Making better tools to change the discourse on genital anatomy
In january 2019, SEX-ED + was granted the Start-up of the month title by Quartier de l’innovation Montréal
This article was originally published in french. journalist: Isabelle Langlois
Working in the field of sexual and reproductive rights advocacy for many years, researcher Magaly Pirotte knew that her field lacked anatomically exact physical representations of genitalia. After seeing the first full 3D model of a clitoris one of her colleagues made in 2016, she decided to make tools to fulfill this need. This led to the creation of SEX-ED +, the first startup to offer educational materials presenting genitalia in various forms.
Forget anatomical charts and cross-sectional models, the startup provides life-size, full representations of organs based on real human bodies, which can easily be handled. The founder wanted to represent female, male, intersex and trans organs, and those of people who had undergone voluntary or involuntary surgeries, by 3D printing or moulding.
Although the project has been in existence for almost two years, the official sale of SEX-ED + models only began last September. Due to its innovative nature, Magaly’s exploratory process required a significant amount of energy, and she wanted to have enough models ready before opening sales. “I started in my kitchen by trial and error. Basing myself on special effects techniques used in film, such as lifecasting, I developed new techniques to create tools that can be used in an educational or medical context.”
The public’s enthusiasm and the high demand from the community compelled her to broaden her horizons. Her artisanal production turned into a full-time endeavour. Today, from her Montréal workshop, she manufactures models that are distributed throughout the world. Her clientele is as diverse as her mouldings: medical universities, school boards, clinics and family planning centres.
More than just manufacturing objects, SEX-ED + banks on its practical and theoretical sex education expertise. This is what makes the project truly unique and remarkably successful. “I work closely with the scientific and advocacy communities to be at the forefront of research on genital anatomy.”
She particularly decries the lack of knowledge about different types of genitalia, a reality that can cause uncomfortable situations. Women with genital variations from female circumcision have shared that they sometimes unwillingly become live models. “When they see a gynecologist, for example, entire medical teams flock to see them, because no one has seen what they have between their legs before. The idea is to give professionals the tools to develop their knowledge of bodies with a piece of silicone rather than a human who has emotions and whose dignity must be preserved.”
The first model she developed with SEX-ED + was a vulva with a removable clitoris for medical units working on clitoral reconstruction for circumcised women. “Even in this extremely pointed medical context, health professionals did not have the tools to intervene with their patients. This is also the case for clinics that work with trans people. They don’t have mouldings that represent vulvoplasties or phalloplasties.” Education and intervention with cisgender, trans and intersex people, or those with other types of genital anatomy, can become problematic. Educators, students, health professionals and patients alike may have difficulty speaking accurately about genitalia.
For the time being, Magaly has developed close to fifteen different genitalia models. She aims to have about thirty by the end of 2019. Once she reaches her goal, the founder will start the second phase of SEX-ED +, which will consist in creating the first online 3D genitalia bank. “Someone who works in genital reconstruction in the Congo can hardly afford the tools I make in Montréal. Just like Odile Fillod with her 3D clitoris model, my models will be available for free. Anyone will be able to print them.”
What is the ultimate goal of SEX-ED +? Making sex education anti-oppressive.