A note from the voices behind nuance

Why “nuance”, what is nuance, and what does nuanced sexual health even look like?

As with many origin stories, the reasons for starting are personal. Growing up as an immigrant, I was never given the “sex talk.” Even the concept of the sex talk — a single conversation that is meant to prepare you for a lifetime of sexual health experiences from childhood to adulthood — seems absolutely absurd now. But at the time, I thought that’s when I would learn, because that’s what Western pop culture told me when I would learn.

Diversify

As I grew older, the faces continued to scrunch up and embarrassed looks continued to be exchanged among older cousins and aunties when I asked about things like my period; the talk never came. Instead, media grew to shape and influence what I thought sex would be, how it should be done, who got to do it, and when it should be done. Still, it didn’t make sense to me, because none of the characters on TV looked like me. None of their narratives, none of the ways they dealt with problems felt like options to me. It was as though mainstream media had never met Chinese Christian parents.

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Despite all of this, my 14 year-old mind was still obsessively curious with finding out what the act of sex was, but also what its role was in a relationship. So when I finally did get “sex ed” in grade 9 health, I was looking forward to demystifying this whole topic. Instead, the messages I got quickly turned my thoughts from “man, sex is a mystery” to “damn, sex is dangerous”. If I “did it”, I would inevitably get “knocked up” or contract a “horrible disease”.

What I did figure out eventually, after I moved away from watchful eyes, was sexual health has implications beyond just the physical ailments of STIs and pregnancy. What happened to me physically, affected me mentally/emotionally and influenced the way I interacted socially and vice versa. It was all intertwined. I also saw among friends, family, and peers, that I wasn’t the only one. Sexual health is vital to each and every one of us, because it affects each and every one of us through the relationships we have with others and the relationship we have with ourselves. Most recently and perhaps most importantly, I realized that just because I’m aware of its presence and importance now, it doesn’t mean I have it all “figured out.” My sexual health needs have changed and continue to change as I grow as a person. What I craved to understand as a 14 year old, I now understand as a 20 something, but it’s only opened up more questions.

nuance

It’s a different world today than when I was 14. Yet when I look at the media, a handful of narratives, perspectives, and topics still dominate the conversation when it comes to sex and sexual health, even with the plethora of information available online. These faces, storylines, and concepts of what is even considered sexual health, give cultural and religious communities fuel to continue stigmatizing sex and sexual health because they are not reflective of the people or values of their communities, and consequently, they do not apply. As a result, the conversation is instantly stifled.

But just because we’re not talking about it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The lack of conversation and optionality (i.e. abstinence only) when it comes to navigating sexual health can have lasting effects on those who feel the pressure to uphold the values of their families and communities. Our needs assessment confirmed immigrant youth felt guilt in discussing sex and sexual health, accessed information online for ease and anonymity, and wanted better information and representation of their circumstances in media and services. Other GTA research has shown that newcomers (less than 3 years in Canada) are five times less likely to have received sex education than their Canadian born counterparts. Additional work found that racialized youth accessed sexual health services up to five times less than white youth; a finding applicable to many who identify as immigrants. Our systems exacerbate the issues: Canadian healthcare, media and policies fail to address the unique and intersectional needs of newcomers, immigrants, and second generation youth. Despite all of this, young people are still desperately seeking information that applies to us, and coming up short.

Sexual health is so different person to person that it pains me to see the information, products, and services we consume be reflective of only a handful of needs and perspectives. I believe the way to change this, is to start by bringing more nuance into the conversation.

The word itself means “a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound”; nuance is meant to expand our thinking beyond just “good” or “bad”.

We’ve created nuance to be a digital space and community that focuses on highlighting the sexual health experiences of newcomer, immigrant, and second generation youth. Our aim is to diversify and expand the sexual health conversation to include cultural and spiritual perspectives and explore how sexual health affects our physical, mental and emotional well-being.

We know adding nuance to conversation is not easy. Sex is messy — in every sense of the word. It’s an issue that cannot always be dealt with in black and white perspectives. Many sites focus on the “medical” aspects of sex, often through a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, and cis-gendered lens. This space is different.

This is a space to showcase the in-between. Adding colour into the story allows us to better understand how the cultural and spiritual environments of somebody’s upbringing is deeply implicated in their sexual attitudes and behaviours.

This is a space to explore. Exploring and engaging in discussion on different perspectives does not mean we support them as ways to be. We are here to acknowledge people’s stories, their truths, and to help them see that they are not the only ones grappling with the issue. We hope to have many stories and perspectives exploring the same topic.

This is a space that is positive and safe. Any perspective deemed to be hateful or hurtful to others will not be accepted. While we encourage creative forms of advocacy to push boundaries and illustrate contentious topics, we are first and foremost respectful and believe in reinforcing positive attitudes and behaviours. In line with this, as a reader, you will always be warned at the beginning of a piece whether it contains explicit or triggering content. Your ability to choose how you navigate this space is important to us and we are always taking suggestions as to how we can improve that experience.

This is a space where we make knowledge relevant. So much of what we know is passively learned. With the free flow of information on the internet, we know there’s good and bad stuff out there. With the sexual health professional skills on our team, we’re looking to find trustworthy, vetted, and where possible, local, resources, and link it to a story you might click on. Maybe next time you find yourself in a similar situation, you will think back to the story you read here and find the suggested resources helpful.

We hope you come to this space with the intention to learn and accept the lived experiences of others. But also, we hope you come to reflect, question, and understand your own beliefs and how they’ve shaped your experiences. Borrowing from the wisdom of Toni Morrison, we want you to know that as newcomers, immigrants, and second generation youth, if there’s a story you want to read, but you don’t see it reflected here, then you must create it.

Great question. We’ve laid it out below in terms of what we see in the media and what we actually want to see. The stuff on the left makes us yawn and our eyes roll back into our heads. The stuff on the right makes us draw breath.

Okay we admit, it’s not all bad out there on the world wide web. There’s some really good stuff, but you have to dig deep. There’s great 101 resources out there, but if you’ve made it this far reading, you probably realize we want more. Thank you to every person who contributed to the deeper stuff listed below. Keep doing this amazing work and we’ll change the Internet, one sexual health resource at a time.

Click here to get links to the resources featured above!

Sexual Health: Sexual health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality

Sexuality: Sexuality is a central aspect of what it means to be human; it encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. It is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.

Cis-gender or Cis-gendered: Referring to a person whose gender identity corresponds with that person’s biological sex assigned at birth

Able-bodied: having a strong, healthy body; physically fit and not disabled

Ted Talk: The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Adichie

SRH Week: What does being “sex positive” mean?