York University students, faculty, staff and members of the community are invited to a free public screening of Celling Sex, a community-based participatory research project about young women involved in transactional sex in Toronto. The event will take place on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Glory Hole Contemporary 2SLGBTQ+ Art Gallery (519 Church Street, Toronto) and will be followed by an audience discussion facilitated by members of the project’s research team.
Celling Sex uses cellphone video-making and interviews to learn from young women who trade sex about their harm reduction practices and access to health care. The study engaged 15 straight and queer-identified young women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds between the ages of 19-25. The 17-minute video uses excerpts of the participants’ video to report on the research findings and highlight key recommendations for community and service providers on breaking the stigma and supporting young women who trade sex.
Young women who trade sexual interactions – real or virtual – for money or goods are often invisible to health care providers. Whether these women actively choose to trade sex or find themselves in transactional relationships unexpectedly, they have unique physical and mental health needs and may face stigma and fear which can limit their access to healthcare. Moreover, as their own situations become more precarious, they are more likely to take greater risks with their own harm reduction practices in order to trade for money fast.
Celling Sex explores how these women understand and negotiate their relationships, what possibilities exist for HIV harm reduction and prevention in their encounters and how broader communities can be brought sensitively into these conversations in ways that challenge stigma and diminish shame. The project also studies how cellphones and “cellfilms” can be used to document experiences and disrupt understandings of transactional relationships, and how “girl-produced media” might be used to help service providers respond to the needs of these young women.
“Celling Sex is all about opening up a space for young women who trade sex to share their truths on their own terms,” said Sarah Flicker, associate dean in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and co-investigator on the project along with her former post-doctoral fellow Katie MacEntee and FES alumna Ciann Wilson. “Each young person made their own short film individually and then we worked together to create a composite that highlights key themes and ideas. The result is a beautiful, thought provoking movie that compels us all to think about the transactional nature inherent in so many relationships and the importance of challenging stigma and discrimination and adopting a harm reduction philosophy,” said Flicker.
The project emerged from a partnership between Planned Parenthood Toronto and Black Creek Community Health Centre, two experienced community health agencies with a history of doing innovative HIV prevention and support work, and the three university-based researchers. The team spoke with young women who currently engage in relationships involving trading sex for money or material goods. Each participant was individually supported to create a short cellphone video documenting her experiences and perceptions of negotiating safer sex in these encounters. Participants came together to document themes and assisted in the creation of a ‘composite’ video, Celling Sex, that can be screened for public consumption. The screenings themselves, and their community impact, are being researched by FES Master’s student Tess Kendrick. The work is supported by the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research and Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.