Rejoicing in Reevaluation
October 3, 2017
by Ashley Altadonna
We all learn about sex at some point when we are young – whether through a sex ed class in school, having “the talk” with a parent or guardian, hearing stories from our friends or family members, watching media or porn, and perhaps even through first-hand sexual experiences we weren’t ready for. Regardless of how we came to learn about sex, often the ways in which we were taught were confusing, awkward, embarrassing, and possibly even painful or shameful experiences. A lot of time the information we are given is impractical, incomplete or just plain wrong. This can be especially true if we are struggling with our own issues of identity, gender, and sexuality. As a result, by the time we are adults and begin having our own sexual experiences we often carry a lot of stigmas, prejudices, shame, and misunderstandings around sex and sexuality.
Prior to my work with FORGE, I was fortunate enough to work for 9 years as a sexuality educator for Milwaukee’s Tool Shed Erotic Boutique (www.toolshedtoys.com). In my time at the shop, I was introduced in to lots of new ideas and concepts surrounding sex and sexuality. I learned about lots of things that I was unfamiliar with, and sometimes even personally uncomfortable discussing, but I always tried to keep an open-mind and a non-judgmental attitude. Despite this, it can be helpful to occasionally check-in with yourself and really take time to focus on what your values and beliefs are. With that in mind, this past month I rejoined the Tool Shed staff for a SAR (Sexual Attitude Re-evaluation) training. The training was facilitated by the Center for Pleasure and Sexual Health (www.thecsph.org), and led by Adia Manduley, MSW & Kira Manser, MEd /MSW.
Over two days we examined a variety of topics related to sex and sexuality. We were instructed to be aware of our bodies, thoughts, and feelings as we discussed everything from sexual identities, orientations, body image, spirituality, sexual politics, and more. Our facilitators reminded us that the things we were discussing were meant to push our emotions, that we might feel uncomfortable, or embarrassed, or possibly aroused – but that was all part of the training. We discussed childhood sexuality, and childhood sexual assault. We examined sexual orientations and the ways we as a society have historically tended to treat our LGBTQ elders. We debated the pros and cons of whether someone should disclose an STI status or similarly their gender identity in a romantic situation.
Much of what we talked about had to do with the intersectionality of sex, and race, and gender, class, and ableism. Our facilitators were really adept at relating personal feelings to larger socio-political issues and processing them a social justice lens. For example, at one point we watched a segment of VICE documentary about the Los Frikis, (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qkzvxm/why-a-community-of-punks-chose-to-infect-themselves-with-hiv-in-castros-cuba) a community of punks who intentionally infected themselves with HIV during the late 80’s and early 90’s in Castro’s Cuba. This group of punk rockers injected themselves with HIV in protest to Cuban government’s crackdown on marginalized groups within Cuban society, and because those who were infected with the disease were sent to sanitariums where they could receive better living conditions and healthcare than the general population.
In many ways, the thought of intentionally injecting one’s self with what was once seen as a fatal disease seems shocking, but our SAR training was attempting to help us to really investigate those opinions, even when something seems potentially unsettling, or appalling. Much of what we went over in the SAR is applicable to all situations. Trying to think through viewpoints about opinions that are different from your own is good advice for all of us to remember. Some of the material we covered in the SAR was upsetting, and our facilitators kindly reminded us that there can be value in sitting with that sadness, and that vulnerability can be a healthy emotion to process.
Our culture constantly sends us conflicting messages about so much more than just sex. Often we are forced to reevaluate our long-held beliefs and notions. Maybe what we consider to be shameful or taboo isn’t when seen through another’s eyes. With all the information, and misinformation we are constantly subjected to, there can be a peace, and relief in giving yourself time to sit with your feelings, and reexamining your values. Re-exploring one’s assumptions may not always be easy, or comfortable but in the end, the clarity and calmness it affords can be well worth the work.