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From beds to ballots: The relationship between sex and politics

By Nalyn Tindall

In the intricate dance between politics and personal spaces, our bedrooms become a stage where societal norms, legislative decisions and individual choices intertwine. This forces us to examine our understanding of consent, relationships and sexual health in the most private corners of our lives.

Sex and relationships can be overtly political, with a spectrum of laws governing our bodies, sex lives and intimate relationships. From healthcare restrictions to contentious marriage laws in Canada, allowing unions at the age of 16 with parental consent, these laws raise numerous questions about autonomy, informed decision-making and the lasting impact of such policies on the lives of young individuals. 

What lies beneath many of the policies and societal norms surrounding how we are governed is the education we receive. Decisions such as Doug Ford’s education cuts and the reversal of Ontario’s 2015 sex-ed curriculum—which incorporated discussions on sexual and gender identities—echo far beyond the classroom.

In 2015, Ontario’s Ministry of Education implemented a revised sex education curriculum that incorporated discussions on sexual and gender identities, sparking protests from some parents. In 2018, Premier Doug Ford announced a reversal to the previous curriculum, leading to ongoing debates, legal battles and concerns about the impact on students’ access to comprehensive sexual education in the midst of broader political divisions.

Sex education stands at the intersection of personal well-being and political decision-making, fostering a healthy understanding of intimate relationships, consent and sexual health. 

Policies dictating the content and accessibility of sex education programs can either empower individuals with comprehensive information or create barriers that limit access to crucial knowledge. In navigating the complex landscape of sex education, the role of political choices becomes evident, influencing the quality and inclusivity of educational initiatives.

Felicia Gisondi, the executive director and founder of Sex and Self says, “There’s a big rhetoric that if you teach sex education, it will encourage promiscuity. All studies that have evaluated comprehensive sex education have shown the opposite. They’ve shown less early engagement in sexual activity and more access to reproductive healthcare.”

Sex and Self is a Canada-wide student-run educational organization that “aims to provide a safe space for individuals who have not previously had the opportunity to reclaim or engage positively with their own sexual narrative.” 

Gisondi highlights the importance of this mission, saying, “it’s crucial to empower students and young people with the knowledge to make well-rounded, educated decisions about their [bodies]. But I also think it’s just as important to remind them of how amazing your body is and how many incredible things it does for you, and that your body is a source of pleasure.” 

Broader societal attitudes are further moulded by the influential discourse on identity and intimate relationships online. Debates on social media surrounding gender roles, relationship expectations and dating norms play a pivotal role in shaping personal perceptions offline.

Mika Soetaert, a third-year fashion student at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), says it’s important to be aware of the content you’re consuming on social media. “If I see something that I don’t like, I’m very quick to unfollow someone or just log off the app.” She’s noticed homophobic and transphobic rhetoric surrounding dating on social media, she says, with comments portraying these marginalized groups in a derogatory way.  

She says social media has the ability to influence our opinions and if someone is easily affected by the content they see, it may influence their dating preferences and perception of others. “I think the number one thing for curating your feed is don’t engage with the content you don’t like. That includes commenting for debate,” Soetaert says.

Our intimate relationships may also shape our own political perspectives. The exchange of ideas and values within the close confines of a partnership can lead to a mutual influence on each other’s political beliefs. “You’re more likely to lean a certain way in your political views based on your relationship because of all of the information you’re getting from your partner,” Soetaert says. Conversations around policies, social issues and civic responsibilities become integral components of shared experiences. “You get this biased filter of things because you trust your partner, and that can sway your political views.” 

“There is no place for the state in the bedroom”

However, the intersection of politics and intimate relationships is not always harmonious. Holding opposing political views with a partner can introduce complexities, especially when these differences surround deeply held moral beliefs. Disagreements over political matters may transcend policy debates and become reflections of core values, creating tension within a relationship. Soetaert says while some political disagreements can be overlooked, “I personally don’t want to have a relationship with somebody who has highly contrasting moral values to mine.” 

While policy decisions intersect with personal experiences, they also extend far beyond individual relationships, influencing not only how individuals relate but also shaping the safety of marginalized communities. The impact extends beyond personal preferences, delving into the systemic biases ingrained in policies that may perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination.

In 2021, visible minority groups represented 18.2 per cent of all candidates from the six main federal political parties, according to Policy Options, the digital magazine of the Institute for Research on Public Policy. The representation of visible minorities in our political systems affects the biases of the policy being implemented in our nation. 

The intersections of patriarchy, racism, homophobia and transphobia wield a significant influence over power dynamics within relationships. These discriminatory views, deeply embedded in cultural and political frameworks, create layers of complexity that individuals navigate in their personal lives. 

Seun Lagoke, a second-year TMU professional communication student says he’s experienced what he describes as a “dating hierarchy.” As a “Queer, Black man” from a “predominantly white, predominantly straight town,” Lagoke says dating in Toronto is much easier than in his hometown but this so-called ‘hierarchy’ is still prevalent. 

The intricate ways in which political decisions intersect with personal experiences become particularly evident in examining the safety of marginalized communities. Policies that fail to address systemic biases can perpetuate an environment where certain groups face increased vulnerability. 

“I feel like if you’re in the position I am, you are a bit more cautious,” Lagoke says. Noting that while everyone has to be careful dating—both online and in person—he feels increasingly vulnerable as a marginalized person. 

“I feel like if you’re in the position I am, you are a bit more cautious”

Whether it’s legislation impacting 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, racial justice or gender equity, the consequences of political choices reverberate through our intimate relationships.Recognizing this intersectionality is crucial to understanding the broader implications of political decisions on the lived experiences of individuals within marginalized communities, emphasizing the need for inclusive and equitable policymaking to foster a safer and more just society.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights advocates for “access to safe abortion, comprehensive sexuality education, gender equality, and the rights of LGBTQ persons and sex workers.” Similar organizations such as Reproductive Equity Now call for equitable access to reproductive health care for all, explaining that “barriers to reproductive healthcare disproportionately impact low-income people and people of colour.” 

Access to contraceptive care is just one example of how critical healthcare needs and reproductive autonomy can be shaped by policy. Political decisions regarding funding, availability and inclusivity of services can either empower individuals to make informed choices about their reproductive health or create obstacles that hinder access. 

The impact of these decisions is felt by individuals across diverse backgrounds, particularly those facing systemic barriers to healthcare. “The people who really start evaluating policies and access to care are usually people in crisis, which is very unfortunate,” Gisondi says.

Political decisions play a central role in shaping the policies and frameworks that either promote or impede reproductive health equity. Policies that prioritize inclusivity, affordability and dismantling systemic biases contribute to a landscape where everyone can access the care they need. The far-reaching implications of political choices on the lived experiences of individuals within marginalized communities emphasize the urgency of intersectionality in policymaking.

While there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation, the government still holds power over personal autonomy. Whether it’s dismantling systemic biases or ensuring equitable access to reproductive healthcare, the conclusion is clear: political decisions shape the fabric of our personal lives, influencing not just relationships but the very fabric of societal wellbeing.

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