Street paper vendor: We need sex education without the taboos

By Jo Redwitch, L’Itinéraire vendor 

I was born in 1969 and like most of the boys and girls of my generation, talking about sex at home was considered shameful. A lack of proper education can lead anyone to bad experiences, some of which are sometimes irreversible.

On a fine summer afternoon in 1985, my mother and I were sitting together in the waiting room of the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Roberval, Lac-Saint-Jean (Québec). I was 14 and in high school at the time. We were patiently waiting for test results. The atmosphere was tense and my mother was silent, which was unusual for her. I could tell she was ashamed.

L'Itineraire vendor Jo Redwitch. Photo: Alexandra Guellil

When the doctor finally came to see us, he told us my uterus needed to be cleaned out as I had just lost my baby.

That’s the moment when my sexual education started… and ended. No one ever uttered a single word about that day ever again and my mother just pretended it never happened.

My parents never talked about sex with me, and my two younger brothers were served with the same silence on this subject. We were all made to understand that sex was taboo and that we should not bring it up that topic. It was the same thing with love.

I left home the year that incident occurred. My parents sent me to a youth centre where boys and girls lived in separate quarters. The topic of sexuality was just as taboo there as it had been back home. Our only communication with the boys of the centre was through internal mail, which was monitored by the staff. It was only when I turned 16 that I started talking about my love stories to my friends.

Too much sex is like not enough

It seems to me that it would have been essential to discuss love and the intimate life two people share together before I got to discover it on my own. Not so much all the ”technical” information which is learned quite naturally, but rather the risks and consequences of sex. Information and prevention would have certainly helped me take a different path.

I am aware that values have changed, but for me, sexuality and love will always go together. I never received the sexual education I wished I would have been given, and my parents’ obstinate silence on the subject cost me a lot. They never made me feel valued and for that reason, I never had the self-esteem I needed to set boundaries with boys. Instead, I kept on confusing sex with love, even though they can be very closely linked. It’s only with time and experience that I understood it by myself.

“The doctor told I had just lost my baby. That’s the moment when my sexual education started… and ended.”

I am confident that ignorance and naivety are barriers to evolution and that apply to all domains of life. I can now clearly see how the lack of sexual and relationship education has affected my adolescence, as well as my adult life. The emotional neglect I felt led to a disproportionate need to be recognised. Years later, I played the seduction game which deceivingly led me to dance in strip clubs.

I am very conscious that my parents did everything they could to help me with what tools they had. I made my choices deliberately and I learned a lot going through the school of life.

Hyper-sexualisation in today’s society leads me to believe that future generations will be influenced by the constant messages transmitted by the media and advertising.  Young people are increasingly exposed to sexual images, but are they really better educated than I was, when I was a kid?

Jo is a regular contributor to her street paper L’Itinéraire. Read her candid personal essay on being a sex worker, and the impact of Canada’s controversial prostitution bill here.