9. Choosing Safer Sex
* * * * * * * * * * by Sue Mendel * * * * * * * * * *
SUE MENDEL has taught daily living skills including literacy, working mostly with women in various residential and community settings, including a community resource centre. Currently she is tutoring one learner. Her curriculum on safer sex developed from working with women to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
It is not always easy or possible for women to choose safer sex. For women, there are close links between sexual health and violence. Inclusive safer sex education for women addresses personal and cultural values and the power dynamics of sex, and it focuses on safety and empowerment. The goals of this chapter are multiple: to help women relax; to learn about safer sex; to explore some options in safer sex; to make informed choices according to their values and circumstances and to practise skills that can help them act on their choices.
Safer sex is a difficult subject. This chapter invites you, as teacher, to speak out more than may be customary, and to encourage values other than your own. It asks you to present a wide range of information, much wider than what learners ask about, so as to teach what they want to know. (Most people do not disclose all that they want to learn about sex.) It encourages you to reach through initial discomfort to achieve a new level of comfort. It asks you to offer a safe distance so that no one feels pressure to disclose personal information, yet asks you to be ready for people to speak personally. You may find it helpful to work with a co-facilitator.
This chapter is written for women only. It is not suitable for mixed groups. Many women will not feel safe in a mixed group because of previous or current violence from men and because mixed groups are culturally inappropriate. Women must be assured of physical and emotional safety. This chapter's focus on women's exploration and empowerment can be dangerous for women who have violent partners, or friends of those partners, in the class. Without safety, women cannot explore the social norms which make choosing safer sex difficult or impossible. Again for safety reasons, many women will not be able to take home handouts and pamphlets that you give them during the course of this chapter. Make sure that there is a safe place in the classroom that they can use to store material they do not want to take out of class. Even lockers, if they have them, may not be safe.
The focus on women's empowerment in this chapter is strong, even where not expressly stated. A different approach to power, violence, control and self-awareness needs to be used with men-only or mixed groups.
When women start to
talk and read about sex, and feel safe doing so, they may well feel safe enough
to talk about past or current sexual violence. Read
The term "HIV" is generally used in the activities rather than "AIDS," since the emphasis is on preventing infection by the virus rather than describing or treating the disease that results from such infection.
Not much information is given in this chapter about HIV/AIDS since what is printed today may well be out-of-date tomorrow. When you come to use this chapter with learners, the pamphlets referred to here may well have been superceded by others. The activities suggest ways to use available print resources with learners and to incorporate non-print resources into your program.
You will probably want to collect current materials on sexually
transmitted diseases before beginning this chapter. Most are available free
from local community groups active in AIDS education and advocacy, and from
health units, STD clinics and so on.