.

“I also think a lot of people don't entirely know who to tell, which is why I love conversations like this. The more people can learn that you don't have to deal with painful sex, this is not a forever thing, you can actually go to someone who can help you, I think can be really empowering and really exciting for a lot of people. I'm going to be very blunt but sex should not be painful, it shouldn't. Really, it should be consensual and it should be fun and it should be pleasing and all these things, but it should not be painful,” said Banerji.

When asked what she would say to folks experiencing shame with their pain or sexual dysfunction, Banerji promised that no providers will judge or make you feel embarrassed.  

“For anyone who is thinking about going down this route, it's okay if you're not ready. Not everyone is ready to be part of the journey of being in pelvic PT. It is very personal and it's very intimate for a lot of people and not everybody is ready for that and that's okay. But, if some of the things that I talked about could potentially resonate with you, just know that there are pelvic-specific physios out there who would be more than happy to help you, with your symptoms whenever you are ready,” said Banerji.

Banerji explained that while PFT can be an important pain management tool for many, it may not be the only treatment. She also explained that though it may take some time to find a physiotherapist that you feel comfortable with, it’s worth it.

“This is not just you. There's nothing wrong with you. This is just something that you're experiencing, but it is not a defining factor of who you are and there are things that we can do about it together,” said Banerji.

Physiotherapy is direct access in Canada and the United States, meaning you do not need a referral from a physician and can reach out to a pelvic health physiotherapist directly.

What did it take to make this year's issue of Sex and the Steel City? Watch the trailer to find out:

 

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Arts and Culture Reporter Lauren O'Donnell sits down with Carrie Russell, owner of With Love Lingerie, an indie lingerie brand located in The Cotton Factory (270 Sherman Ave. N.) to chat about the craft of making lingerie.

Read the accompanying article here.

 

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Cover art by Matty Flader / Photo Reporter and Andrew Mrozowski / Arts and Culture Editor

When I was hired as the Arts & Culture Editor in August 2019, my mind immediately flooded with ideas and concepts of how to approach this year’s Sex and the Steel City issue. For months I stressed myself out as I pondered over ways  through which I can  ensure that this section was something I would be proud of, but I did not know what approach I wanted to take. 

In the past, SATSC  has explored themes of diversity, sex and safety, just to name a few; however, I didn’t want this year’s issue to simply  be a repeat. I looked at my own life for inspiration and thought of identity.

Each piece in this issue explores the theme of identity in some essence, whether it be sexual orientation, community identity, or more broadly the identity of love itself. Each piece has a unique message that can apply to anyone.

It was important to me to make this year’s SATSC cover memorable. The candy theming was not only  a play on Valentine’s Day; each item represents a different theme discussed in  this issue. The rainbow bands on the cover represent queerness; the fuzzy peach rings represents body positivity; the hot lips represent romance; and the gummy bears represent sex.

Accompanying this issue is our SATSC trailer, a take on the season 2 trailer of the Netflix original “Sex Education”. It was important to me to incorporate  this because I believe that “Sex Education” is really shaping the way we engage in conversation around a subject that has been taboo for such a long time—a goal that SATSC has been striving to achieve since its inception.

 To everyone who contributed to the section through written or art submission, to the staff who supported me in the last few months, to those who took part in our video content, to the diligent teams who worked so hard to bring this special issue to fruition, thank you. I would also like to thank my former Arts and Culture Editor (now Online Editor), Razan Samara. Without you pushing me each week to do my absolute best, from being a contributor to now. I could not have done this without your guidance. This is my ode, my ballad, my contribution to the legacy of the Silhouette.

With love,

Andrew Mrozowski

The Silhouette

A&C Editor

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Articles:

Queer politics in Hamilton: a year in review by Trisha Gregorio, News Editor

Compassionate casual sex is blooming by Adrianna Michell, Features Reporter

Mythbusters: Bisexual edition by Lauren O'Donnell, Arts & Culture Reporter

From hosting RuPaul’s Drag Race to advocating for an inclusive city by Andrew Mrozowski, Arts and Culture Editor

Learning love from literature by Nisha Gill, Contributor

When you need to “prove it” by Julia Healy, Contributor

Pressures in love by Rachel Lieske, Contributor

The craft of making lingerie by Lauren O'Donnell, Arts & Culture Reporter

Embodied empowerment through boudoir photography by Lauren O'Donnell, Arts & Culture Reporter

Loud and proud by A. A., Contributor

Queer eye for fashion by Anonymous, Contributor

A day in the life of hook-up culture by Nina Joon, Contributor

Allure Fitness: Sliding down and shaping up by Kyle West, Sports Reporter

 

Artworks: 

Lights Get Bright Tonight by Katie Van Kampen

Untitled 1 & 2 by Kyle West

Pluto’s Heartbreak by Claire Kim

I Am Beauty by Claire Kim

  

Photo by Jaden Lall / Video Editor

Midnight blue velvet covered in snowflakes, or red roses and lace entwined on sheer mesh fabric. These are a few of the pieces you can find within the collections at With Love Lingerie, an indie lingerie brand located in The Cotton Factory (270 Sherman Ave. N.). Carrie Russell, the owner and creator of With Love, says that the brand name was inspired by her process of making every piece with love.

With Love’s Instagram feed and promotional images emphasize body diversity. Before opening her own lingerie business, Russell worked in the mainstream lingerie industry, an industry with a history of leaving plus-size women out of their lines. Russell admits that when she first started With Love, she made pieces only in smalls, mediums or larges, with little wiggle-room for people who didn’t fit into those constraining categories. Even though she is an advocate for body positivity and acceptance, Russell didn’t initially notice the lack of inclusion. Her perspective changed when she realized she wasn’t included in her own line.

“[T]he minute I realized I wasn’t included in my own passion and my love for my business, it made me realize well who else I’m not including, like, what other people are not even able to enjoy the things that I feel really passionate about. And it wasn’t really out of, for me, not loving other people’s bodies. Because I just love people’s bodies. I love talking about self-love and body positivity … But it was not reflected in my line. That was a really big thing for me, and I’m continuing to work with that,” said Russell.

Pieces of lingerie hanging in Carrie Russell's space at the Cotton Factory. Photo by Jaden Hall / Video Editor

Social media—Instagram in particular—can have a negative impact on how people perceive their appearance. The app motivates users to focus on gaining likes and followers, and much of that is rooted in appearance and showcasing the “perfect body”. It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect body, and even those who are considered perfect can still have difficulty accepting themselves. With Love aims to repair the relationship we have with our bodies, encouraging us to feel comfortable in our skin. Russell emphasizes the sense of empowerment that comes with lingerie, and the impact it can have on the journey towards body acceptance. 

“[T]hings need to be made for people with love and to actually do that, you have to include and, and really embrace all different sorts of body types and also embrace and make people comfortable wherever they are in the journey of their body self image or their body positivity . . . I really do think it’s really exciting when I’m able to have someone try something on that they would never have really thought about wearing,” she said.

The majority of Russell’s designs are not very structured, meaning that most don’t have any underwires or corsetry, and she works predominantly in sheer mesh material. The lingerie is designed to move with the natural shape of the body, rather than seeking to restrict the person wearing it. With the ever-increasing popularity of waist cinchers, corsets and Spanx, it can be difficult to celebrate your body without feeling like it should be restrained. The sheer mesh designs aim to uncover and empower the body, emphasizing what’s already there.

“It’s almost better to highlight the things that you see as the assets to let them outshine the things that you may still not be totally in love with yet. And that’s exciting when that light bulb goes off in someone’s mind,” said Russell.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B8RfZj1FZ4G/

While many people assume that lingerie is exclusively for younger women, Russell says that most of her clientele is actually more mature women, with an age range averaging between 30 and 60.

“I’m getting women in their 60s wearing sheer bodysuits and just living in them, which is great. And I think that truly is body positivity,” said Russell. 

With Love also caters to demographics beyond older-aged women. Russell says that she recently started working with trans women, gender-fluid and nonbinary folks. She sees a lot of potential for With Love to help people become more comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their gender.

“[I]t’s been really rewarding working with people who felt really timid about expressing who they are. And they feel comfortable coming to me and coming to my showroom, having one on ones with me, and I’m able to see their journey [with] discovering themselves and expressing themselves as well with their creativity and accepting sort of what they see and adorning it with With Love. And I think that’s a really big honor and it’s something that has been . . . a really rewarding learning curve for me,” said Russell.

While much of the response that Russell has received has been positive, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding lingerie and creating lingerie. In Russell’s experience, particularly in North America, lingerie is kept a secret because it is viewed as something inherently sexual or inappropriate. She says that people are very shy, and “Puritan” about it. With Love Lingerie strives to change that stereotype. While lingerie can be sexual, it can also be an empowering form of self-expression.

Russell has also recently launched her second brand, Spill the Tea Consulting, providing social media support and help for other small businesses trying to reach clients. In doing so, she hopes to help grow the community of local artists in Hamilton, and to help them reach their audience and thrive. 

Ultimately, Russell hopes that With Love Lingerie can foster a sense of empowerment in the people that wear her designs, allowing them to be at home and comfortable in their own bodies. She hopes that everyone can experience the same joy she feels when making lingerie, and that they can see that everything she does is made, of course, with love.

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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Graphic by Elisabetta Paiano / Production Editor

By Julia Healy, Contributor

CW: Mentions sexual violence

Sex and I have a fraught relationship with one another. As a girl growing up as a lesbian in a fairly conservative religious environment, my parents, teachers and peers frequently insinuated that queer attraction, particularly attraction between women, was attention-seeking and a phase. This stereotype made me constantly doubt my feelings and kept me securely in the closet during my high school years. But, once I left home and entered the secular world of university,  I was determined to come out. 

In first year, I began to feel like I had missed out on a lot of romantic experiences by remaining closeted for so long. While I hadn’t even tried flirting with a girl, my 2SLGBTQ+ friends would tell stories about their past high school flings and recent hook-ups at parties. One story that that I would hear and unfortunately internalize starred straight girls who had supposedly just wanted to “experiment,” and had left my queer friends feeling heartbroken and used. 

Being told that my sexuality was “just a phase” by people back home and by society at large was enough to make me doubt myself. Having this sentiment seemingly confirmed by the experiences of fellow members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community was terrifying. I internalized the idea that I could be misunderstanding my feelings, and that I was just constructing these attractions to seek attention, or approval from my 2SLGBTQ+ peers. I became fixated on the need to validate my identity and thought that having sex with a woman was the only way to settle the nagging fears inside my head.

I became fixated on the need to validate my identity and thought that having sex with a woman was the only way to settle the nagging fears inside my head.

Unfortunately, as an awkward first year who had never even kissed anyone, this plan was easier said than done. I worried that I would somehow mess up and embarrass myself, or, even worse, that I would realize I was straight all along. This idea made me so anxious, I didn’t even try to date. First and second year went by without a single a kiss to show for it. 

In the summer of second year, my sexual life completely shifted. After just one lacklustre date with very little chemistry, I went back to a girl’s apartment and stayed the night. She didn’t know that I had experienced my first kiss and had lost my virginity  within minutes of each other that night, and she didn’t seem to care about my nervousness. Although, in hindsight, I recognize that this encounter was not very healthy, I felt immense relief at the time that my attraction to women was not a figment of my imagination.

Despite this experience, I still hadn’t fully dispelled the negative stereotype about seeking attention, or the fear of falling behind on sexual experiences, from my brain. I started to seek out sexual encounters to validate not just my identity, but also my desirability and my self worth. The fears that I held onto have led me into some unsafe situations. I’ve rushed into sex with people before I was ready, to prove that I am, in fact, a lesbian. I’ve had sex with people before talking about STI status because I didn’t want them to feel like I was stalling out of disinterest, or for them to lose interest in me. I’ve never been able to properly communicate not being in the mood for sex, wanting to slow down or wanting to stop, even with partners who I knew would have  respected my boundaries. I’ve had people hurt me during sex and, perhaps most damaging of all, I have frequently verbally consented to situations while my brain screamed at me to run away. 

My lack of sexual experience once seemed like nothing but an obstacle between myself and the formation of a healthy queer relationship with a loving partner. However, after ignoring my own boundaries for so long, I feel like I’m farther from forming whatever a “healthy relationship” is than ever before. 

My lack of sexual experience once seemed like nothing but an obstacle between myself and the formation of a healthy queer relationship with a loving partner. However, after ignoring my own boundaries for so long, I feel like I’m farther from forming whatever a “healthy relationship” is than ever before.

The unhealthy attitudes that I have developed towards sex started with the desire to not only  validate my lesbian identity for myself, but to have that identity recognized by other queer women. My conservative upbringing started my self-doubt, but it was ultimately the emphasis placed upon sexual experience and the suspicion surrounding virginity within my own community that pushed me to seek validation through sex. I am only beginning to unlearn my unhealthy attitudes towards sex and to reconcile with my identity on my own terms.

At the intersection of sexism and homophobia, queer women face a lot of pressure from society to perform our sexuality in specific ways, often for the gratification of others. Rather than reproducing these pressures within our spaces, we as queer women should uplift one another, no matter where on our sexual journeys we happen to be.  

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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Photo C/O Becca Serena

Traditional boudoir photography feeds a culture of consumption, generally associated with pin-up models and Playboy spreads, designed for a mostly male audience. For photographer Becca Serena and stylist Taylor Rasmussen, boudoir photography is an intimate and empowering experience that can be an avenue for individual self-exploration and body acceptance.

“We saw a lot of young women and femme identifying folks really having an interest in repairing their relationships with their bodies through body positive photography. And during my studies, I saw that people having control over their own image and representation was a big part of what gives people the confidence they need in their everyday life to go after their goals and their dreams, and to also heal from some pretty tough trauma,” said Serena.

In some cases, boudoir photography is used to heal different kinds of trauma. It helps to change the way that the individual views their own body, opening up avenues to self-love that may have been closed off or destroyed. It is a deeply personal and vulnerable experience that serves as a step on the road to recovery for those who, for whatever reason, have a rocky relationship with their body.

Industry standards for boudoir photography blur the lines between personal and professional, meaning that it can be uncomfortable for some individuals to explore their identity in a safe environment. More often than not, young models will shoot at a photographer’s home and in their bed, or the photographer will need to travel to a client’s home, which can be unsafe for the photographer. A neutral workspace at Millworks Creative District has allowed Serena and Rasmussen to ensure that everyone involved in the shoot feels comfortable and safe.

Before each session even begins, Serena and Rasmussen privately consult each of their clients to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Something that sets this duo apart is their commitment to openness, sharing their own experiences and vulnerabilities. This helps to foster a sense of trust with clients, allowing them to be more confident and at ease during the session. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7jQMACHtIi/

“[W]e both really like to talk to people about what their intentions are with the photoshoot and the photos and what would make them feel best . . . What kind of styles are they more comfortable wearing? Are they more into modest clothing? Is there anything special that she has to think about, for example, like somebody has an insulin pump, or somebody walks with a cane,” said Serena.

By focusing on what the client wants to get out of the session, Serena and Rasmussen put the power in their hands. They are fully in control of their own image and representation. Boudoir photography provides them with the opportunity to be their authentic selves, allowing them to be the person that they want to be, rather than the one society expects them to be.

“[W]hen a person comes to the shoot we’ll have a curated wardrobe for them, like I have racks all set up with various local designers, and then it’s a process working with them [and finding] what they’re comfortable with and what they hope to see for themselves at the end of the photoshoot,” said Rasmussen. One of the local brands they work with is With Love Lingerie. You can learn more about them on page 20.

Rasmussen and Serena also make sure to check in with their clients throughout the shoot to make sure that they are still comfortable, both physically and emotionally. Boudoir photography has the potential to help clients heal from trauma, but in doing so they can be very vulnerable. By checking in and working with their clients, Rasmussen and Serena are able to create a safe environment for self-expression and growth.

Going forward, Serena and Rasmussen are looking to challenge the idea that boudoir photography and positive self-image are only for younger people. During their collaboration on POP! Tart—a magazine examining eating culture and people’s relationships to food and their bodies—they noticed that people 30 and over were not as open to having those conversations.

“I think right now our main goal is really getting this conversation going and encouraging people who haven’t given themselves permission to really think about or love their bodies or themselves,” said Serena.

In order to start this conversation about self-love, this past month Serena and Rasmussen offered a few smaller, more affordable sessions in time for Valentine’s Day, challenging the idea that Valentine’s Day is just for external relationships.

“We’re trying to take this Valentine’s Day [idea of] focusing on your relationship with others, and we’re trying to really flip that inward and look at radical self love and self acceptance instead through these sessions,” said Serena.

Serena and Rasmussen are changing the way that we perceive our bodies, one photograph at a time. Through their work, they are destigmatizing both body acceptance and sexuality and changing the public perception of boudoir photography from something that objectifies people’s bodies, to something that frees them. 

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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Claire Kim | @ck_digital_arts

I Am Beauty

Ink Illustration and Digital Art

This artwork illustrates the beauty of sexuality and the immersive experience behind self-empowerment. A mixture of space, nature, and modern identity, the self represents the beauty of openness and freedom to express oneself. It also represents the complexity and ambiguity behind a person’s desire to find meaning in a world that demands homogeneity. 

Pluto’s Heartbreak

Ink Illustration and Digital Art

This artwork illustrates heartbreak within broken relationships in a postmodernist society. Living in a technological and ever-changing era has rewired the way humans process relationships. Little details such as the melting snow, rewind and fastforward button on the television heads describe the different stages of ‘time’ and overall healing process people experience.

 

Kyle West | @k.west.art

Untitled 1

 

Untitled 2

Painting

In my work “Untitled 1 & 2” I looked to explore representation and identity. These two works happen to be representative of two strong women from my life. Because of this I decided to paint both figures with strong and decisive postures, looking into the viewer and contesting the gaze cast upon them. Another way in which I wanted to challenge the use of representation within painting is my use of a tricolor system of black, white and red. By removing any sense of skin color or in turn reality of identity I was looking to challenge how representation within art history was commonly used in the renaissance and baroque period. By not providing any visual cues to background of the subjects in any way, the vagueness and multiplicity of identity becomes more clear. The inclusion of many expressive formal elements, such as uses of the brush and colour is meant to represent emotion throughout the fragility that is the human experience and inner strength. Overall, I was more interested in creating portraits of strength and challenge the representational nature of identity throughout the classical art history canon. 

 

 

Katie van Kampen | @kvk_thethird

Lights Get Bright Tonight

[pjc_slideshow slide_type="katie-van-kampen-satsc-2020"]

 

 

Photography 

One day, my friends and I wandered into the Penticton Art Gallery to the main exhibit to be struck with a neon light of reds, purples, blues and pinks. I pulled out my camera to take some shots, gesturing wilding at my friends to pose near the light, trying to capture what I saw at that moment. All my three friends are some form of LGBT with two of them identifying as bisexual women. I raised my camera to take the photos and when I looked down at the 3 inch LCD screen I saw something I thought was beautiful. The light hit their faces perfectly, the colours that make up the bisexual pride flag smearing across their faces and fading into the shadows of the room. 

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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