Stigma? Accentuate the [Sex] Positive Attitude
I really don’t remember anything in health class in high school except those nasty pictures of STIs. Woof, I think some of the takeaways were: one, “Be very afraid of sex”, “Abstinence is good”, “If you’re going to do it, wrap it up”, and “Here is a demo of how to put a condom on a banana.” “Go forth and multiply”.
Thinking about this brief six-week education on human sexuality, I wondered how I got by with so little information.
Sex education from our peers
Thinking about the images of sex surrounding our society, it seems like the health teacher also knew that a lot of our sexual education happens amongst our peers. In colleges, public health offices know this.
Meaningful peer-to-peer interactions
From my own experiences, I got my best sexual health advice from my best friend who was a Peer Educator at Temple University’s HEART program. I got an HIV test from my best friend in college. How could I not be more comfortable? These peer-to-peer interactions are some of the most meaningful and, I think, effective in communicating positive sexual health messages.
Stigma surrounding sex and sexuality
When thinking about stigma toward LGBTQIA+ and people living with HIV, I feel like I began experiencing stories in middle and high school on a regular basis. These stigmas would come from urban myths and stories, media images, and perceptions of weakness or dirtiness that are passed down by word of mouth.
Where does this stigma come from?
It seems like most of these tales are communicated in the locker rooms and informal settings. They come from a negative place of posturing or living up to ‘being a man’, in a world with very little examples of what that actually means outside of tired tropes.
A sex-positive perspective with sex ed
But what would happen if, at some point, sex education shifted to a sex-positive viewpoint? Starting with relationships and self-love and then progressing to different forms and expressions of that love. It would be an opportunity to show how relationships and human sexuality are intricately mingled together, complicated, and beautiful.
Maybe the intervention happens at home with how we show love to our spouses. It could be in how we show love to our partners in public. Let’s change the perception by accepting the positive aspects of relationships and sexuality that are often overlooked.
In a world of competing interpretations, a sex-positive message will stand out in a sea of negative images of sex found in almost every aspect of modern society.
Sex-positivity to combat stigma
Using sexual health as a springboard to a sex-positive outlook can start to shift the conversation around stigma as well. I believe that when one is comfortable with their own sexuality and respects the vulnerability that sex calls for, one should be less inclined to judge others. If I love myself, why would I feel the need to put someone else down because of our differences?
I believe that pushing for a more positive representation of love, sex, and relationships is needed for all of us to remember that sex can be an act of positive enjoyment and fulfillment.
At what age were you diagnosed with HIV?