Interview by Pedro Marques for Vamos falar de sexualidade/ Let’s talk about sexuality blog.
Translation and Correction and: Ana Filipa Monteiro
10 January 2020
Q: What has motivated you to work in the specific fields of sex education and sexual / reproductive health & rights?
It sort of just happened. In university I have been studying social movements, especially queer, feminist and anti-authoritarian organizations and politics. I was also active in those movements, where issues around bodies and sexualities are discussed with a political perspective. I facilitated workshops, did a couple of zines around bodies, body care, menstruations, etc.
Later I went on to work for non-profit organizations whose activities centered around sexual and reproductive health : doing research, organizing events, translating, creating resources for those working on the field…
Sexuality has always fascinated me because it’s a fundamental part of what makes us humans (whether we are active or not). It’s a source of vulnerability, beauty, creativity, but also of pain, trauma and resilience. It is deeply personal, but also inextricably linked to political and social contexts: which bodies are considered desirable? Who has the capacity to make choices? Which communities are facing challenges in accessing basic services? Intellectually, I have been blown away by the Reproductive Justice movement in the USA and it’s intersectional analysis of race, class, gender and sexuality. Personally, reading about lesbian sex and sex with disability totally changed my perspective and my practice of sex, despite the fact that I am mostly straight and able-bodied.
Q: How has the SEX-ED project come to life?
Those last few years I have been working on anti-oppressive practices in sexuality education. This interest comes from the realization that despite their best intentions, most sex educators unwillingly transmit prejudicial content, whether it’s slut shaming, re-inforcing gender stereotype, presenting a very binary vision of sex and gender or totally erasing the impact of racism or ableism on bodies and sexualities.
With other researchers I produced research about youth needs in terms of sexuality education and the negative impacts it can have on them when it is not positive, inclusive and emancipatory. But research only goes so far as most people providing sex-ed content do not have the time (or interest, which I understand) to read it.
So I started to think about ways to have a positive influence on sexuality education practices, when resources are scarce and teachers, nurses and educators may end up doing the class without having access to proper training. And one avenue was to change the pedagogical tools used in the classes to be able to shift the discussion.
If you think about it, the tools we use in sex education are pretty limited. There is the banana for condoms demo, the transversal cut of reproductive organs, sometimes a dildo but that’s basically it and it gears the discussion around prophylaxis and reproduction, which is definitely a very limited understanding of sexuality. People need to hear about bodies, feelings, pleasure, consent, sexuality politics. My goal was to provide sex-educators with tools that would help them have those discussions. You do not have the same dialogue around a clitoris that you would have around a drawing of Fallopian tubes.
Q: What do you consider to be the most important aspect of the work you do, and what do you consider to be the most important thing you have learned in your work?
What really gives me a thrill is when people or organizations who bought the tools share with me their interventions, the way their clientele reacted, the questions they asked, the discussions they started. Contributing to ones knowledge about their bodies, giving them tools to better understand their sexual responses and those of others is deeply gratifying. Also, I love when sex educators contact me to make demands for new tools. My goal is to create tools that answers concrete needs. It gives a sense of purpose.
Starting the SEX-ED + project is a whole new adventure. I quit my job, set up a workshop in the basement, learned what I needed to learn from scratch and You Tube tutorials. There was a lot of swearing and material wasted, and a few uncomfortable and comical situations as I tried everything on myself before submitting any other human to a moulding process. None other than myself had a non consensual hair removal of the butt crack !
It is exhilarating to be floating a boat on one’s own. You collaborate with who you think is interesting, you don’t have to wait for an approval of your board of administrators to start new partnerships, there is a lot of freedom with this type of project. The downside is that you have to do everything on your own, website, accounting, manufacturing, loading boxes on your bike to go to the post office…It doesn’t allow for a lot of days off, or for a wage. I started it all without funding, so it had to be compensated with a lot of hours, and sometimes a hand from willing friends.
Q: In your opinion, what else needs to be further done in order to improve sexual education and sexual health?
We definitely need to listen to the needs of the populations we deserve. Most of the times we are totally missing the point because we create programs based on what we think our clientele should know rather than developing the programs with them, based on their needs, knowledge and realities. And it would be amazing if all of those providing sexuality education content had access to training and workshop around oppression and privilege so as to deconstruct their very personal idea of what is “a good sexuality” to better welcome and support everyone, whatever their sex, gender, expression, orientations or practices.
Q: Additionally, you mentioned on Linked In that “With the SEX-ED project, my goal is to create innovative, never made before pedagogical supports that present the diversity of genital anatomies. This will contribute to a better knowledge of bodies and sexual responses and provide much needed tools for sexual health and sexual education professionals.” In your opinion, what is still necessary to discuss and develop on the topic of a better knowledge of the body and the genital anatomy?
Because we are still very much in a zone of unknown. Everyone but a few are convinced that their bodies and genitalia are ugly, weird and something to be ashamed of. Even medical professionals aren’t trained properly on genital anatomies, and testimonies of bad interventions abound. When people present variations, like intersex characteristics, mutilation or cutting, very few professionals know how to act, and it most often results in traumatizing experiences for the patient. Even those working in clinics where bottom-surgeries are done do not have any 3D models to present to their clientele. Pictures and porn shouldn’t be the place to go when you have to take a decision about gender affirmative surgery.
Thanks for your time, and all the best wishes for your work.