Hallelujah! I found what I was looking for
There are times on this trip when I wonder why I’m doing this. Riding into a headwind, legs aching eyes itching feeling like every pedal push is agony, I think it would have been better if I had flown. But then sometimes, I meet people who reaffirm my conviction that this country is full of people who are answering questions I haven’t even asked yet. Today we went to A Woman’s Touch, a Sexuality Resource Center and Retail Store in Madison that answered a question that’s been plaguing me for weeks now.
Those of you who’ve been following the blog know that one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is the lack of sex-positivity among health care providers, and the lack of training for health care providers in talking about sex with clients. Around Syracuse or thereabouts, I was interested in figuring out ways to help providers talk about sex with clients and integrate the sex positive education that sex educators do into clinic visits. In Bloomington at the Kinsey Institute, I had a conversation that made me realize that most providers quite simply don’t have the time to talk about pleasure with clients, and probably wouldn’t be the right people to do that even if they did have time. Which left me with the question – if I believe that it’s important to destigmatize sexual pleasure and give each person the freedom to have a fulfilling and healthy sex life, how does that happen?
Well today, I found the answer. We sat down with Ellen, who is a co-owner of A Woman’s Touch. When we walked in, I was immediately struck by the contrast between their store and the other sex positive sex stores I’ve been in. There was lingerie on racks immediately in front of us as we walked in the door, and the store was divided into several different parts, with displays of earrings and jewelry intermingled with the lube and vibrators.
Before Ellen opened a Woman’s Touch, she was a social worker, worked with people with disabilities, and was generally sex-positive in whatever work she did. The co-owner, Myrtle was a doctor of internal medicine and epidemiology who couldn’t deal with the restrictions on her time with patients imposed by HMO’s. In the Mid-90’s, they decided that they wanted to open a store to provide a space for people to get information and resources to help them experience sexual pleasure. Soon after they opened, they began to realize that people were coming to them asking questions about sex that no one else could answer- health care providers didn’t have time, and sex educators didn’t have the medical background to – but Myrtle and Ellen could! They began working with community allies to develop pleasure centered curriculum – for the local AIDS resource center, for instance, who had never before included any conversation about pleasure in their work.
They also began working with health care providers to talk about sex positivity – Myrtle does trainings for nurse practitioners, the sexual assault coalition, etc – and providers refer their patients who are having problems related to sexuality to A Woman’s Touch. As we were having this conversation, a woman walked up and said "I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard what you were talking about and I just wanted to tell you that my doctor sent me here."
Listening to Ellen talk, it was as if a missing piece of the puzzle fell into place – sexuality education in a sex-positive model with a medical foundation all wrapped up in a non-judgmental, open-minded environment with supportive staff! Here was what I had been looking for, and it was working! Not only was it working, it was working really well. They do education for health care providers on including women’s pleasure in their health care practice AND they provide essential information for the people who visit their store (and their website). But more than that, they create a space where women can get both the education they need and comprehensive medical information that integrates sexual health and overall health and encourages people to be healthy in all aspects of their lives.
One of the neatest things about their work is that their aim is to encourage people to be healthy by proving the link between better health and better sex. They have significant evidence showing that the root of most sexual problems are metabolic conditions – diabetes, obesity, etc – and if you can improve those conditions, you can have a better sex life. Imagine! Better health through better sex. That’s what I call a compelling marketing campaign. (Akin to those "cigarettes cause impotence" ads, with the limp cigarette, but with an incredibly appealing positive goal -better sex! – instead of a threat).
It was inspiring and thought provoking to spend time with Ellen and hear about the many and various ways they’re working to increase sex-positivity in the world. I feel like I have lots more to say about it, but I’m being drawn as if I am iron filings and the kitchen is a magnet, where Elizabeth is making banh xeo and Jacquie is sewing the hole in the vintage prom dress she’s lending me for the ladie’s lawn party we’re going to tomorrow in Viroqua.
Sometimes, it is utterly lovely to be me.
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