Interviewing Karen B K Chan

Karen – sexual and emotional literacy educator

Karen you’re a sexual and emotional literacy educator. In which ways can you – through sexual and emotional education – help the people who watch your videos and ask for advice, improving their sexual lives?

In individual work: I help by shining a light on issues that they may not see, identifying patterns of interaction that are not working, helping people figure out what they hope to achieve, suggesting and encouraging ways to shift those patterns towards their goals.

With groups: I help by demystifying common sexual fears and misunderstandings, giving permission and tools to be accepting of self and others, training professionals (medical, legal, social service, and other helping professions) in competence in dealing with sexual diversity and difference.

In which ways does emotional literacy education differ from usual sexual education?

A lot of sex education comes from a history of medical/health education, which is anchored in providing “facts” and in prescribing “healthy” or “correct” behaviors and outcomes. Emotional intelligence accounts for the complex interests and motivations that people have, and also for the rapport that’s necessary for people to believe and connect with their sex educators. Sex education that is void of emotional intelligence can feel irrelevant, judgmental, and alienating to the audience.

Your video Jam has reached 95 thousand people. How, through this metaphor comparing music and sex to highlight innovation, experimentation, search, freedom, knowledge, consent, how can you channel how sex and sexuality can be seen?

Like many creative, human pursuits, sexual experience is and can be unscripted, untidy, and full of surprises. Many of the current social expectations about what sex looks and feels like are skewed, limiting (and often, totally incorrect). From my perspective, comparing sex to musical jamming is not a new idea. It’s returning a natural human endeavor to a simpler, less fabricated state. It’s a reminder and permission to be as we are.

Your video was watched by many people. How do you think it has changed and how can this video be important for one’s learning?

Much of the feedback I received was from people who wish to practice (or already practice) sexuality in an unscripted way. The video resonated with them and affirmed their philosophy.

Many people also said that they wish young people could hear these messages, so that they could develop their sexuality in ways that are loving toward themselves and toward others. I think the video can be a great tool for widening the possibilities of sexual experience, easing anxieties around sexual expectations, and promoting communicative, caring sexual exchanges between people.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. You are developing this job since 2014 of Authoring and editing curricula and lesson plans on sexuality… How important and enriching can this job of curricular editing sexuality lessons be?

It’s an honor to create sexuality lesson plans. Many educators draw on these plans to deliver sex ed curricula. How information is delivered matters a lot, and through writing exercises and scripts, I get to help shape that “how”. I get the chance to promote critical thinking, normalize human diversity, and make sexual education fun and engaging.

What have you learned since the beginning of this project?

I’ve learned that balance is a fine art in education. It’s hard to balance between didactic teaching and participation, critical thinking and the flow of popular culture, honoring a student’s reality and offering additional possibilities.

I’ve also learned how to stop. Specifically, how to stop ceaselessly editing something. It can be an infinite process! At some point, I just have to see that it’s “good enough” and stop.

You address the sexual violence issue and how can there be excitation, either by hardened nipples, erection of the penis, of the clitoris, vaginal secretion. What took you to study this theme which you consider difficult to talk about? How important is it to talk about this problematic?

It’s very important to talk about this. Many people, in many realms, equate physiological arousal to sexual consent, and/or pleasure. This can lead to many misunderstandings and hurts – like long-term partners feeling unwanted by a partner with low desire (whereas the pleasure and consent are still there), or people who have trouble feeling physical pleasure believing that they therefore aren’t sexual (whereas there are many other ways to desire sexual experience).

When it comes to sexual violence, it’s important to discern between arousal, desire/consent, and pleasure because it is sometimes used against survivors of sexual violence. Physiological arousal is sometimes held as proof that the violation was “wanted” (and therefore not assault). This has real implications in holding perpetrators accountable legally and socially. It is also very confusing for the survivor, if they mistakenly believe that they “asked for” the assault. It can deteriorate the trust they have for themselves, their bodies, and boundaries.

How can we see the answer of excitation to something so negative as sexual violence?

We can understand physiological arousal during violence as what it is – the excitation of the nervous system during high stress and fear. It is like the flushed cheeks, increased heart rate, and whole-body arousal while sky-diving or running away from a predator. Just because the body reacts and activates against stimuli does not mean that it’s a positive, wanted, or enjoyable experience.

Thanks for your time, and all the best wishes for your work.

Project Let’s Talk About Sexuality
Interview: Pedro Marques
Translation and Correction and: Jú Matias

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