Carlyle received us with a big smile, in the small but cozy office upstairs from Good for Her, where the magic of most of her workshops take place.
A focus for our discussion was the stigma that still surrounds sexuality, and it’s impact on sexual health education. It can often be difficult — especially for culturally or socially conservative communities — to openly talk about sex and sexual health. This has improved somewhat in recent years, but any mention of HIV, STI or even HPV still carries feelings of shame that stem from an acknowledgement of engaging in sexual activity.
“A lot of people still think that having sex is frivolous, that we should only be having sex for procreation… Something that might be affecting how openly we talk about sexual health is the notion of fault.”
Misconceptions about STIs, and the stereotype of the people who contract them, have been a big barrier in raising more accurate awareness about sexuality and sexual health. When people think “I’ve only had one partner” or “I’m not engaging in promiscuous activities”, they assume they are less susceptible to STIs.
“It can be a teacher, a doctor, an actor, a student… anyone. That’s why people get really surprised when they get an STI. It’s this sense of invincibility that makes a lot of people do things that may be risky for their health”.
As an advocate for healthy sex and sexual relationships, Carlyle emphasized that this feeling of invincibility should not be an excuse to not be cautious. Conversely, the fear of “finding out” can be just as paralyzing.
“Knowledge is power. We’re often afraid of lots of things and we don’t want to look into them — whether we owe money, or we have this pain in our back. We ignore lots of things and we like to poke our head in the sand, saying, ‘if I just pretend it’s not there, it’s gonna go away.’”
Just as donning extra protective gear when doing extreme sports or getting a vaccine when traveling to another country is a smart thing to do, we need to think the same of our sexual health. Condoms and contraceptives is one thing, but proactive measures like STI and HPV screening are just as important.
“Prevention is important. Knowing that you have something early is much better than waiting until it’s progressed. Getting yourself tested is a way of looking after yourself and your partner… It’s empowering rather than disempowering to both of you.”
The importance of knowledge regarding one’s health and sexuality as women was a repeating theme in our conversation. Ultimately, the power and the responsibility of our own health rests on us and the decisions we choose to make. For Carlyle, it’s empowering for women to know more about themselves — from their reproductive parts, to what they want in sex.
“Look at your bodies, get naked, get in from of the mirror and look how it is fabulous the way it is. Get to know your body. Everybody’s different… knowing about yourself is a lifelong journey, and it is one of your first steps to empowerment.”
Being uncomfortable with your own body and sexuality can clearly hinder your own body image and comfort with sex, but it can affect relationships with others — including healthcare providers.
“If you’re uncomfortable checking yourself, you’re going to feel uncomfortable getting undressed in front of your doctor and unless you have something really painful you’re going to resist seeing a doctor at all.”
For many, this discomfort and “awkwardness” with your own body is a real barrier to getting pelvic exams. But it’s not the only barrier. When asked about why having a home-based screening alternative like Eve Kit mattered, Carlyle pointed to several scenarios:
“There’s a lot of reasons why people would prefer another alternative — perhaps women who suffered sexual abuse or maybe you’re in a small town and you know the doctor who is your neighbor. Maybe you had a bad experience having a pap before. Whatever the reason is, if there is a barrier for you, this is the next best alternative.”
Despite the sigma that continues to surround sex and sexual health, we can best serve ourselves and our partners by better understanding our own bodies and needs.
Confidence, empowerment but most especially safety are just a few of the benefits of being aware. At the end of the day, our health is a priority and something that we should be in control of.
In Carlyle’s words,
“We need to be proactive about all aspects of our lives. We have to be proactive around our financial lives, around our romantics lives… we need to be our own advocates.”
Note of Thanks
We would love to thank Carlyle for sharing her time and knowledge with us and for being such a wonderful supporter during our Eve Kit Indiegogo campaign last year.
Bio: Carlyle Jansen is a Canadian sex educator and coach, writer, and mother of two. Carlyle has been giving educational sex workshops in Toronto for almost 20 years. These sessions, as well as her two books, Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms and Anal Sex Basics, have helped many people to reach their maximum sexual potential. She is owner of Good For Her, a place that is more than just another fantastic sex store. It is also a sanctuary for sex education, where Carlyle does most of her workshops. Good For Her has been opened for more than 17 years now and continues to be a place where you can find great community groups about sexuality, safer sex and pleasure, as well as great products to love your body.