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Decolonising Contraception’s The Sex Agenda zine
Illustration Maaya Lad (@MaayaLad)

This stigma-busting zine unpacks sex and relationship issues affecting POCs

Created by Decolonising Contraception, the zine aims to provide a space for people who feel their voices are rarely heard in the mainstream media

Since hosting its first event in 2018, grassroots reproductive health organisation Decolonising Contraception has established itself as a vital space for Black and people of colour to address issues regarding sex and relationships.

Last year – in response to these communities being disproportionately impacted by poor sexual health due to health inequalities – Decolonising Contraception launched a podcast entitled The Sex Agenda. Now in its second season, the show is hosted by co-directors Dr Annabel Sowemimo, a community sexual and reproductive health doctor, and Edem Ntumy, who works as a community engagement officer. In each episode, they’re joined by guests to discuss a plethora of subjects – from kink, BDSM, and sex work to queerness in south Asian and Caribbean communities. 

Now, The Sex Agenda has evolved into a multimedia sex education project, providing digital workshops that share vital information – such as practical guides to PrEP and HIV – as well as debunking common misconceptions and sexual health myths. 

The newest addition to the initiative comes in the form of an 80-page zine which unpacks and tackles some of the most stigmatised conversations in sex and relationships. Just like the podcast, the zine refuses to shy away from any topic, covering issues such as fetishisation, dating as a trans person, unlearning monogamy, and misogynoir. 

Here, Dazed sits down with Dr Annabel Sowemino, Edem Ntumy, and Naz Toorabally of Decolonising Contraception to break down the zine, discuss reproductive justice, and find out their hopes for the future of sex education.

How did the idea for Decolonising Contraception first come about? 

Annabel Sowemimo: I’m a community sexual and reproductive health registrar and, while I was training, I felt there was an absence of discussion on how racial inequalities and historical factors present in the day-to-day work we do. I also noticed mistrust of medical professionals, which has become more prevalent throughout COVID-19.

In June 2018, I wrote an article for gal-dem and spoke to colleagues in sexual health about what we could do. We started by running an event on the subject of decolonising contraception for Black History Month in 2018, which was well-attended, so we ran another four events that year. Since then, we’ve grown into a collective of sex educators, clinicians, campaigners, journalists, researchers, and community organisers. We received some funding last year, which we used to expand on The Sex Agenda to include a zine and online workshops, as well as creating season two of our podcast. The Sex Agenda project is the culmination of years of work, love, and collective activity, with our zine providing a space for people who feel their voices are rarely heard in the mainstream media when it comes to sex and relationships.

What was the process of creating the zine?

Naz Toorabally: We knew that we wanted to create a zine where Black and people of colour could share their experiences and perspectives on navigating sex and relationships, such as dating apps, sexuality, period problems, accessing contraception, and STI testing. We put a call out on social media at the beginning of the year and couldn’t believe how many people sent in a pitch, which made it really difficult to choose which ones to commission! We worked closely with each writer to help them tell their story, and for some it was the first time they were writing about their experiences and having it published. I think it’s important to hear from people who don’t usually get a chance to share their stories like this, and it was a humbling experience to get to know the authors and work on their submissions together.

We then reached out to the amazing embroidery artist Nicole Chui (who designed the Decolonising Contraception and The Sex Agenda logos) to illustrate the front and back cover, Maaya Lad, who did all the wonderful illustrations inside the zine, and Deanna Bains, who brought everything together and beautifully designed the zine. For all of us, seeing the zine in real life for the first time was quite emotional because so much work has gone into creating it. We’re grateful to everyone involved, and especially to the contributors for taking the time to share their stories with us.

When conducting workshops and speaking to people, what is the most common myth you come across?

Annabel Sowemimo: There’s a lot of myths about how someone’s appearance relates to their sex lives and sexuality. So I’ll hear people say this person ‘looked clean’ or ‘she was dressed in this’, so they think this person must be having lots of sex. Race and religion also plays into this a lot – for example, people assuming that because of someone’s background they are having more or less sex. Sexual stereotypes are still very prevalent in our society, and it can negatively impact people’s care and treatment.

Edem Ntumy: The one myth I encounter frequently is that the single-use, or even long-term use of hormonal contraception can impact a person’s fertility negatively. I think this is because we are still contending with the myth that the hormones in contraceptives are harmful and can cause infertility, when in fact untreated STIs can cause infertility, not contraceptives.

“Sexual stereotypes are still very prevalent in our society, and it can negatively impact people’s care and treatment” – Dr Annabel Sowemino, Decolonising Contraception

The second point of the ‘Sexfesto’ mentions the colonial origins of sexual and reproductive health. Do you think incorporating this knowledge in schools’ sex education could help aid a push for more awareness?

Edem Ntumy: I think it’s important for all of us to be aware about how things have developed over time. Particularly because groups of people and communities who have had their rights violated under the guise of medicine remember and share this information with their descendants. 

Colonialism should be taught in schools, and should cover the abuse of power when it comes to sexual and reproductive health – but most importantly, medical training should include this information too. If the medical profession doesn’t face its very horrific past and build trust with communities it has previously harmed, then we will continue to see these levels of health inequalities.

For many reasons, such as medical jargon, it can be very difficult for someone to know what to do in a situation where they feel discriminated against by a medical professional. How would you advise someone to handle such a situation? 

Annabel Sowemimo: It can be incredibly difficult because someone in control of your medical treatment holds a lot of power – there’s automatically an imbalance there. If people do not feel they can advocate for themselves, I always suggest bringing someone else to a consultation who can just observe and knows the questions that you have. I always advise writing down any questions you have in advance. You can also take the names of the people you see – most healthcare professionals are quite used to people doing this, and actually like patients engaging in their care. When things do go wrong, all hospitals have a Patient Advice Liaison Service (PALS) which you can write to not just to complain, but also to seek clarification about parts of your care that have confused you. 

Edem Ntumy: People can go to appointments with a chaperone, which can be a health professional, a family member, and/or a friend who can support them in advocating for themselves. I think it’s also important to make a formal complaint for the record.

What does reproductive justice look like to you?

Annabel Sowemimo: It’s about addressing the structural issues that remove people’s reproductive choices. So providing the best opportunities for people to have fulfilled sex and reproductive lives that are free from coercion and ensure equity to all.

Edem Ntumy: Reproductive justice looks like the systems I fight to dismantle on a daily basis. Racism, imperialism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia, alongside the provision of people’s needs – that is what reproductive justice is to me.

Naz Toorabally: For me, reproductive justice looks like living in a world where organisations like Decolonising Contraception are no longer needed.

What’s next for Decolonising Contraception? 

Annabel Sowemimo: Well, we are still very much needed... unfortunately. So we continue to respond to the environment we are in – advocating, educating, and taking a renewed approach. I am just taking each step as it comes; we have limited resources and there is a lot of work to do. We hope to continue collaborating with those who need our workshops, as well as developing the sex educators of tomorrow.

The Sex Agenda zine is now available online and at several sexual health clinics around England. For those who cannot afford to buy a copy, you can order a free copy here.