11 Feb SEX, KINKS, AND EVERYTHING IN-BETWEEN: A CONVERSATION WITH THE SHRC
When I was in first year, I thought I knew basically everything I needed to know about sex and sexual health. Like many sheepishly small first years, I walked into Victoria Hall confident that my mothers’ sex talk from grade 9 was enough to carry me through the next four years of undergrad. Use a condom, always ask for consent, and please, dear God, don’t get pregnant. Sounds about enough, right? Needless to say, I was wrong.
I’ll be candid. Over the past three years, I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to sex, sexual health and relationships than just condoms and the constant sound of my mothers’ voice in my head to ‘be smart’. My first encounter with sexual health discourse outside of ‘the talk’ and the post-hook-up girl chat with my friends was during Orientation Week. Walking down University Avenue during the Sidewalk Sale with my Gael group– me being the only girl in a sea of 6 boys– was awkward, to say the least. Let’s just say, we didn’t exactly click. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and wander off down the busy street alone. Eager to find a club that fit my interests and get as much free stuff as possible, I stopped at almost every booth. I walked away with a couple new keychains, five free pens, and a slice of Pizza Pizza. Not bad, not bad.
As I continued down the road, I heard a girl shout, “Free condoms!”
At that moment, two thoughts went through my head. The first being, more free stuff! The second being, that could be useful. I casually wandered over to the booth, hoping that nobody would see that I was going to grab a condom. I was confident but not that confident. As I grabbed the condom from the girl’s hand, we started chatting. The booth was for the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC) on campus, a place I knew nothing about. The girl told me about the services and products the Centre offers in a casual but informative manner. Up until this point, I never heard someone talk about sex and sexual health in such a way that made me feel so safe. A couple weeks later, my new best friend and I left class heading straight for the JDUC, in between the winding halls and eventually found our way to the SHRC. Twenty minutes later, I purchased my first vibrator.
Three years later, in many ways, I am still that awkward girl from first year. But I like to think that I am now much more confident and knowledgeable when it comes to talking about sex, sexual health and relationships. Much of that is attributed to the amazing resources and people at the SHRC. For MUSEs’ Sex, Sexual Health, Love and Relationships theme week this year, I had the privilege of sitting down with the Director of the SHRC, Antonia, to discuss their services and how the Centre has navigated their organization in the age of COVID-19. Definitely one of those full-circle moments. Like the rest of my encounters with the SHRC, Antonia was kind, thoughtful and made me feel safe while we chatted. Here’s what she had to say.
Can you please tell me your name, personal pronouns, and official role at the SHRC?
Sure, yeah so my name is Antonia, I am the Director of the SHRC for this year, and my pronouns are she/they. That was a shorter sentence than I anticipated.
So, as the Director, do you oversee a team of employees? Tell me a bit more about that structure.
For sure! The SHRC is entirely volunteer-run. We have volunteers who are Queen’s students, as well as members of the community. Anyone and everyone is able to apply to be a volunteer at the SHRC. Our executive team is made up of volunteers who have been elected. Within our team, those who have been elected are able to run for Director or Assistant Director. We are very much so just a hierarchy of volunteers, doing our best.
Awesome. So how did you first get involved with the SHRC?
Pretty much like everyone else, I never knew where the SHRC was and thought that what they offered was really cool. I wanted to make sure I got involved on campus with de-stigmatizing sexual health. So I applied to be a volunteer, thankfully made it through the application process and just from there moved my way up. After my first year volunteering with the SHRC, I decided I wanted to be more involved, so I applied to be the Financial Manager and now I’m the Director!
How would you describe the SHRC to someone who has never been before? Please give me an overview of the services and products that you offer.
I am going to start with a little spiel, which I’m sure if you’ve been to the Centre you’ve heard it before. It really is the best description of what we offer. The SHRC is a confidential, non-judgmental, sex-positive, pro-choice, queer-positive, non-heterosexist and feminist organization. We offer information and referral service for questions regarding sex, sexuality and sexual health. We also offer the sale of at-cost safer sex products and toys. Our volunteers are there to answer any questions. Normally in-person and by-phone but currently with the pandemic we only answer questions about sex, sexual health and our products by phone.
That’s amazing. So, why do you think the SHRC is an integral service in the Queen’s and greater Kingston community?
First of all, my big point of reference for the SHRC is that I believe we are a very sex-positive space. While sex is part of everyone’s daily life and is so entrenched in our culture and what we saw in social media, we still don’t talk about it in a way that’s inclusive and open to anyone and everyone. I find that the SHRC provides that safe space for anyone that’s looking to ask questions or talk about sex in a positive, safe way with no judgement and where we’re all learning together. Sex products are also incredibly expensive so we’re a great place to buy safe sex products without spending far too much money.
With COVID-19, you mentioned you had to close your in-person operations and you can only give advice over the phone. How has the pandemic changed the way you operate?
We’re hoping to re-open when we can, but in the meantime, we have the Essential Items Bursary. If someone buys an essential item outside of the SHRC like lubrication or menstrual products, the receipt for those products can be submitted through the bursary. Then we will reimburse the difference between what they paid versus what they would’ve paid at the SHRC. On top of that our team of volunteers is also answering questions over the phone and by email. We currently only have one phone, which gets handed off between volunteers every three days. So make sure to stay on top of our social media to see our hours for the day.
My housemates and I would love that! Can anyone apply for the bursary?
Yes! Anyone can apply and we offer the bursary on a rolling basis. We plan to keep it going as long as we have the funds.
Going off of that, what sorts of challenges or new opportunities has COVID-19 presented to you and your team?
This year has really allowed us to set up more accessibility measures from being able to work from home, to the bursary, and building relationships with different community members. Being able to learn from the Kingston Frontenac Anti-Violence Coordinating Committee (KFACC) and the HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) Kingston has been an inspiration.
In your opinion, what are the biggest gaps in the sexual health sector in Canada? How do you expect those gaps to be filled or mitigated going forward?
Big question. I would say that the healthcare sector still strongly caters to cis-, white, able-bodied, neuro-typical, heterosexual men. Anyone who doesn’t fit in those boxes will typically find it hard to receive the support they need. It is getting better, I respect the work that healthcare workers are doing. However, it is still difficult to find the resources you need, as anyone who doesn’t fit into those aforementioned boxes. The SHRC is working to push for meaningful change by de-stigmatizing conversations around sex, sexuality, and sexual health. It’s okay to ask anything you want to ask.
What can young people – meaning us, university students – do to become more educated, aware and comfortable talking about sexual health? Any advice? Resources? Tips?
Definitely. A big thing that helped me was just getting involved through community. There are so many organizations and groups available where conversations about sexual health are being de-stigmatized. We are trying to push away from censoring our language. Surround yourself with these types of people. Visit the SHRC website and Kingston Kinksters Facebook page to learn more, they are very inclusive and will answer all your questions.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out! We love answering questions, we’re here for you.
THE SEXUAL HEALTH RESOURCE CENTRE can be reached at their website, on Facebook, and on Instagram. To apply to the Essential Items Bursary, click here!
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE:https://www.actioncanadashr.org/news/2020-02-07-sexual-education-key-optimal-health