The war on sexuality belongs to our generation. We constantly debate issues surrounding consent, sexual identity, and one’s bodily autonomy. There may be many reasons for this widespread misunderstanding of these aspects of sexuality: a lack of access to information or restrictive learning practices; the lack of open conversation around such pertinent subjects. There are still many aspects of sexuality that are taboo to discuss.
Places like You’re Welcome, which is located in downtown Peterborough, are here to encourage those kinds of necessary discussions. Owners Diana and Justina opened the store as an easily accessible location for adult toys but had goals larger than their sales.
When the store first opened in early August, I had the opportunity to meet the owners. The store was a beautifully furnished space with well-stocked shelves, but I noticed that they didn’t carry some basic items. They expressed their discomfort with making certain items easily accessible without making training and workshops just as accessible.
You’re Welcome is now hosting several workshops a week, many of which are demonstrations of some of the items that they stock. Others are geared more towards sexual education, such as the delicate and admittedly complex science of sexting. One of such workshops was co-hosted by a Trent Masters student, Tasha Falconer, who is studying psychology and researching sexting.
I met with her to discuss the importance of such workshops. Given the current impacts that technology and the internet have on our daily lives, I wondered what, from a research-based perspective, Tasha thought its impact was on sexuality.
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Sexuality & The Internet
Lola Edwards: One of the biggest go-tos for information today is the internet and more specifically search engines like Google. Similar to the dangers of searching your health symptoms, there is obviously some concern about people turning to the internet for answers to their sexual enquiries.
Tasha Falconer: One major advantage to having workshops is that you have many well-educated people and researchers who are educating and holding discussions in a safe environment. More importantly with directing your questions online, whether that be through Google or online forms like Reddit and Yahoo Answers there is a huge delay in the response and its accuracy. Definitely something like Yahoo Answers is awful. Don’t look at Yahoo answers… just don’t.
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Even more importantly, these types of communications only allow for a question-and-answer system, whereas in a workshop a conversation is engaged and questions can have follow-up questions and answers. The impact and understanding is more immediate. A one-on-one setting allows for a conversation that can much better prepare the person for future encounters than a single question online would have.
Creating a Safe Space
Speaking specifically about sex education in the elementary curriculum, Tasha expressed the need for there to be a more comprehensive approach, particularly surrounding the internet.
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TF: I’ve been through the 2015 sex ed curriculum and it’s quite good in terms of comprehensive sex education. The new technology since then not being addressed is definitely an issue — not just in terms of sexuality but even in terms of victimization and meeting people online. One of the huge things with having an actual sex educator is that the information that you’re getting is good. We’ve done our research – we’ve done a lot of research for this stuff to figure it out so the information we put out is accurate and relevant.
LE: Do you see a generational difference when it comes to approaches to sexuality and understanding it?
TF: I think that for a lot of [older generations], their sexual education was next to none when we’re talking about the public school system. When you’re not aware of the sexual education, I think that changes a lot of things. With the advent of having more access to information and people being more open about talking about sexuality, we can see that the younger generation is more open to conversation. When we talk about events like these, we don’t really see people in their 40s to 60s, we see the 20s and 30s. Part of it is that they’re not there, so it’s hard to say what they’re opinions are but generally there seems to be a gap between the older and the younger.
Sexual education is undoubtedly crucial to encouraging progressive conversation around sex and sexuality. Creating a safe space for these conversations is just as important.
LE: What would you say the building blocks for creating a safe space are? How do you go about ensuring that you’re creating a safe space – mentally and physically?
TF: The biggest thing is communication and understanding the other person and it’s a continuous conversation. Generally, sex positivity is a vital part of promoting that conversation.
LE: But what about cases that don’t allow for this continuous conversation? In situations like one-night-stands or a short term sexual engagement? How do you promote such communication?
TF: I think it really comes back to our comfort with our sexuality and discussing it. Going to events like You’re Welcome has is a great start. Even if you’re not asking questions, you’re just watching, it starts to get you comfortable with talking about sexuality in general even if it’s not specifically related to you.
Access & Accessibility
LE: How do you think that these workshops and You’re Welcome are impacting Peterborough? And how else can people have access to sex education – how do they bring up these discussions and more importantly, who do they have these discussions with?
TF: Research is a big part of it, but that’s hard because the general public doesn’t have access to that. There are definitely some websites that are reputable for information, which are a great source because they’re taking it out of a study.
LE: So would you say that access and accessibility is the issue? Because a lot of people use Google and unfortunately Yahoo Answers.
TF: To some extent it is. If we could point people in the right direction, that would be great. Some researchers do have websites and they update it with various resources and research. It tends to be unfortunately heteronormative and it’s heavily based on what’s funded – it needs to have some type of impact to be funded. I think just more attention needs to be paid to this area. It’s important. Talking about it and having news coverage and movements that support it are important.
Even if you have comprehensive sexual education there’s going to be things that are not taught; there’s only so much time. Areas like BDSM are going to be taught a lot less and they’re going to be harder for people to find and so the ability to have the internet and to find information about those aspects to explore if you want is really great.
The Media & Sex
BDSM hasn’t always been as common a sexual topic as it is today. The Fifty Shades trilogy is responsible, in part, for its notoriety. Even seven years after its original publication, its portrayal of sex, consent, and the then largely obscure BDSM community are still being questioned as it contains many inaccuracies and troubling sexual approaches.
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LE: How much do you think Fifty Shades of Grey has impacted sexuality and the BDSM community?
TF: It’s not something that I’ve read or watched but in terms of what I’ve heard, it’s not great. I do think that in terms of media in general, it was definitely advantageous in bringing up conversation. Especially in introducing ideas you’re interested in into conversations without being too direct — using outside sources to bring it up. There’s definitely media out there like feminist porn, that people can watch to get an idea and a feel for what they like and educate themselves on. I just don’t know that it’s Fifty Shades.
LE: In your opinion, has our view towards porn become healthier or are people’s ideas of sexuality and sex still being shaped or impacted negatively by porn?
TF: One of the nice things about porn now is that there is more representation. It’s still heavily heteronormative but there is that opportunity for diverse models and acts. Like I mentioned earlier, there is feminist porn and it tends to be more realistic in terms of actual sexual activity. Generally, I would say porn doesn’t have massive negative effects on people’s lives.
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It does set up some expectation in terms of bodies, genital size and self-grooming practices. But like any media that you’re taking in, media literacy is a big thing and porn is relevant to that to. So [media literacy] is not just about TV shows, but also thinking of porn as a type of media as well.
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The workshops hosted at You’re Welcome are only one resource of thousands that aim to educate and open discussion around sex and sexual expression. Peterborough may be a small city, but it’s growing exponentially, and having a inclusive, sex-positive, and welcoming place like You’re Welcome has us responding to its preemptive name with a resounding “thank you!”