A sex-education theatre troupe is heading north to spread awareness about sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) after the NWT’s chief public health officer issued a warning to youth about skyrocketing transmission rates in the territory.
Sex Education by Theater (SExT) began as a doctoral thesis for its founder Shira Taylor of Toronto, Ont.
SExT has since toured hundreds of Canadian communities, including some Indigenous communities in northern Saskatchewan.
SExT is scheduled to be in the territory in May and June to perform in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Resolution, Fort Providence, Fort Liard, Behchoko, Ndilo, Dettah and Inuvik.
Taylor says the use of humour and theatre is what really connects the performance group with youth.
“Having young people on stage speaking their truth and sharing their experiences is what’s needed,” said Taylor. “When we travel to Indigenous communities, the youth see themselves on stage and become inspired to tell their own stories through art.”
Taylor said some will laugh, some will be in tears, but ultimately the performance is about speaking with youth on an intellectual level.
The group aims to address barriers youth face in getting treatment for STIs, such as shame and lack of privacy in smaller communities. Before they hit the stage, they meet local public health officers to get a sense of the issues young people are facing. They all meet with youth in focus groups to hear their specific concerns.
“We don’t want this to be a generic in-and-out intervention,” said Taylor. “We draw directly from the input of the youth and the community. We incorporate the issues they want to hear about but also put specific information about how they can get tested directly into the play. We’ll even put in the directions to the local health clinic.”
Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, said she will be using information gathered from the focus groups to help design an upcoming awareness campaign on sexual health and STI prevention.
“We’re trying to develop a social media campaign that is more up to date and modern,” said Kandola. “In the past we’ve had a website and that was 10 years ago, and that’s not how the youth are communicating these days, now it’s more of a social media platform.”
The campaign will target youth ages 15 to 30 and address barriers and stigmas around items such as condoms and getting tested at health centres.