Friday, August 14, 2009

The missing link

I'm still listening to the same podcast, and I've come across a couple of episodes that tie in very heavily with my pilot research from last year and bridge a few gaps between my research last year and the new topic I am thinking of pursuing.

The episode of particular interest is about sex education, from the perspective of a non-agenda not-for-profit sex education facility in San Francisco. An interview with Alan Zimbardo. This link is to an audio podcast, and shouldn't be listened to publicly at work. It's extremely informative, but talks about some controversial issues and uses a some coarse language to describe sexual acts.

My pilot research last semester was on sense-making of recreational drug users. How does a drug user make sense of their practices when they have been told for such a long time that drugs are bad for them and that they are harming themselves and others with their usage. the main results I found were that the two individuals that I researched were significantly more informed about their drug use than our drug education system gives them credit for. Large amounts of research was undertaken into the effects and the safest ways to experiment with their drugs of choice, and safe environments were sought out. There was a significant theme of emotional safety when taking a new drug, and trusting the person who provided it, and the people they were with while under its influence. I think a similar link can be made between drug use and sex in that respect.

The podcast itself actually made the link between drug use and safer sex practices, particularly because of this "just say no" attitude that, now that it is out there in the main stream and is a part of heteronormative practice, is actually a rather dangerous message to have. I think the podcast was from 2006, but at that time a survey was done on American heterosexual couples that indicated that 80% of Americans didn't use a condom during their last sexual encounter. They may talk about it during an anonymous survey, but there is a stigma attached to sex without a condom that means that people who practice it are not talking about it. By not talking about it, they aren't accessing the information required to make sensible decisions about alternative methods of birth control and STD prevention.

They actually made mention of the Australian safe sex (AIDS, I think) message of Talk Test and Trust, indicating that it is a positive message that fosters trust in relationships as well as safer sex practices.

I think there is an important distinction between "safe sex" and "safer sex" that needs to be defined. While "safe sex" indicates a foolproof and certain level of safety that no birth control method can supply (particularly with the rather unethical behaviours of sex novelty companies that use products that can disintegrate toys and condoms over time while failing to inform the layperson of the dangers), the idea of "safer sex", to me, speaks of informed sexual practices aimed to promote healthy emotional, physical and psychological decisions. This encompasses disease prevention, attitudes towards sex, relationship counselling and other important decisions that affect the whole range of sexual experiences. From missionary style sex to how to safely hoist a sub 5 feet in the air using a series of ropes and pulleys to which lube to use if your susceptible to yeast infections to which birth control method is going to be most appropriate for you given your lifestyle and medical history. I like the term "safer sex" because it is so much more holistic in its attitudes to sex. It's not just about AIDS preventions and making sure your teenage kids don't get pregnant. It's about positive attitudes to sex and sexuality and about respecting alternative sexual practices to your own.

This whole distinction is a large part of my identity as a researcher as well. I don't feel that it is my place to tell people what it is they should be doing, but to make them more informed about the risks and benefits of the practices they may employ. That's the results of my pilot research that affected me the most significantly, and it's a lesson I want to carry with me through to my Masters research as well.

Hopefully I can pursue this new topic of interest further as it has motivated me far more than my previous one, and I'm actively looking and listening to new materials that challenge my long-held assumptions about sex.

When I get home tonight, I'm going to write up another entry that will provide some good links to safe sex practices with regards to sex toys, lubricant and cleanliness.

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