For most people reading this, the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC) is probably the most complicated place to get to on campus. It’s through winding hallways and back stairs, and it’s hidden in hall the JDUC. But once you get there, it’s a wonderland of dildos, floggers, diva cups, and the most inexpensive pregnancy tests and condoms you’ve ever seen.
I’ve been volunteering with the SHRC for 3 years now, and it is one of my favourite places on campus. The community is open-minded, thoughtful, opinionated and educated. It truly feels like a safe space the minute you walk in.
For sex-ed week, I sat down with Aksel and Sophia, the SHRC’s Director and External Educator, respectively, to talk about the SHRC: what we do, why we do it, and how everything is so cheap.
Could you tell us a little bit about your jobs within the SHRC?
Sophia: Literally everyone knows I work here. I’m the external educator, I’m a Life Science major and a Health Studies minor. As External Educator, I facilitate all of our community education events. A big part of my role is teach-ins at residences, where we talk about gender and sexuality, consent, STIs, barrier methods, contraception, sex toys! We bring in a lot of sex toys. And we’ll talk about healthy and unhealthy relationships. I also facilitate those kinds of workshops in different parts of the community as well.
Aksel: I’m a Political Science major and a Global Development minor. Not intuitively sexual health related, but I’ve worked with the Canadian Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity throughout high school and into university. My position now is maintaining that the Centre is running smoothly, working with all the exec positions, while ensuring that we maintain our space and funding, and maintain the quality of service that the Centre provides, and making sure that the Centre is accessible as possible.
Until I started volunteering at the SHRC, I hadn’t sat in a health class since the ninth grade. It’s a politicized issue about what sex-ed is “right” or “appropriate”. What’s a piece of sex-ed knowledge you didn’t know until you started working at the SHRC?
A: My perspective is a little bit different, because I was already teaching sex ed. But I think what surprised me most was how little education people were getting. I knew how little education I was getting at my high school in Kingston, but hearing from perspectives across Canada and around the world, sometimes the sex-ed is non-existent, or it’s full of myths. Like that you can’t get STIs from oral sex, or if your sexual preferences control whether or not you can contract HIV. I didn’t realize how many myths there were, and how widespread they are, not just among first years but throughout Queen’s as a whole.
I didn’t realize how many myths there were, and how widespread they are.
S: One of the things that is a noticeable change, instead of a gradual change of knowledge over time, is that volunteering here has changed my lens and my perspective. A thing you learn is how to see and understand the world, and this idea of “sex-positivity” was so novel to me until I literally did my interview, I think you were there!
T: I was! I was in the hall.
S: Yeah! Like it was in my interview and they asked the question of what word in our mandate is most important to you, and I saw the word “sex-positivity” and I was like woah: that’s a whole way of looking at the world. That’s amazing. I had never thought about it that way before. And it made me feel safe and at home in a way that I never had before, it was fucking brilliant! It was amazing.
In your role as External Educator, working with literally everyone from everywhere, do you see that reaction a lot? That “I’m safe here, I’m comfortable here” reaction?
S: Not everyone, and not all the time. And sometimes I get to be there when something else makes them feel that way, like at some teach-ins, I’ll see it on someone’s face after our conversations, whatever the context, that they feel more comfortable and secure. And that’s the best feeling in the world.
I’ll see it on someone’s face after our conversations, whatever the context, that they feel more comfortable and secure.
A: In a similar vein, I talk to facilitators and administrators and it can be the same kind of feeling. Like I go and talk to Public Health for example, and I inform them of what we do, that we’re a service and that we can help with certain needs; the look on their faces of “I didn’t even know this existed in Kingston, I didn’t know I could send my clients to you, this is so important” and then you get people coming in who say they were referred to us, and that they’re so happy to have found us, and it’s so important that more people get the education that we do exist and that we can help.
The question on everyone’s mind, why is everything so cheap?
S: Because we work really hard to scour the sales part on our whole sale retailers. When we say that things are sold “at cost” it means that we’ve put in hours of research to find thing even cheaper than “at cost” would usually be.
A: Some of the products we buy are wholesale for 100 dollars, and we sell them for ten.
There’s also the question of where we get all of our new stuff? As a volunteer working behind the desk, people always want to know how we can get so much new stuff so fast.
A: We have three main suppliers, being Pink Cherry, Ultra Love and Sexy Living. The reason we’ve been bringing in more is that we noticed that products were out from previous years and we didn’t replace them, that the Centre looked almost empty. And we weren’t really catering to everyone! Bringing in more products meant we were reaching a larger base. And everything we’ve been bringing in is selling out, which means we’re getting what people need and want.
S: Those sites have so many great things in them, so just because we don’t have it in the store doesn’t mean that we can’t special order it and get it to you!
Why do you think that the SHRC is important?
A: The Centre is in an interesting position because there’s nothing really like what we do anywhere else in Canada. We did a lot of research when we were looking into how to do taxes and insurance, and we found that there’s nothing doing everything that we do anywhere else in the country. It’s great that we’re unique that way, but I think it shows that we need to expand in terms of what services we provide. Our accompaniment service (to both the Women’s Clinic and the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Unit) is so vital: not everyone has someone they can go with to these appointments, offering that support is vital for our community. And it’s not just for Queen’s students, the community around us is included as well, we have people literally coming in from Ottawa and beyond to use the centre.
We found that there’s nothing doing everything that we do anywhere else in the country.
S: I literally just mailed 60 condoms to my friend out East. Simply because it was way cheaper to do it that way than for her to buy condoms at a drug store. The accessibility of it not only in terms of finances, but in the nature of the space as being out of the way, quiet, and confidential, it makes you feel like no one is watching what you do here. And everyone is easy to talk to! I’ve been to some sex shops in Toronto where the products are so interesting and exciting, but it’s an intimidating environment, even for someone like me who is very open about stuff like this. I think this space allows for the space to explore, and that’s really beautiful, I think. I could talk about reasons why I think the Centre is important for hours, literally until I’m blue in the face.
How can people support the SHRC?
A: If they’re students, petitioning the AMS and the SGPS, respectfully, to make sure that the student’s voices are heard so that they know that this is a needed service on our campus. With the new renovation, the SHRC is going to have to find a new space on campus, one of the ways to help with that is letting the AMS know that we’re a service that people want to keep running. It’s not just about the products, it’s about the accompaniments, and the teach-ins, and the services we provide to this campus. Also, if they know of grants that we could benefit from, send them our way! And talk to people about us, so we’re not just this hidden thing in the JDUC.
S: Make sure that the people that represent you know that the SHRC is important to you. But also, volunteer with us! That’s part of what keeps us running. We have volunteers that give us their time and are passionate about it. If you think that there’s something we should include or change in what we do, let us know. One of the best parts of the SHRC is that we respond to what our community needs, and if we can serve you better, we want to.
The SHRC is located in JDUC Room 223. For more information about the SHRC, visit shrckingston.org, or call in at 613-533-2959