Five Ways to Start a Conversation About Sexual Health in Your Circles
Sexual health and sexual wellness is one of the most stigmatized conversations: and one that is stigmatized across ages, cultures, and regions. While in some groups it is stigmatized because sex in and off itself is stigmatized; even in younger groups where sex is less taboo- sexual health is still stigmatized- as it is seen as something that is too private and embarrassing to share.
However, these conversations need to be normalized urgently. A lack of conversation around sexual health and the shame associated with it leads to many individuals deprioritizing it in their life, or even having to go through difficult experiences alone. This needs to change to ensure everyone gets the right medical assistance at the right time, as well as has the emotional support they need.
Here are five ways to start a conversation around sexual health in your circles; and break the ice around the shame:
- Know your audience and their specific levels of comfort
I remember being too scared to sing the lyrics of ‘Sheila Ki Jawaani’ openly as a child at home even though I loved singing it in front of my friends, only because of the word ‘sexy’. For a lot of families, even the words ‘sex’ or ‘sexy’ in any connotation can be difficult to bring up- while other groups require other nuances. A conversation about sexual health will vary depending on the person(s)/group the conversation is meant for. One needs to adopt a different strategy for different groups in order for it to be accepted openly and see reformation actually played out. Make sure you’re aware of the level of comfort of the people you want to have the conversation with at the start.
- Start slowly- always
While many swear by the strategy of ‘ripping the band-aid off’: a quick and to the point discussion, in this context- it isn’t sustainable if the goal is continuous and sustainable dialogue. While it is important to call people out rapidly, in order to actually initiate dialogues on taboos- one needs to be more patient. Often notions of sex are tied into deep generationally learned patterns of shame, and something that can’t be unlearnt easily. Be gracious with giving your people space to process these conversations slowly. For instance, in the case of extremely conservative groups, start by talking about the topic in abstract notions such as news about the topic (late detections of STDs), or famous HIV positive celebrities. Slowly, over conversations, talk about personal experiences and expectations.
- Share resources routinely
Use the WhatsApp forward feature to spread important and real news for a change! It’s important to periodically share news, small explainers and facts about sexual health along with usual WhatsApp forwards. This makes it seem like an important piece of information, while using a medium many are comfortable with. Viewing this information presented to them as opposed to having to search for it can really help increase curiosity to do their own research.
- Include in larger conversations around general health
While sexual health is an issue that needs to be discussed on its own to defeat some harmful stereotypes, the only way to normalize it as a part of overall health and well-being of an individual is to include it in conversations around general health. Suggest booking appointments to gynecologists along with regular physicians during annual health check-ups. Ask your institution/organization’s health and nursing department to include information and check ups on it as a part of their annual health drives as well.
- Create milestones and shared experiences
As uncomfortable as it may seem, it is important to make this a collaborative process for it to be sustainable. The only way shame around this activity will ever be broken is if it is looked at as in lieu with several other health related activities that groups take part in together. Give your friend company when when visiting a gynecologist for the first time , suggest getting tested as an early date with a partner, or a marathon for HIV awareness with your parents. Create shared experiences that make learning and being part of this discussion easier for all.
This is in no way an exhaustive list: and a conversation like this is likely to be continuous and change with time in its requirements. However, the generational pattern of shyness and stigma around sexual health needs to be broken somewhere- and it can start with us. We owe it to our communities, ourselves, and our future generations!
If you don’t know where to start, we have got you! Check us out @get_cliterate on how to do this!