Making us ‘happier sexual citizens’

The Sexual Health Resource Centre in the JDUC provides students with information about sex and sexuality in a supportive and confidential space, volunteers say

SHRC director Kat Heintzman and Morgan Vanek demonstrate the use of a dental dam
Image by: Harrison Smith
SHRC director Kat Heintzman and Morgan Vanek demonstrate the use of a dental dam

Tucked away in a remote corner in the depths of the club space on the JDUC’s third floor is a small room, decorated with brightly coloured posters. It’s campus’ best-kept secret—the Sexual Health Resource Centre (SHRC).

The SHRC bills itself as a non-judgmental, non-profit, confidential, feminist, pro-choice, non-heterosexist, positive space. It offers an information and referral service regarding issues of sex, sexuality and sexual health. The organization, was founded 30 years ago as strictly a birth-control centre, has since progressed to offering resources, referrals and sex toys for purchase.

Kat Heintzman, ArtSci ’08, is the SHRC’s director. She has been part of the organization for four years and said even before she came to Queen’s, she knew she wanted to get involved.

“My friend applied here and received a package in the mail mentioning the SHRC,” Heintzman said. “It was the reason I came to Queen’s.”

As SHRC director, Heintzman is directly involved in the hiring process of the centre’s volunteers, or sexperts. The SHRC hires 37 volunteers who sit for two-hour shifts each week. Their responsibilities include answering questions on sex, sexuality and sexual health, walking students through their inventory of sex toys and products and directing them through the SHRC’s personal library.

To be a sexpert, students don’t need any previous qualifications and are generally chosen from a mix of faculties, Heintzman said. The SHRC looks for volunteers who are non-judgmental, open-minded and able to adapt to all issues of sex, sexuality and sexual health.

Heintzman said training for sexperts is mandatory.

“They must be at the training session or they can’t be a volunteer,” she said.

Morgan Vanek, MA ’08, is the SHRC’s internal education co-ordinator. She said the sexperts receive training on a variety of subjects, including queer issues.

The SHRC hasn’t always been able to meet the needs of the queer community at Queen’s, Vanek said. Through a combination of increased training, resources and working with other, like-minded organizations in Kingston and at Queen’s—such as HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS)—the SHRC now reaches a much larger percentage of Queen’s students.

“Our volunteers are trained to use inclusive language and all of them understand the fluidity of relationships,” she said. “Identity doesn’t dictate behaviour. We don’t assume sex, gender or preference.”

Vanek originally got involved with the SHRC five years ago and has been a member of the executive ever since. She said her in-depth knowledge of the SHRC has been beneficial in her connection to other Queen’s organizations, such as Education on Queer Issues Project, Project Outreach for Secondary School Education and Queen’s Project on International Development, along with various student publications.

“Working at the SHRC has been my most valuable experience,” she said. “It’s the reason I stayed at Queen’s.”

The SHRC isn’t just known for promoting safer sex—it’s also known on campus for its sex toys. Originally, SHRC’s sex toys were part of a Valentine’s Day promotional gimmick that ended up being really popular. Vanek said the value of sex toys shouldn’t be underestimated.

“[They] provided a dynamic between sexual health empowerment and sexual pleasure which created an overall sex-positive outlook,” she said. “[The sex toys] meet our mandate.”

While it’s the SHRC’s office manager’s job to choose which sex products are offered for sale, their choices are based on advice from the sexperts, who get feedback from clients. The centre currently stocks a wide variety of safe-sex products—such as condoms and dental dams—pregnancy tests, menstrual products and sex toys.

The SHRC is a non-profit organization run through the AMS, so they sell all their products at cost. The majority of their operating costs come from student fees.

Product prices range from $4 to $65. Their location makes them accessible to more people, Vanek said.

Although the SHRC’s based in the JDUC, the sexperts are are still actively involved in events and activities across campus. During Frosh week, the SHRC actively promotes safe sex to incoming first-year students, making sure they know where to go if they have questions. The SHRC also takes part in the Vagina Monologues, Condom Outreach with HARS—a program that involves going to different gay and straight bars and events and handing out condoms, flyers on STI testing locations and both the SHRC and HARS business cards—and Pride Week.

Although the SHRC may be difficult to locate on your first visit, the location is necessary for ensuring privacy for their clients, Vanek said.

“It ensures confidentiality,” she said. “It reduces the stigma of walking into our office if everyone can see you.”

Vanek, who’s in her last year as an SHRC volunteer, said she’s proud Queen’s has a space where sex and sexuality are supported in a confidential and welcoming environment.

“We are extraordinarily fortunate to be living in time where there exists such an emphasis on sexual freedom and sexual choice,” she said. “However one chooses to conduct [or] perform their sexuality—whether that be casual encounters, long-term monogamy or the choice to abstain—so long as they feel they have the space to safely make informed decisions, then they are expressing empowered sexuality.

“The happier sexual citizens we are, the better. And hopefully, it’s services like the SHRC that will encourage further acceptance of the diverse expressions of sex, sexuality and desire.”

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