Choices for Youth’s (CFY) Youth Outreach and Engagement Centre (OYE) hosted its first Self-Love, Safe Sex event on March 23, 2023. Originally scheduled for Valentine’s Day but postponed due to poor weather, the Self-Love, Safe Sex event provided a low-barrier opportunity for youth to celebrate self-love and learn about safe sex while availing of health services.
CFY’s OYE team worked diligently to plan the Self-Love, Safe Sex event, which took place during OYE drop-in from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. While regular Outreach services like a hot meal were still available during the event, much of the OYE centre was transformed into an educational space similar to a school fair. Partner organizations set up booths and provided a myriad of self-care and sexual health resources to attendees.
AIDS Committee of NL (ACNL) representative Shelby Wright distributed HIV self-test kits and information on HIV, AIDS and other STIs, and Naloxone kits. Shelby also provided information on safe needle usage and the SWAP program.
Alice Hietala, Sexual Health Educator with Planned Parenthood NL, educated participants about various Planned Parenthood services such as STI testing, abortion care, and birth control. Of particular interest was Nexplanon, the new contraceptive implant that is available at Planned Parenthood. Alice was also promoting Planned Parenthood’s Healthy Relationship Program, which informs youth and adults about important relationship topics such as boundaries and consent.
Event Coordinator Jenna Slaney taught attendees about inclusive sexual health education, including demonstrations of various sexual barrier devices and discussions around self-love topics. Jenna has a passion for inclusive sexual education, and she could relate to many of the youth present at the event who reported that they did not have the opportunity to learn about these subjects at home or in school.
“If youth aren’t getting that information here, and OYE is one of the only places they frequent, where are they going to get it?” Jenna questioned. She went on to explain that, in the absence of appropriate education, youth will turn to flawed sources like pornography, which can promote unhealthy ideas about body standards and sex.
Attendees were given heart-shaped loot bags to fill with a variety of goodies, including contraceptives, 2SLGBTQIA+ visibility materials provided by Quadrangle NL, and individual packs of sex-toy cleaner donated by Our Pleasure. All of these items were available to participants free of charge.
Another important feature of OYE’s Self-Love, Safe Sex event was a walk-in STI Clinic, which offered urine and blood testing for STIs. Led by Nurse Practitioner Vicki Doyle and supported by a team from Eastern Health’s Downtown Health Collaborative and Harm Reduction nurses, testing services were available to anyone and everyone. Unlike the typical experience accessing health services in NL, the process for the Clinic was designed to be low-barrier and confidential. Patients didn’t need an appointment or an MCP and were not required to provide a legal name to access services – the goal was simply to provide these essential health services to anyone in need.
The Self-Love, Safe Sex event was well-received by youth participants and added tremendous value to the drop-in experience at OYE that day. Attendees were thankful to be able to access information, resources, and health services in a safe and inclusive environment.
Jenna was emboldened by the response to the event; She knew going into the event that some people would benefit but she did not realize just how many, and how it would benefit them in small ways.
“The biggest takeaway from this event is probably that this should happen again.” She explained. Jenna would like to see events like this have a larger reach, and she would like to partner with more community organizations to draw a larger and more diverse crowd.
Events like this are important because access to healthcare in this province is difficult in general, and the demographics that avail of OYE programs and services have an even more difficult time accessing appropriate and inclusive health services. Many young people, particularly those not attending school, would not have access to essential health services at all were it not for community initiatives like the Downtown Health Collaborative at OYE and events like the Self-Love, Safe Sex event.
Jenna is already looking ahead to what comes next. She is hoping to organize another Self-Love, Safe Sex event this summer and thinking about other opportunities beyond that, such as quarterly walk-in clinics centred on specific physical and sexual health services like PAP testing. Another of Jenna’s goals is to expand the reach of these events by bringing more community partners on board in the future.
“When we all come together, and all the community organizations come together, we can fill so many more needs.”
If you’re looking for more inclusive sexual education resources, OYE is always available to provide information to youth – And if they don’t have the information, they will help you find it!
For more information on Planned Parenthood NL services, visit: www.plannedparenthoodnlshc.com
For more information on ACNL, visit: www.acnl.net
Quadrangle NL is developing a directory of safe services for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals. You can learn more at: www.thequadnl.com
Written by Chris Morris