October 23, 2021

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The UK Zine Tackling Sex And Relationship Issues For People Of Colour


Open The Sex Agenda zine, a new publication by grassroots community sexual and reproductive health organisation Decolonising Contraception, and you’ll find a startling variety of stories.

There’s a piece about why gay South Asian men hesitate to engage with sexual health services. There’s an investigation into the greater implications of a couple having mismatched libidos. Then there’s a personal essay by a doctor who was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Each story is told through the perspective of Black people and people of colour.

These are just a few of the lenses through which the zine explores sexuality and intimacy. The Sex Agenda aims to lead conversations around sexual and reproductive health for marginalised communities, sculpting a space for voices that aren’t always heard when it comes to this subject. The first issue tackles why exactly this is the case. A history of shame, silence, and taboo has overwhelming veiled subjects of sex for Black people and people of colour.

“Sex is taboo. Race is taboo. So where these two things overlap there is a lot of shame and silence.”

“Sex is taboo. Race is taboo. So where these two things overlap there is a lot of shame and silence,” says Dr. Annabel Sowemimo, a community sexual and reproductive health registrar and co-director of Decolonising Contraception.

The link between race and taboo should be recognised. Taboos are inherently social and religious customs that restrict or forbid practices. In many cultures, things like abortion, homosexuality, and sexual desire are taught to be morally inconsistent with traditional upbringings.

Simply talking abut sex can be taboo for Black people and people of colour, say members of Decolonising Contraception.

“There’s a lot that’s unspoken,” Dr. Sowemimo tells Mashable.

In the zine’s opening letter from the co-directors of the collective, Dr. Sowemimo and Edem Ntumy write, “This zine was an opportunity to give a voice to those who do not routinely have a platform to share their sex and relationship experiences, which often leaves them feeling excluded from mainstream journalism and struggling to access services.”

The UK zine tackling sex and relationship issues for people of colour

The collective responsible for the zine is based in the UK, where they blend cultural and colonial history in their work across disciples of sexual and reproductive health. In the organisation’s manifesto or “Sexfesto”, they acknowledge their belief that health inequalities have colonial origins and stem from racial hierarchies. This applies to sex education and sexual health, but is rarely measured in mainstream media, say the directors of the group.

“People do not talk about how sexual preferences overlap with racial discrimination, we do not talk about how poor sexual health overlaps with poverty, and we do not talk about where these issues stem from,” says Dr. Sowemimo. “Black LGBTQI+ communities are disproportionately affected by HIV, yet the why is grossly simplified — what is it about being Black and gay that leaves you so profoundly disadvantaged in your life chances?”

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) released evidence of health inequalities due to race in 2016. This includes the likelihood of being treated with “dignity and respect” while visiting the hospital. Asian and British Asian patients were 20 percent less likely to say they had a positive experience at health services. According to The King’s Fund, an independent organisation working to improve health and care in the UK, evidence shows that mental health issues are experienced at higher rates for LGBTQ+ people in the country.

Black women in the UK also experience significantly higher mortality rates. For instance, Black women are four times more likely than white women to die from due to pregnancy and childbirth. Meanwhile, Asian women in the UK are twice as likely to face maternal deaths.

The Sex Agenda hopes to dissect and delineate the inherent link between these inequalities and larger issues in sexual health.

The zine’s content is in line with the collective’s wider motivations — and the stories show it. Topics span across dating, parenthood, STIs, sexual trauma and violence, and non-monogamy.

“The zine addresses a range of topics including period shame and decolonising menstruation, dating as a trans person, racial fetishisation, loss of libido and sexual health testing avoidance to name a few,” says Naz Toorabally, The Sex Agenda project manager. “For example, in ‘Preference and Prejudice’ Amirah talks about her experiences of being fetishised by men she has dated and encourages readers to never feel like they have to accommodate racially insensitive behaviour even when dating. And in ‘More Questions Than Answers: Searching for Love as a Young Non-cis Masculine Person of Colour’, Alex candidly shares his experiences and hopes in his search for love.”

The zine also addresses healing, and invoking other forms of justice to help survivors of sexual violence, such as community engagement, restorative justice, and all the while, examining implications of race.

“The traditional systems of justice have historically not worked, so starting to consider that there can be alternatives, that we can put survivors at the centre, and there are better ways suited to addressing the racial dynamics at play is really fundamental,” Dr. Sowemimo says. “In the zine, some of the contributors write about emotional and physical abuse — this formation of community, sharing our stories is healing that we have created for ourselves.”

The UK zine tackling sex and relationship issues for people of colour

She explains that a zine was a compelling medium through which these stories could be told, especially for those who haven’t seen their communities represented in the media’s coverage of such topics. The first zine is thought to have been published in 1930s Chicago, sprouting the movement of self-published works featuring DIY aesthetics and covering lesser-known subjects.

“Zines have become a growing means of expression amongst young people, particularly those from marginalised groups,” says Dr. Sowemimo. “We felt that this would be a powerful way to raise awareness on the aspects of sexual and reproductive health that people don’t often get to discuss.”

The zine’s purpose of tackling the taboo has been welcomed by communities and readers, in addition to the contributors.

“I think people have been really excited to experience a new way to open up the conversation on race and sexuality,” says Dr. Sowemimo.

The Sex Agenda zine can be purchased online through Etsy, and will also be stocked at independent bookshops. Issues can be ordered for free by sexual health clinics, and charities in the UK. For people who do not have the funds to purchase a copy, 100 issues will be available worldwide to order for free, too.



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