Virgin & Martyr is a collective project for dissemination and exchange of sexual, socio-emotional and digital education, with a new, positive and inclusive approach.
Greta Tosoni is 22 years old, she mainly lives in Milan where she works as a freelance photographer, content creator and, now, a populariser. Her passion for the intersections between the body, sexuality and mental health developed with the foundation of Virgin & Martyr. This inspired her not only to focus her own output on these issues but also to train to become a 2.0 sex consultant.
Greta Elisabetta Vio is 23 years old, she lives in Turin and has always sought, collected and archived images and information on the strange or unconventional, especially in the sexual sphere. Her strong interest in this world and the desire to spread culture and knowledge were her inspiration for co-founding Virgin & Martyr. She is currently specializing in issues related to pornography, sex work and unconventional sexuality and wishes to increase awaresness through the project.
Hi Girls! Tell us a bit about yourselves for anybody who is just hearing of Virgin & Martyr for the very first time.
Virgin & Martyr is a collective project that deals with the body and sexuality, founded in 2017 by Greta Tosoni and Greta Elisabetta Vio. At the moment, it is composed of a young team of contributors with different educations and backgrounds. We started this adventure because we felt the need to crea- te a safe space, online initially, that was open to self expression and representation. We opened a profile on Instagram that would act as a visual archive to celebrate all the possible ways in which a body is, and can be, without filters.
It was essential to us to make it possible to have an honest, curious and collective conversation, free from stereotypes and prejudices, about what it means to have a body: living with it, taking care of it and giving it pleasure.
This dialogue was immediately initiated through the photo- graphs of bodies that anyone could send us anonymously. It is not easy to have the opportunity to educate oneself on such issues, which are often seen as taboo, especially here in Italy. However, the birth of V&M has brought to light this very real need that – for better or worse – affects everyone.
One year after we started the project, we added a new component: publishing.
We are not experts or professionals (although some of us are training), so our task has always been helping to distribute information and knowledge, as well as stories and food for thought, that are inclusive, accurate, up-to-date and easy to understand.
We use every means at our disposal in order to continue with this work, both online and in real life, taking part in events, creating awareness and content for sensibilisation, giving talks in schools and writing articles.
What we do is to amplify people’s voices and stories (especially those who are not often heard) and make everyone more aware of the tools and choices available to them, which relate to their body, sexual identity and sexuality as a whole.
When I talk about sex and sexuality, I often find myself standing between well-informed conscious people who are deeply uneducated, or those full of misconceptions.
What do you think is the best way to start a conversation with them?
It is important, first of all, to be aware of the fact that (un- fortunately) we will not always be able to start dialogue with everyone. There are people who have lived their whole lives immersed in a culture of stereotypes, fake standards, ignorance and modesty and therefore have to make an immense effort to put certain beliefs into (question as that would also mean questioning themselves).
We think that one priority is to avoid aggressive confrontation: approach with calm and respectful discourse. This makes it possible to convey an honest interest in listening to the other person’s motivations, finding certain aspects that can help form a connection, such as the importance of freedom of choice or knowing the tools needed to take care of one’s health. We must be ready to see things from their perspective, in order to understand how they came to think or believe certain things and consequently, how they might deconstruct (and rebuild ) these ideas.
Using scientific facts and data to prove what you are saying can be of great help, as well as reminding us that often our interlocutors may not have the clear foundations for communicating effectively with us, inevitably making the conversation more difficult.
It takes time, patience and constancy, which not everybody always has, but deciding to create constructive dialogue is a (conscious) choice made with the desire to con- tribute to a more positive and respectful culture. A choice that, if collective, can lead to real results.
When talking about “diversity” online, there are a lot of different reactions but the one that personally upsets me the most is the “exaggerated compliments that glorify and worship at all costs”.
What do you think of this approach? Can people create a hostile environment by exaggerating?
This is an interesting reflection because not everyone finds it easy to recognize and in a sense unmask toxic behavior when it is hidden by a “positive” appearance. Just think, for example, of the “famous” but harmful rhetoric of people with disabilities or chronic diseases who are called “heroes or warriors who are fighting”: it is harmful because it gives a very strong label to people who, on the one hand, just want to be considered equal and, on the other, do not really receive proper help with their difficulties while being called “heroes”, effectively often being excluded in everyday life and in society. It is the same when somebody says that a fat person is beautiful/kind/cute/nice “anyway”. As though their existence can be justified despite their being fat, which is implicitly negative. This opens up further discourse, linked to our tendency as a society to believe that we are always doing good when we congratulate people on their physical appearance, even when it is not required.
Telling someone: “You’re very beautiful”, “You’ve lost weight, you look great”, or “you look better with your hair down” can be a totally harmless gesture, just as much as it can cause invisible damage. If we don’t know the person in front of us well enough, paying a compliment that refers to their physical appearance may have a highly negative impact if that person suffers from certain conditions.
It can be even worse when there is a close relationship, for example between parents and children, where the latter can find it very difficult to objectively detach themselves from the comments or unsolicited judgments of the former on their physical appearance and expression.
This does not mean that we should stop complimenting the appearance of others altogether, but that we should reflect more and give more value to a person’s true qualities and talents than to something as temporary and subjective as physical appearance. When we are feeling well and at peace with ourselves, we no longer feel the need to judge ourselves, and will therefore be free from the need to judge others.
Gen Y and Z had deeply different first en- counters with pornography. Searching for porn videos is no longer inspired by desire and nor is the way that youngsters experiment with their sexuality. Gen Z lives on live streaming, constantly spontaneously sharing their persona, so that the most common form of erotism is getting access to what people keep private, offline. What do you think of this new kind of voyeurism?
The evolution of technology is even modernizing our sexuality, although pornography remains one of the predominant and most popular approaches, even among younger generations. The practice of sexting (= exchange of sexual content via message) is increasingly widespread nowadays, even among children, who, not having had an education (sexual, sentimental or even digital), are unaware of the countless risks. Sexting in itself is one of the many ways to “have sex” and can be a very useful tool to get to know themselves, their own conception of the erotic and their own relationship with it, but it can be dangerous if done without awareness. That’s why we want to bring this topic into schools too. This desire to enter the private and intimate life of others and to push the “limits” further and further (also testified by data on the undisputed celebrity of the amateur porn category) is dizzyingly increasing the cases of non-consensual sharing of intimate material. It’s a phenomenon commonly known as Revenge Porn, which is now a crime in Italy, thanks in part to the campaign #IntimitàViolata led by our collaborator Silvia Semenzin.
Silvia is a digital sociologist who has studied the cases of Telegram chats between thousands of people (primarily cis hetero men) in which there is a daily exchange of images, videos and personal data of girls, whether they are friends, exes, strangers or girlfriends, shared in public and verbally raped daily without their consent and awareness. This is one of several negative aspects that will continue to spread if we do not commit ourselves to raising awareness and tackling it, for example by educating everybody in the conscious use of technology, in relation to sexuality too. A similar yet distinct practice is that of web-camming (= entertaining people for a fee on webcams, often in order to arouse excitement) or other declinations, such as the sale of erotic-pornographic content through various platforms such as Snapchat.
This is a type of sex-work that has been in high demand lately and we believe that it is related to the fact that the fictitious and “perfect” representations of body and sex are tiring people who are more satisfied by seeing real people experiencing real pleasure, in its spontaneity, normal “clumsiness” and natural beauty.
There is nothing wrong with this as long as it takes place in a safe, consensual and protected environment between adults, although the lack of legislation in this area does not always allow these conditions to be met.
How do you see the future of sexual education?
We’d like to have a crystal ball and a clearer idea of where we’re going, but unfortunately that’s not the case. To do what we do, it is important for us to be proactive and visualise the kind of future that we would like to see.
It will definitely be a slow and almost imperceptible process of change, but with the potential and sensitivity we are seeing in the new generations, we believe that we will soon see an evolution. Young people are curious, they have so many questions they often don’t know who to ask, and their phones give them a chance to find the answers; the problem is that they are just as likely to find the correct answer as a fake response. This, together with the influence of previous generations who un- consciously transmit outdated values or beliefs, can become obstacles that we must recognise.
If sexual education (inclusive, positive but investigative, and updated sexual education) is not yet compulsory, that must be because it is not recognized as important, when this area is clearly as important to human wellbeing as the emotional, mental and relational spheres. That is why we believe it will be necessary to incorporate Social Emotional Learning and digital education. Introducing it at school is one of several steps, including implementing places and moments for sharing and discussing these issues outside the classroom but also creating dialogue at home (yes, also educating parents/family). All this will happen if we keep talking about it, so thank you for allowing us to do so with you here today.