When ‘friends with benefits’ no longer benefits you

Let’s talk about sex, second tries, and no strings attached

When ‘friends with benefits’ no longer benefits you

A couple of months ago, I decided to get involved in a friends-with-benefits relationship. Do I regret it? No. Does it suck? Yes. Am I surprised that it sucks? No. After all, these situations rarely work out, but I also knew that I didn’t want to shelter myself anymore or cower away from new experiences, even if that entailed making myself vulnerable to getting hurt.

This was the second time I chose to get involved with this guy because I thought the feelings I once had for him were gone. Logically, I understood that we wouldn’t work out together, not only because he had expressed to me before that he didn’t see me ‘that way’ — ouch — but also because I genuinely could not see us in any type of relationship beyond this weird hookup or friends-with-benefits thing.

We don’t share many similar interests, we don’t really have the same sense of humour, and we just aren’t compatible. I figured that my judgment could override my emotions; naturally, this did not work out.

At the time, I didn’t even want a relationship, but tasting intimacy was simultaneously comforting and unsettling. I enjoyed it in the moment, but retrospectively, I felt fake because he didn’t actually want me and he just wanted to have sex with me. I began to crave something genuine.

I realized that my feelings had not disappeared and that I subconsciously thought that if he spent more time with me, he would like me. I eventually had to accept that I was the rule, not the exception, and that if a guy is acting like he doesn’t care, it’s because he doesn’t care. He was doing everything he should be doing for the type of relationship I agreed to: nothing more and nothing less. Could I really blame him?

I rarely dabbled in the dating scene, so I was disturbed when I began to doubt myself because a boy denied me affection. I began to question my emotional and mental depth. I overthought whether I was interesting enough to deserve romantic attention. I have always been strong-willed and self-assured, so I disregarded myself when I began to crumble over a guy who wasn’t worth crumbling over.

I hate to turn this oh-so-sexy article into a Chicken Soup for the Soul narration, but after I ended things with him, I realized how much love was in my life that I had been oblivious to while I was sleeping with him. Was part of this romantic longing a sick need to prove to myself my own worth by trying to win his validation? That’s when I knew it was time to end it.

After it was over, I continued to wonder if casual sex was ever sustainable, or if getting hurt and developing feelings for your partner is inevitable. A friend of mine said that her experience with casual sex worked out well. However, she only recommends it if you don’t see them often because otherwise “you’ll probably get attached, catch feelings, and start freaking out.”

I don’t regret my decision. I still care about him, and he still cares about me. I broke it off because hoping for anything stronger than platonic care is a waste of my time and energy. In a weird way, friends with benefits did work out. I learned from it. I sustained the friendship. I walked away.

If anyone relates to my experience or is in a similar situation, my main advice is to end it when it’s not fun anymore. If you want more from the relationship but can’t get it, or if you find yourself feeling generally dissatisfied or frustrated, you should probably move on.

Stop beating your dead horse. The horse is already dead and the punching and kicking will only make you winded. We all have too much to do to be winded.

Things that go bump in the night

A playlist for wandering bodies

Things that go bump in the night

While sex is often dramatized as something similar to the glorious union of two silkily muscular dolphins, reality isn’t usually as kind. I, for one, am not a grey tube with flippers. Though I am extremely intelligent for my kind — blonde woman — so go figure.

Our bodies make sounds and produce fluids. Smushing them together often gets a little messy and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, especially if you have roommates with particularly sonic voyeuristic tendencies, a bit of ambient sound can be useful. As I’m sure you know, this is where music comes in handy.

But in the heat of the moment, making a musical selection can be stressful. Music can make or break a mood! So here I am with this generic and universally applicable playlist for you, embedded in an article that will pop up whenever anyone googles my name.

Please, enjoy. Embrace pleasure with an open fist and a tight glove.

1.  “Pink Beetle” by Rejjie Snow, 2016

As a recovering Catholic, I can assure you that all good things follow a resounding chorus of “Our Father.”

2. “Couch” by Triathalon, 2018

Okay, so we started out with some heavy religious motifs. Am I the only one who finds that hot? Surely not on this campus — cough, cough, St. Mike’s. Now let’s move into some lo-fi innuendos.

3. “Got Friends feat. Miguel” by Goldlink, 2018

Is this song about an orgy? I don’t know, I’m not Ilan Zechory. But it could be. In conclusion, mystery is hot and so is this song.

4. “Move Slow feat. Olukara” by Maxwell Young, 2016

Whew, okay, things started to heat up with that orgy-no-orgy debate, so let’s smooth things out a little bit. Here’s another skinny European.

5. “Yeah, I Said It” by Rihanna, 2016

Do I need to explain this? Nope.

6. “Why” by Roy Woods, 2016

Let’s get some Canadian nationalism in this strange line-up, shall we? Roy Woods is a trifecta of sexual energy: his name is gorgeous, he says “thighssss” with about a million s’, and he mumbles enough for me to project whatever I need to hear onto his vocal sounds.

7. “Redbone” by Childish Gambino, 2016

It has the word bone in the title! Hahahah.

Also, all the scenes in Atlanta of Donald Glover in tightie-whities has ensured that I will never not be attracted to him. So yeah, it’s a hot song. Aren’t you glad I dodged the obvious stay woke joke here? Comedy gold!

8. “Carmen” by Jay Squared, 2017

Honestly, this popped up on my explore feed last year and I got super into it. Could this be because I was alone at the time, and the singer — whoops — crooned “you ain’t alone no more!” in the first line? Who knows, psychology is a nerd’s game.

9. “Call Me Up” by Homeshake, 2017

Alright, we’re winding down. Soft trumpets. Yes. Lovely. Ooh, a soft voice talking about the future. Lovely. Don’t tense up, don’t tense up. The future. Pass the rash cream, please.

10. “Glory Box” by Portishead, 1994

Conclusion! Bing, bang, boom. “Just want to be a woman.” Or whatever you wanna be. It’s a post-orgasm world, “A thousand flowers could bloom. Move over, and give us some room.”

 

“thank u, next” — contributors talk about relationships they’re leaving behind this year

Introducing The Varsity’s newest column: Let’s talk about sex

“thank u, next” — contributors talk about relationships they’re leaving behind this year

The lady on the screen above the dated stainless steel washer said it was going to start snowing at 2:00 pm — and start snowing it did.

Everywhere I look, I see you.

As the snow falls, I am transported to the Brooklyn bar under the highway where I held your hand and asked you to follow me. Reaching for your beer, you say, “You’re going to move here.”

You look down at your beer rolling it between your palms. “But I can’t come with you, I just can’t.” I look past you at the snow lit red by the neon light. My throat tightens.

I wake up in a cold sweat in a tiny Bushwick apartment. In my dream, a tiny blonde slipped out of your bedroom, while I, a stranger, slipped on my shoes down the hall.

I don’t think of you anymore. Except when it snows. Or a certain song comes on. Or when someone says, “It’s a toss-up.”

I wanted you to feel pain when it ended, but that would have required you to first feel passion.

You felt nothing and I felt everything. I told you nothing and you told me everything. I became the kind of woman I thought you might love. You became the kind of man people would call a ‘good boyfriend.’

You never knew me. I never fell in love with you.

So allow me to send my love letter from New York. I’ll keep it simple. I am happy you left me. I am happy I left town. I am happy that you are finding yourself.

I hope you find the passion too. I know you’ll find love. I hope she knows how precious you are. As for me? I did it babe, and I am so happy.

— Chantel Ouellet

 

If you’re reading this, I don’t care.

What is typically gleaned from years of therapy can be told with three simple words: thank you, next. Pop sensation Ariana Grande tells her listeners to dump the douche and love yourself. 2019 is a year of possibility, devoid of that I’m-trying-to-figure-myself-out love, followed by a don’t-worry-I’ll-only-spend-weeks-neglecting-you-because-of-it love.

Yet 10 missed calls and a “I wish I could kiss you at midnight” voicemail does not scream ‘thank you’ nor ‘next.’ Not everybody can be grateful for a cheating, manipulative “I’ve just been really busy” type of ex. But you can start a new page. The next chapter doesn’t have to be ripped from the spine of a Nicholas Sparks novel, nor does it have to come from the ambitious pages of The Alchemist. You don’t need to be bursting with love or dripping with inspiration to be important.

Real treasure doesn’t need to be sought out, and a man is not what’s glowing in your gold-encrusted chest. If I could do it all over, I’d stop guessing why he hadn’t texted back and instead simply say, “Thank you, next.” His vacant words will not draw you any closer to your goals.

They won’t tie you to a storyline or secure the future you doodled into the pages of your childhood diary. Choosing a person who always puts themselves first will only force you to put yourself last each time. It’s important to know how to accept love, but also to know when to admit Ariana is right. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re drafting an escape route for your toxic relationship.

My advice: this year, skip the bull. Tell the flighty dude, “Thank you, next,” even though 2019 is the year when we’re so grateful for ourselves. Don’t waste your time with greentext paragraphs or old Instagram photos. Simply put down the phone and make 2019 noteworthy.

— Grace Meany

 

I guess it’s kinda sad that we broke up. The time and money that neither of us had in the first place but used on each other essentially went down the drain as the long distance coupled with our growing irritability toward one another resulted in the inevitable demise of our relationship.

But I’m glad that we did when we did, because if one thing was made painfully clear to me as frosh week turned into reading week and then exams, it’s that the difficulty of the academic transition between high school and university, along with the availability needed to build new social relationships and my own attempts at keeping a part-time job, would have only erupted into a disastrous mess, had I also set aside the time and energy needed to keep our relationship going.

I can’t lie though, there are times when I — and my entire body writhes as I say this — miss you. For one, I’m no longer part of the elite Spotify premium class and am instead an ad-listening pleb. I see posts from people I didn’t like in high school and have no one to readily trash talk to, and no one else will willingly listen to me rant about how the MLB is committing corporate suicide in the face of younger generations.

However, I know you’re still present in my life in many really crucial and meaningful ways, including your HBO account that I still use to watch The Sopranos, the comfy rag & bone sweater I stole from you and doubt that you’ve missed, and finally your contribution to my oral health with that electric toothbrush you gifted me last Christmas.

And with that, it’s time for me to pursue my 2019 dream boyfriend — that sexy sexy 4.0. I can’t wait for him to stop playing hard to get.

— Angie Luo

 

One of the most basic new year’s resolutions, other than getting fit, is finally cutting out that ex you know is no good and I, unfortunately, am one of the countless girls who brought in the new year to “thank u, next,” promising to cut out the toxic ex. Here’s hoping I stick to it this semester.

I’ve been back in Toronto for a little over a week and I’m already so deep into my university routine I can barely remember lying in a queen-sized bed and not having to do laundry or eat cereal for dinner. In first year, going home for winter break brings up a wide range of emotions, some which make you question your sanity, one of them being nostalgia. Maybe it’s something about going back to places with so many memories, but somehow there is always some sort of communication with your ex, and I know I’m not the only one who got the “Hey how’s uni?” text.

I was in a long, confusing relationship for most of high school and I was just about done with it, and university was the perfect exit point, a point where we both decided that we had a good run in each other’s lives. But it was time to move on and go separate ways. So my question is why was it necessary for me to get a reply to my Snapchat story of my airplane window, asking me when I was reaching home.

Unfortunately, I am not completely innocent, having replied and indulged polite conversation until the point the conversation escalated from “How are your classes?”  to ”Do you want to hang out?” too quickly.

Thinking back, I realized that it’s always the one ex who hasn’t really met anyone or who has had a bad experience in university who texts first. If you’re the one who hits your ex up, shame on you. If my friend can meet a guy, and 20 minutes into the conversation be asked if she’s going to have an arranged marriage just because she’s brown, and still not hit up her ex, I’m pretty sure you can do the same.

— Krisha Mansukhani

 

One day, my then-girlfriend suggested those four dreadful, short-circuiting English words: “We need to talk.” Naturally, this came as a surprise, so I asked, “What’s wrong?”

She explained that she loves me, that her family and friends like me a lot, and she assured me that, she hopes, the issue is something I’m totally unaware of. She claimed, when we’re out and about, for example, on campus, that I walk through other people’s photos. She hoped that I was just scatterbrained and unaware of my actions and demanded from me an acknowledgement and explanation.

I replied that I like her for all the same reasons. However, I’m totally aware of my actions and insisted that I had a great argument to support them. Firstly, most are using digital cameras; if it were film, I’d genuinely feel guilty, since the price and patience required mean something more.

Secondly, the world doesn’t revolve around them. When I take photos, I wait for gaps, aim high, and don’t expect the world to stop for my self-indulgence — I’m just not that self-important. I thought hard about my argument and developed a provisional conclusion, since, honest to goodness, I’m open to change in light of more compelling evidence, really.

She retorted, and I’m paraphrasing here, “What if this lady taking a photo is from, say Chile, and when she returns home and shows off her travels on a slideshow to her family, and in every Toronto photo there’s this tall bearded guy? Her family would rightly ask if that’s how Torontonians look and act, eh?”

She said, “I love you, but you need to be a better ambassador for where you live.”

“At the very least, when you’re photobombing the poor people’s photos, you can smile!”

These days, I smile every time I do it!

— Oscar Starschild


If you are interested in contributing to “Let’s talk about sex,” email arts@thevarsity.ca.

Cue the hysteria!!!!

OMG he’s SO cute — I would just DIE if he was my boyf — I just love them SO SO much!!!

Cue the hysteria!!!!

Boy bands: we love to hate them, and we hate to love them. For many of us, our youth was filled with posters on the wall, boys staring into our souls as we slept, and hours spent flipping through futile tabloid magazines, deciding whether Justin or Lance was ‘the one.’1

From The Beatles at the London Palladium in 1963 to 5 Seconds of Summer at the Greek Theatre in 2018, boy bands form a prevalent music genre that isn’t going anywhere — and probably never will.

When I was first given this topic, I was stumped. Never had I thought of boy bands as more than streams of disposable music, whom, for a brief moment in my childhood, I may or may not have worshipped. But them having an effect on my sexuality, or rather, being an outlet for one’s latent pubescent urges — was this a reality? Now I was interested. I suppose somewhere along the line, I forgot that I too was once a raging fangirl.

What constitutes the boy band phenomenon? Characterized by beautifully curated groups of young men, synchronized dancing, and hysterical fans, it is an industry that reaps benefits from young girls exploring their sexuality. That being said, what other safe spaces are there for females to come into their own without shame?

These fans are deemed maniacal and hypersexual, and more often than not this reflects negatively on girls. One of the few havens to navigate budding sexualities and even this is met with pushback. Guys have their stash of Playboy under their beds, pictures of Pamela Anderson adorning their walls, and the incognito browser on ready.2 They spend hours getting hypercharged and absurdly aggressive over 90 minutes of football, yet when girls are the ones behind these displays of emotion, we are ‘hysterical.’3

Boy bands allow for this community, where young fans, women and men, can explore their sexualities, preferences, and discover what lies within their comfort zone. Not to deny that this culture may breed heteronormativity, but the scope has widened with the emergence of girl groups on a much larger scale within the last decade. Yet while ‘girl groups’4 are not met with the same fan mobbing culture, they are channels for queer girls to get hot’n’heavy without subjecting eyes.

Women are often shunned for questioning and attempting to navigate their sexuality. In certain communities, they aren’t even perceived as beings with desires, but rather objects to have sex with. Bands create a platform for exploring sexuality publicly as a community.5

Now, let’s not leave men out of this equation,6 as they too are affected by the presence of boy bands. A little research led me to the history of the institution, and make no mistake, there is much gender politics at play. In the early 1920s, collegiate acapella boy bands arose, and their crooning was seen as defying conventional masculinity.

These men, with their soulfully piercing voices and smoldering intimacy — appeal,7 were swooping up copious numbers of female followers. They were met with vitriol and disdain from men threatened by the genre, as it created sexual agency for women. As such, the first members of boy bands were labelled effeminate and weak, and members to this day are heavily criticized for their appearance.

God forbid anyone encourage men to be anything but impermeable fortresses of entitlement and machismo.

I suppose this is another manner in which boy bands contribute positively toward society, by establishing progressive dynamics for young boys. Do not take this as my endorsement of any Tom, Dick, and Harry; there are bands who have churned out inappropriate and borderline perverse songs, but our lack of attentiveness toward lyrics is a whole other topic.

As far as boy bands are concerned, carry on fantasizing, pining, and deserving every cotton candy day dream.

1 For those of you who never knew the joy of Tamagotchis, Club Penguin, and playing Mario Land on the Game Boy, this is a reference to boy band NSYNC. A comparable popular reference would be Harry or Liam.

2  If you know, you know.

Fun fact: hysteria was once considered a medical condition that, surprise, surprise, only afflicted women.

I know we had Destiny’s Child and The Pussycat Dolls, but admit it, there are way more groups now than there ever was before.

Armstrong, Jennifer. “What’s So Feminist About Liking Boy Bands?” DAME. 2015

You know how they get with their fragile egos and all.

Sex appeal would be the wrong way to describe the ‘gentle lover’ aura that these men exude.

The vagina dialogues

One writer’s journey through the stigmas of self-pleasure

The vagina dialogues

I have a very distinct memory from when I was 17 and sitting on the couch across from my mom. She paused the Netflix show we were watching, turned to me and said, “Hey, so do you want me to buy you a vibrator?” Out of pure astonishment and, quite frankly, a lot of embarrassment, I burst out laughing.

Now I think it’s important to preface this by saying that aside from the fact that my mother has a little more grace and never showed up at any of my school functions with a video camera and a slew of embarrassing dance moves, Regina George and I basically share a mom.

Throughout my childhood and into my teens, my mom always cultivated a safe space for me where I could ask questions about my body. She never made me feel ashamed for having curiosities. But even still, I wasn’t really sure how to answer the question. And furthermore, I didn’t understand why, after 17 years of open and honest dialogue between the two of us, I still felt ashamed talking about it.

If I’m being honest — which, by the title of this article, you can probably gather that I’m going to be very honest — when I first sat down to write this piece, I was worried that I was going to be perceived as an oversharer. I mean, I am literally sitting down to write about masturbation, a topic that is still often seen as taboo in our society or too personal to write about in-depth. As a result, I became so focused on how my writing would be received that I struggled to get the piece written at all.

It took a few words from a friend, who, over hot chocolate and a bag of carrots, mentioned her passion for sparking conversations that few are brave enough to have. And it hit me as she jokingly rolled up her sleeves and said, “Alright, you want to talk about it? Let’s go.” This is one of those conversations.

So, as I sit in bed hammering away at my keyboard, I’m rolling up my sleeves myself.

Let’s go.

For the last month or so, I’ve been trying to understand why masturbation, specifically for women and queer individuals, is so frowned upon in conversation. In hindsight, I think it’s partially due to the fact that children rarely received much formal education about it.

This is especially true for me. Throughout my time navigating the Manitoba education system, masturbation was never something formally discussed. The topic was uncharted territory, something laughable and embarrassing.

At least it was for fellow female students. For boys, however, it was seen as normal — to be expected and even celebrated.

This is still the case for many young people trying to navigate today’s middle and high school systems. While these systems and their curricula have changed since the mid-to-late 2000s, young people today are still resorting to the internet to figure things out for themselves. This is especially true now, considering Premier Doug Ford’s rollback of the Ontario sexual education curriculum.

Recently, one of my friends told me that she remembers Googling “how to masturbate” at 16 years old because no one had ever told her what it was or how to do it. Instead of looking to the internet to teach us, this should have been, at the very least, talked about in school. Not only can this dependence result in an abundance of harmful misconceptions, but it can reinforce stigma surrounding masturbation as well.

Online pornography is still the primary method that teenagers resort to in order to learn about masturbation and sex. As a result, young people are being fuelled with misinformation of what ‘real’ sex looks like, only obtaining a false depiction of what it actually is. Traditional porn, so clearly designed to cater to the male gaze and experience, is not a genuine educational resource — especially for those of us who can’t identify with it.

As a queer woman, it’s always been a bit challenging to get access to accurate information when it comes to sex. I can remember still being in the closet, desperately trying to navigate the multitude of complexities that come along with suddenly realizing you’re gay at 15 years old — one of which is that you pretty much have no idea about how sex works, let alone how to be safe when having it.

Thankfully, we are living in a time and culture that is finally starting to move away from those cisgender, heteronormative conversations about what ‘real’ sex is. Dental dams and finger condoms are readily available at most Planned Parenthood locations and several medical clinics throughout the city. Contraception is available on campus, and sex is talked about in orientation events as a given fact of life.

But even so, this is still the experience for so many youths in the LGBTQ+ community, who are taught little to nothing when it comes to non-heterosexual relations. When you’re not having these conversations in school — a place which is, by design, meant to teach — how else are you supposed to learn what sex entails? And if you don’t learn about sex, how can you begin to unravel the complexities of masturbation and self-pleasure?

Until recently, I wasn’t very aware of the extent to which my friends had also been affected by the stigmas surrounding masturbation and sex. Over a night of wine-induced laughter and hors d’oeuvres, I sat with them, hoping to gain some insight on the topic. I focused my questions primarily on the taboos associated with masturbation, specifically for women and queer people. I first asked my friends what they’d been taught in school, and while the response I received was disappointing, I can’t say that I was particularly surprised.

One of my friends told me that only twice during his time in the Ontario education system did he hear about female masturbation. According to him, aside from conception and childbirth, there was an absence of information regarding the functions of the female reproductive system. He didn’t know that the female body could orgasm until he was about 16 years old.

As another friend so eloquently put it, her sexual awakening was sparked by Taylor Lautner, but she had no idea how to channel the new feelings that he awoke. She told me that throughout her teen years, she wasn’t even aware that what she was doing was considered masturbation, nor was she sure whether it was a normal thing to do. She went on to say that this was due to the fact that no one had ever actually told her what masturbation is, or that it is something that women are even capable of.

While masturbation for men is usually portrayed and talked about as a matter of course that is inherent to manhood, for women, it is centred around a sense of independence. The fact that it involves a woman having a sexuality of her own, independent of men altogether, is in many ways revolutionary. In a world that is just reaching a point where we are beginning to create space for these conversations, this idea still causes discomfort for many people — women included!

I find this fact of particular interest considering that feminism has been on the record since the mid-nineteenth century. Women across the globe have been challenging these patriarchal, misogynistic, and heteronormative perspectives of how the world should operate for over 100 years. And yet, we still struggle with the basic idea of women pleasuring themselves solely for the purpose of pleasuring themselves.

One could say that this extends doubly for queer women. This is because, when we are sexualized, it’s also in the context of interacting with each other, not just with ourselves and our own bodies. The hypersexualization of queer women in the context of masturbation is rooted in the fact that we tend to have, but are not limited to, fantasies about other women. Again, this comes back to the discomfort that people feel when considering women masturbating for their own pleasure, disconnected from men entirely.

This is why I believe it is essential to be aware of the intersecting axes of disadvantage that come into play within the settings of these conversations. This is of particular importance when looking at the experience of non-binary and trans people, because they have the added stigmas surrounding their respective identities that make their experiences unique and, in many circumstances, more challenging to those of cisgender queer women like myself.

There are feminist-inspired sex toy companies, such as KnottyVibes, Picobong, Babeland, and GoodVibrations, whose purpose is to help normalize masturbation and conversations surrounding it. We’ve also now reached an age when there are sex toys specifically designed for trans people, such as Buck-off, the first sex toy marketed for trans men on hormone replacement therapy. All of these companies are helping to develop a culture in which conversations about masturbation are not something that we have to whisper to each other in passing.

I think it’s only fair for me to say that I’m still trying to figure all this out for myself. But if I had to summarize the main realization that I’ve come to since setting out to write this piece, it’s that it’s essential to be self-aware — not just of ourselves and our own bodies, but also because it’s important to be cognizant of the variety of circumstances that come together to make each person’s experience unique and how we choose to speak of those particular experiences.

At this point, I think I should probably point out that I’m a huge advocate for personal growth through education and conversation, specifically when it comes to topics that can, at times, get rather murky. This being the case, I think it’s only fair that I bombard you with an arsenal of learning materials when it comes to the topic of masturbation and other forms of sexual health because, as my mom so bluntly puts it, “Sexual health is important — it’s a fact of life!”

Whether it is by subscribing to blogs such as PinkNews, Autostraddle, and DIVAMagazine; binge-watching YouTube videos by sexual health advocates such as Stevie Boebi and Hannah Witton; or, in my friend’s case, simply Googling “how to masturbate,” education is the first step to getting a grasp on these topics.

In writing this piece, I’m hoping to help normalize conversations surrounding masturbation and sexual education and encourage a more intersectional way of thinking about pleasure. If I’ve done what I’ve set out to do, you’ll walk away from this piece thinking about what you have yet to learn and questioning what you already do.

So I’ll leave you with one final piece of advice: be curious, ask questions, and learn.

The eggs we eat can’t actually hatch

The pressing need to dispel sexual misconceptions at all levels of education

The eggs we eat can’t actually hatch

Twice this past year, I have found myself having to explain that the type of chicken eggs we eat aren’t able to actually hatch into chickens. Each of these conversations began with someone questioning why, as a vegetarian, do I still eat eggs, despite the fact that they are basically “unborn chickens.”

I explained that chicken eggs are not the same as chicken fetuses. Like in human females, some eggs become fertilized and some do not; only the ones that are fertilized become fetuses, and the ones that do not are expelled from the female’s system. This is the same process with chickens, only in the form of hard-shelled eggs.

What was striking was that, instead of clarifying things, this comparison made things more confusing. I discovered that many of the individuals I spoke to had not learned the basics of female anatomy, fertilization processes, and contraception.

Misunderstanding the basics about sex seems to be widespread. Sex education varies tremendously across jurisdictions, resulting in wide knowledge gaps.

For example, sex education is monitored locally in Canada, with programs and curricula varying from province to province and creating wildly different classroom expectations depending on the location.
[pullquote-features]These discrepancies are seen across the board, meaning that it is left up to parents to teach some of the more controversial lessons in sex education. If the parents lack either prior exposure to information or the willingness to have taboo conversations, the student inherits an information deficit.[/pullquote-features]

Students in Newfoundland and Labrador learn about sexual abuse in the second grade, while teachers in Manitoba are not mandated to even approach this topic. Even more surprisingly, Quebec doesn’t have an official sexual education program at all: rather, it embeds the lessons into other subjects.

These discrepancies are seen across the board, meaning that it is left up to parents to teach some of the more controversial lessons in sex education. If the parents lack either prior exposure to information or the willingness to have taboo conversations, the student inherits an information deficit.

This is not to mention that sexual education — or the lack thereof — inherently involves opinions and value judgements. Different families, religions, and cultures have different ideologies on when having sex for the first time is appropriate and on the moral issues related to contraception and abortion.

No matter the belief system, improper education leaves youth vulnerable to unsafe practices. This variance is further amplified given the sheer international diversity of sex ed perspectives: 20.6 per cent of Canada’s population was born abroad and 25 per cent of the student body at the University of Toronto is comprised of international students.

Clearly, a lack of knowledge about sex education is not without consequence. Sexually transmitted infections continue to be prevalent in Canada and around the world; learning about these risks is essential to mitigating them.

Yet, a lack of knowledge is not the only problem in the nation’s approach to promoting safe sex; the system that is in place does not provide easy enough access to contraception. While condoms are sporadically provided for free in universities across Canada (they are available at the Sexual Education Centre and Health Services at U of T, as well as in some dorms), they remain expensive for many. Cheaper and more accessible options for safer sex should be more widely explored.

Lauren Groskaufmanis, a student at Duke University School of Medicine, previously taught sex ed to adolescents in North Carolina high schools. She explains that she is not aware of any sex ed programs that do not teach abstinence as the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STIs, no matter how progressive the program.

“You can’t teach abstinence only because it’s not preventative,” Groskaufmanis says. “Providing teenagers access to condoms doesn’t raise the rate of sexual activity, neither does education.”

Instead, prevention of STIs and unplanned pregnancy is most effective when sex education is paired with access to contraception and other health resources. The American Academy of Pediatrics made guidelines in 2013 that recommended providing free condoms, finding that condom use increased when free access was provided by the school system.

[pullquote-features]Providing adequate resources and a solid educational basis provides protection to students, who can be vulnerable to the dangers of unsafe sex.[/pullquote-features]

At U of T, while students benefit from the free access to safer sex supplies offered at some locations, some students may be embarrassed and unwilling to take advantage of this option if they are to be seen doing so in public. This creates varying barriers for student access and, consequently, varying levels of safe sex.

Providing adequate resources and a solid educational basis provides protection to students, who can be vulnerable to the dangers of unsafe sex. It also accommodates for the impractical idea that all students come into university with thorough knowledge about sex.

Therefore, the University of Toronto should prioritize sexual education at the university level, by strengthening and expanding upon existing programming, and by improving access to contraception on campus.

As beneficial as the resources currently available may be, they are not sufficiently widespread to help all students. For instance, while the Sexual Education Centre provides contraception and resources and works hard to promote sex positivity on campus, some students are not comfortable reaching out to make use of these services. Making sexual education more prevalent on campus may encourage those students to reach out.

For students who invariably have different exposure to sexual education, providing access to contraception and education in university will reduce problems at university and further on in life. Free contraception and universal sexual education are the best ways for the university to reduce misunderstandings about sex and the inevitable problems that occur ― they would accommodate for the fact that students in university are inevitably having sex.

 

Sunniva Bean is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Sociology and International Relations.