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article imageInside Toronto event exploring teen sex

By KJ Mullins     Sep 16, 2009 in Health
When it comes to sexual health and youth, people have to understand one important fact -- teens have sex. How they experience their sexual health needs to be addressed, as a Toronto event explained.
On September 16, 2009 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research held a Cafë Scientifique event titled He's a player, she gets played: Challenging gendered stereotypes about youth sexual health.
The event was hosted by CIHR's Institute of Gender and Health featuring speakers: Dr. Sarah Flicker from York University, Dr. Jean Shoveller from School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia and Jessica Yee, the founder and director of Native Youth Sexual Health Network. The speakers were moderated by Zena Sharman, the Assistant Director of CIHR's Institute of Gender and Health.
The event was to take place last year but Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for a new election canceling out tax payed events. CIHR is a tax funded institute.
After Zena Sharman did a brief introduction on the night's speakers Dr. Jean Shoveller started the discussion with 'location, location, location.' When it comes to youth and sex location is a huge factor. Not only does the location of where a youth lives factor but where within the community that person fits in. A youth's gender, class, reputation of their family all compete with the physical location when it comes to indicators as to what their sexual health will be.
Zena Sharman
Assistant Director
CIHR s Institute of Gender and Health
Zena Sharman Assistant Director CIHR's Institute of Gender and Health
KJ Mullins
We can delve into the numbers and statistics but without the underlying understanding of all of the factors those numbers do not give a full representation of the realities.
A young girl in a small town who makes a mistake with her sexual journey will have a different life path than a girl experiencing the small thing in an urban setting. The small town girl is much more likely to be branded a 'slut.' She does not have the option to change her school with a new start that the girl in an urban setting would.
We know that Canadian youth are sexually active. Youth in British Columbia appear by the numbers to have sex at an earlier age than other areas of the nation.
There is good news among are sexually active youth: the majority use a condom. Condom use among males is at about 80 percent and with females at 70 percent. Younger youth are much more likely to opt for a condom. Here's the crux in this information. The younger a male is when they have their first sexual encounter the more likely they are to use a condom. As for girls, they tend to have their first encounter with an older person. The older a youth is the less likely they are to reach for a rubber.
KJ Mullins
While the use of condoms has risen so has the instance of sexually transmitted diseases. Part of the reason behind this is who is using those condoms. For the most part it is the white population that comes prepared while minorities scoff at the idea. It's not surprising then which youth are more at risk for STDs are minority youth.
Another problem is the actual barriers for youth to obtain sexual health information. In some areas of the nation if the subject is controversial then it is not part of the school's program. There isn't a subject more controversial than sexual education. Our youth need clinic spaces where they feel their confidentially is being addressed. That is not always the case.
Toronto is one city that has favorable stats when it comes both to the education and the medical services for youth sexual health. Using the power of youth themselves, there are many places in Toronto that are addressing these issues.
There is a new move in research in Canada to introversion. Sexual health needs a lot of work in this area. As Shoveller says, "Of all research, sex research has got it so wrong for so long."
Shoveller was followed by recently wed Dr. Sarah Flicker from York University. Flicker related that she is so devoted to her work that at her wedding her brother announced to all of her love of talking about sex all the time. One of those focuses is teens and HIV.
Flicker informed the audience that research has found that Canadian 13-year-olds are into pornography of some sort; 90 percent of males and 70 percent of females check out porn online. When asked how often 30 percent of those boys answered that they couldn't count how many times they had viewed porn. The older the youth is the higher those numbers mount up. So we know that the kids are looking at the kibbles and bits.
The sad news is those same kids are not up and up on overall sexual education. They know what sex looks like, they may know how it feels but they don't understand the hows and whys of sex. So who do they ask their questions too? Their friends, who also know little about what the heck it's all about. They also have learned some of the basics at school. The education system has been able to lower the instances of teenage pregnancy since 1974 by informing girls about the Pill and other means of birth control. It seems though somewhere along the line that those youth were failed when it came to discussing how to avoid STDs. In Toronto more kids are contacting chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis than they were in 2001. More of the reason for this is that youth between the ages of 15 and 18 are more vulnerable to these infections. Their bodies and tissues have not yet completely finished forming. The other reason is that teens are less likely to use a condom every single time. The first time they skip a rubber takes them down a slippery slope.
The last speaker of the night is a youth herself. Jessica Yee. She has an impressive list of accomplishes already in her field. She is the 2009 YWCA young woman of distinction. The following is a quote from Shameless Magazine, which Yee is a part of:
“Jessica Yee is fearless in her audacity as an organizer, educator, writer, facilitator, and activist. At 23 she has already spent almost half of her life committed to promoting and supporting youth, through feminist and aboriginal activism and has created numerous platforms to channel these movements. Jessica Yee is the 2009 YWCA Young Woman of Distinction.”
Yee told the audience that the knowledge does not generally commute when adults are talking to youth about sex.
"Sex education in Canada is at best passing and at worse, deplorable."
Yee said that the colonization of Canada has had lingering affects that still touch youth when it comes to sexual education. Kids have to begin to question their culture and the sexual stereotypes that have formed. Her own Mohawk ancestors she noted were uplifting of their women and yet in today's world violence against women is often the stereotype.
"We have to lose the 'that's what I know, it's where I came from' mentality. silence keeps the negative stereotypes going."
Digital Journal will be exploring this young woman more in depth in the coming weeks.
audience at Good Buddies at Bad Times-Cafe Scientific
audience at Good Buddies at Bad Times-Cafe Scientific
KJ Mullins
As with all Cafë Scientifiques half of the time is spent with audience discussions. I was able to pose the first question of the evening to the speakers as to where do parents fit into the mix.
Flicker responded that parents are an important factor when it comes to youth's sexual health. Parents that speak to their children about sex, even if it is limited, have children that are more likely to use condoms every time they have sex.
Another question asked was about how youth want this information delivered. It is clear that having 'the talk' once in a youth's life time is not the answer. Being upfront and honest while building bridges where the kids can discuss sexual related questions without fear of negative reactions is important.
When parents pass the buck to friends who have more background information they need to respect the confidently of that action. This can be difficult.
Jessica Yee  Dr. Sarah Flicker and Dr. Jean Shoveller
Jessica Yee, Dr. Sarah Flicker and Dr. Jean Shoveller
KJ Mullins
Some information is also hitting the 21st century. Text messaging and Internet sites can provide a lifeline for a youth with serious questions. It is now possible for a youth to go online and print out a referral for sexual health clinics in some areas.
Another question was asked about youth with transgender issues. It was noted that youths with these issues have a higher rate of teenage pregnancy than other youth. In Toronto transgender youth have a variety of services aimed at them. This is not the class though in other parts of the nation.
We don't want to face up at times with the fact that our children are enjoying sex. But in truth, isn't that the ultimate goal- for people, including youth to enjoy sex and not have hang-ups about it. For our youth we must strive to provide education and medical support so that this is the outcome.
More about Sexual health, Cafe scientifique, Youth, Cihrs institute gender health
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