SIT Alumna Explores Cultural Sensitivity in Mainstream Sexual Health Programs in the Netherlands

Crystal Reed (Mount Holyoke College) studied on SIT’s Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender program in fall 2012. Below, we talk with her about the research she conducted among Dutch Afro-Caribbean women in the Netherlands while on the program.

Crystal in Rembrandt Square in Amsterdam

Crystal in Rembrandt Square in Amsterdam

SIT Study Abroad: What drew you to the program in the Netherlands?

Crystal Reed: The focus of study and the opportunity to conduct my own independent project abroad drew me to the program. I felt the academic components would bestow the knowledge and experiences I needed in order to examine and comprehend how the perspectives of sexuality and gender shape societal and personal development in a local context.

I preferred this study abroad program to others because the academic curriculum combines coursework and practical experience. I learn best through an experiential format; and I didn’t want to only take classes as if I was attending my home institution. Therefore, since I consider Amsterdam as a compelling site to study sexuality and gender both politically and socio-culturally, I thought it would be the perfect place to immerse myself, explore, and carry out my potential research.

SIT: Tell me about your Independent Study Project.

CR: The purpose of my research was to examine the high prevalence of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and teen pregnancies among Dutch Afro-Caribbean women in the Netherlands, a country with relatively low reproductive statistics. Utilizing the method of oral history, my study provided a counter-narrative and an in-depth analysis of how culture influences Dutch Afro-Caribbean women’s sexual behavior. Correspondingly, my research investigated the degree of cultural sensitivity in mainstream sexual health programs in the Netherlands.

Crystal volunteering at her practicum with another SIT student

Crystal volunteering at her practicum with another SIT student

My first set of interviews consisted of Dutch Afro-Caribbean mothers and daughters sharing their personal experiences and answering questions surrounding the disparity in reproductive statistics, their sexual development, and opinions regarding sexual education in both their private and public spheres. My study also included a second set of interviews with sexual health professionals, who offered their thoughts on the disparity, and the degree of cultural sensitivity in sex education and sexual health services in the Netherlands.

I learned that the disparity in these statistics are not solely related to sexuality, but also to how sexuality is affected personally, relationally, socio-culturally, economically, historically, and structurally — and how these factors are possibly entrenched in every Dutch Afro-Caribbean woman’s sexual identity, beliefs, and practices.

SIT: Why did you choose this topic?

CR: As a young, black scholar who specifically identifies with her African-American and Chinese-Jamaican roots, I had a personal investment to this research. I found myself very bothered by the dominant rationale that the hyper-sexuality of Dutch Afro-Caribbean women would account for these high figures. Thus, I wanted to confront this dominant discourse and hear the voices of the women whose stories have been consistently overlooked.

What drives me to continue this research is not only the strong and beautiful people I have interviewed, but also the hope that this will contribute to the ongoing discourses of improving cultural sensitivity in sexual and reproductive health programs for ethnic minorities and provide a counter-narrative to the assumptions of black female sexuality that are so dominant in Western society.

Crystal with her homestay family

Crystal with her homestay family

SIT: Did you encounter anything particularly memorable during the program?

CR: I will never forget how hospitable individuals and families of my focus group were to me. I felt so privileged to be welcomed with open arms and to listen to the personal stories of my interviewees in their community centers, homes, and workplaces. I admired each interviewee’s capability to quickly resonate with the passionate purpose of my Independent Study Project and to be vulnerable and authentic to someone they just met.

In addition, I was able to assist my focus group with community projects, participate in cultural festivals and workshops, and even sit at many of my interviewees’ dinner tables bonding over spontaneous cooked meals.

SIT: What are your plans for the future?

CR: One of my main goals in life is to become a licensed sex therapist. I have always had a fascination and passion for understanding the complexities of human relationships and issues pertaining to sexual health and reproductive rights. Furthermore, sexual competency, sexual agency and empowerment, cultural sensitivity, and accessibility to sexual health services and education for all people — especially women of color — are of importance to me.

SIT: Any advice for future SIT students?

CR: Your experience is really what you make it. Work hard, be yourself, and create fruitful relationships.

Learn more about SIT’s program in the Netherlands.

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