Venus Envy spreading consent through sex workshops

Low turnout at consent-based workshops leads to creative ways to talk about safe sex

Heather Chamberlin presents across Nova Scotia raising awareness about sexual consent and communication.
Heather Chamberlin presents across Nova Scotia raising awareness about sexual consent and communication.

Venus Envy, a sex shop in downtown Halifax, has been putting on sexual workshops for campuses and customers since the day it opened.

In the last two years, demand for Venus Envy’s consent-based workshops have increased significantly, however the level of attendance has remained sparse.

Venus Envy assistant manager Heather Chamberlin says the consent and communication-based workshops have been in higher demand since the events of Steubenville, Rehtaeh Parsons and the SMU rape chants.

“It’s increased the popularity of these courses, at least in people organizing them,” Chamberlin says.

However, at a recent consent based workshop put on by Saint Mary’s Women’s Centre and Venus Envy, only nine people attended the hour-long presentation.

The workshop advertised “communication, consent, flirting, and how to hook up in the digital age.”

Poor attendance at consent based presentations is a trend that Chamberlain has noted during her two and a half years working at Venus Envy.

Due to the lack of active participation in presentations about consent, Venus Envy has been working the topic of consent into its more popular workshops on sexual techniques such as “Mouthing Off About Oral.”

Chamberlin says at Dal, they teach a class called Sex Toys 101. They once taught Kink 101 at Mount Saint Vincent University.

“In everything that we do we infuse it with talking about consent and safer sex,” she says.

Since the company’s beginning in 1998, Venus Envy has made sexual education a priority in their business mandate, enshrining it in their mission statement.

“Venus Envy is an educational community as well as a retail business where people can ask questions, share experiences, and empower themselves,” the statement reads.

Chamberlin says the reason people may not have attended SMU’s workshop is because the majority of students feel as though they already know what consent is.

“The majority of the population wants to respect consent. The vast majority of the population doesn’t want to hurt people and so they don’t think of themselves as perpetrators,” she says.

Chamberlin says issues surrounding consent on university campuses still exists and that many people don’t understand what sexual assault and harassment really are.

“A high percentage of instances of sexualized violence is perpetrated by friends or family members, people that we already know. When we think about sexual assault in this culture we tend to think about the dark alley, strange person, pushing a woman down and raping her.”

According to Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, three in 10 women reported being sexually assaulted during their time in college.

More than 80 per cent of women who were raped in college knew their assailant.

For these reasons, institutions such as Dalhousie and SMU consider presentations regarding consent particularly important for first-year students.

“A lot of first-year students’ first experiences — being away from home, maybe their first experiences with other folks socially, sexually, all those sorts of things — it’s really important that everyone is aware of what consent is and what consent isn’t,” says Danny Shanahan, Dalhousie university’s vice-president of student life.

One of the most important parts of consent is communication. Understanding and communicating what boundaries exist in a relationship and that consent is an ongoing process is fundamental to safe, healthy relationships, Chamberlin adds.

Venus Envy does presentations on university campuses across Nova Scotia. They do approximately a dozen workshops annually in campuses and twice a month in the store. All of their workshops, regardless of topic, have an element of consent built into them.