(Warning: The following feature contains explicit sex information and terms.)
Yasaman Madanikia is a sex researcher with a bachelor degree in psychology from Simon Fraser University.
She writes a sex and relationships column for Vancouver's best-known Persian magazine called Danestaniha and is a regular contributor to Vancouver's edgy HUSH magazine, in which she criticizes what she sees as our society's flawed attitudes towards sexuality.
Madanikia is planning to get a PhD in counselling psychology and become a sex therapist/ educator and relationship coach, and she also works as a special education assistant in the Burnaby school district.
The Burnaby NOW's reporter Marelle Reid caught up with Madanikia this week to ask her about her unique career.
Q: What sparked your interest in sex research?
A: When I moved to Canada in Grade 10 (from Iran) I was not educated and no one ever talked about sexuality and sex with me, and when I went through high school I still never got "the talk." To this day, I've never had "the talk," so it really worried me that these things that can happen to a lot of kids and families - and I was lucky enough to find out stuff by myself and gather information and protect myself - but I can totally see how a lot of kids who never get that sort of information could put themselves at risk of HIV-AIDS and herpes and all these sexual diseases. So that's why I'm really passionate about studying sex education and sexuality in general.
Q: How did you become a sex researcher?
A: There is a professor at SFU that's interested in relationships and sexuality, and I emailed her in 2009 asking her if she would like a research assistant. So I was doing research for her on different topics, and I got really into it, and she suggested we write a paper together. When I wrote the paper (with her), I went to conferences and one thing led to another, and so now I'm passionate and involved in sex research and education.
Q: What's the most common reaction you get when you tell people what you do?
A: Usually they think I said it wrong, they're like, "You're a what?" and they usually blush, they get very uncomfortable and change the topic. I'm Persian, and I look Persian. When I talk to Persian people the question is "Why?" and I'm like, "Why not?" They get kind of upset like there's something wrong with me that I'm doing this, but they don't see how important it is.
Q: What makes you so comfortable with the topic?
A: I think people being uncomfortable with it makes me want to do this more. When my friends react weirdly or kind of laugh at it, I talk about it even more. My hope is that there will be a point when we'll all be so educated that it's not funny to be a sex educator, a sex researcher.
It's as much not funny as a young kid getting HIV or an STD early in life because we never had the sex talk because we were too busy giggling and laughing about it. That's why it's really important for me to be straight about it and start talking about it.
Q: Your first research paper was on masturbation. Why that topic?
A: Because I remember talking with my prof in her office, and there wasn't much research done on the topic, and when we had class discussions it was one of the hardest topics. No one would ever want to comment. Masturbation is the hardest thing to talk about, like it's worse than sex, so people are ashamed of it. So me and my prof and all the sexologists agree that masturbation is natural and normal, and we wondered what people think about it and what are their attitudes.
Q: What's the most interesting thing you've discovered in your research?
A: Well, I guess it goes hand-in-hand with my main research, and that is when we studied attitudes towards masturbation in Hollywood movies, almost 70 per cent of (the characters) either get caught and interrupted as a result of masturbation, or something bad happens to them. So the media is telling all these young kids that hardly get any sex education that if you masturbate, 70 per cent of the time you're going to end up like, doomed. So this was very interesting and at the same time very sad and scary that the media is showing certain biased pictures to youth and what it can do to people if they don't know any better.
Q: What's one of the biggest myths about sex?
A: The biggest mistaken belief that I've seen that's shared by most young guys 15 to 25 is they believe that if somebody's genitals look clear, they think they must not have HIV or herpes and they think they can (tell) if someone has a sexually transmitted disease just by looking at their genitals.
Well, they don't know that in a lot of cases (their partner) could be asymptomatic. Until you get tested, you would never know, but they assume they have this magical power to tell, which is really scary to me.
Q: Is there anything else people are not often informed about?
A: I think the most important thing is that people think getting tested is "unsexy."
When I ask people, "Why don't you get tested?" they're like, "Well, we're just starting a relationship, so should I say, 'So for our third date do you want to go get tested?'" But I think what's important is that the long-term effects will affect them for their whole lives.
Q: What question are you most often asked?
A: Most people usually ask about masturbation. Guys usually ask about masturbation and if that's natural. Girls usually don't ask questions, they kind of giggle and go away. But (guys) ask about masturbation and how you could tell if a partner is infected.
Q: What are your columns about?
A: I try to write about the most basic things. My first article was about how we need sex education, and I know that you want your kids to be virgins till they get married, but the chances are that they will not be, and that's why you need to start talking about it.
I think another one of my first articles was about homosexuality and how that is natural. So, just the basic stuff that still needs to be communicated.
Q: Your other job is to work with an autistic student who is in Grade 5. What's it like playing this very different role in your career?
A: I like working with children with mental disabilities, but my real passion and where I would like to do research is in sexuality. I feel people take whatever they want from what I do.
People who are not comfortable with seeing my literature, like my parents, when they're talking to their friends, they would never say their kid is a sex educator - they say (I'm) a teacher.
My friends who are younger and admire my work, when they have new friends with them and they see me, they're like, "Oh, this is our sex researcher friend that I told you about," and they start asking questions, which is fine with me.
But I'm young and a lot of my friends are young, too, and when they find out that I'm in the field they ask me a lot of questions, which worries me, because they should already know the answers to those questions. I think, "Oh my God, you're 25 and you don't know?"
For more about Madanikia and her work, visit her website, www.yasijas mina.com.
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