Using Valentine’s Day for critical discussion on love and sex

Dalhousie prof says pink bows distract some students from harder conversations on sex and love around Valentine’s Day

Some students are using Valentine's Day to address issues and stereotypes about love and sex. Photo: Thoshlae Smith
Some students are using Valentine’s Day to address issues and stereotypes about love and sex. Photo: Thoshlae Smith

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching some people are making love and sex a hot topic. But one professor at Dalhousie says the discussions people have about love and sex as it relates to Valentine’s Day aren’t always reflective of the way things are in society.

Letitia Meynell teaches Philosophy of Love and Sex at Dalhousie, a second-year course offered by Dalhousie’s department of philosophy. The class has about 140 students according to Dal News. The course teaches students to use philosophical skills while learning about sexual activity, sexual differences and romantic and erotic love.

“I hope that some of the discussions on sex and sexual politics get students thinking, so that when students are engaged in Valentine’s Day celebrations they are in-tune to some of the considerations we’ve talked about in class,” she says.

Meynell says she thinks there are two discussions that arise around Valentine’s Day.

“The easier conversations focus on pretty pink bows, hearts and be mine (messages),” she says.

The more difficult conversations use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk more critically about love and sex.

Sexual equality and sexual freedom are subjects Meynell teaches and says are important to discuss, because they are still relevant in society today.

She mentions slut-shaming as one ongoing issue that relates to sexual equality, and says many of us are faced with it in our relationships, a reason it should be discussed around Valentine’s Day.

“Those questions about sex and sexual equality are crucial to our loving relationships as well as our sexual ones,” Meynell says.

Professor Letitia Meynell says students should use sex and sexual politics lessons to open dialogue this Valentine's Day. Photo: Thoshlae Smith
Professor Letitia Meynell says students should use sex and sexual politics lessons to open dialogue this Valentine’s Day. Photo: Thoshlae Smith

Slut-shaming is problematic because it perpetuates the idea that you can make a woman feel less significant by suggesting she is sexually active and objectifying her.
Getting rid of old stereotypical ways of thinking is important but difficult because “men and women have different posturings about sex,” Meynell says.

Falconeri Bacabac took Meynell’s course on love and sex last year.

“It basically teaches you that there is deeper meaning to sex and love compared to the physical need,”  the fourth-year commerce student says,

Talking about sex in a way that is real and not influenced by social expectations is necessary, says Meynell, who says social expectations around Valentine’s Day are often gendered.

One example is the expectation that the man will buy flowers for his woman and take her out to dinner, says Meynell.

“Where you may hang out and have a gender-neutral relationship the rest of the year, on Valentine’s Day it is easy to fall back into those traditional ways of thinking about relationships,” she says.

Matthew Numer is a professor at Dalhousie who’s been teaching human sexuality for six years says Valentine’s Day is a gendered experience. He says celebrations are mostly intended for heterosexual monogamous couples and it tends to exclude people.

“Why are we killing a lot of plants? So they will whither and die,” says Numer, who says he doesn’t understand how flowers equate love.

He does not talk about Valentine’s Day in his class, but has given presentations on sex and love for Valentine’s Day as a guest speaker at the Discovery Centre in Halifax.

Numer said having more spaces to foster dialogue on love and sex on Valentine’s Day is a good idea. “I think it’s a day places can profit by giving alternatives to people who are not in a relationship.”