British Columbia

Students trained as sexual health 'ambassadors'

A new program at three Victoria-area high schools is training students to volunteer as sexual health ambassadors for their peers.

Study found more than 70 per cent of youth seek information from friends first

A man surfs an internet sex site in this file photo (Virginia Mayo/AP)

 A new program at three Victoria-area high schools is training students as sexual health ambassadors.

Jennifer Gibson, a sexual health educator with Island Sexual Health, said the first training program for 30 student ambassadors was organized after students asked for it themselves.

Gibson pointed to research by the McCreary Centre Society that found more than 70 per cent of adolescents turn to their friends first for information and support on the subject of sex.

While teenagers have unlimited access to information about sex, she told On the Island guest host Khalil Akhtar, much of it is incorrect.

Pornography vs 'real' sex 

"I'm doing a lot of education around pornography versus real sex," she said, "There needs to be some conversation around that."

She noted that the McCreary Centre Society's 2013 adolescent health survey found more than 70 per cent of youth turn to their peers first for information about sex. 

The ambassadors are from Belmont, Royal Bay and Edward Milne secondary schools on the West Shore.

Maddy Morrison, one of the new sexual health ambassadors, said sex is a constant topic of conversation among teenagers.

Constant topic among teens

"Honestly, I think all the time," Morrison, a grade 10 student at Royal Bay secondary school, said. "You're walking down the hallway in your school and you just hear that kind of conversation going on all the time."

In addition to pornography the student ambassadors training explored issues of gender and identity and "slut shaming". They also discussed how to empathize and communicate with other students in a non-judgmental way, Morrison said.

Within a couple of days of finishing the training program she said she had half a dozen conversations about sexual health. 

Saskatchewan's internet child exploitation unit began investigating after a grandparent became concerned with messages on their 10-year-old grandson's phone. (CBC)

Gibson said the role of the student sexual health ambassadors will be an informal one for now. Further training is needed to cover the full range of topics the young volunteers could face in questions from peers.

Meanwhile, she said the program reflects a change in approach to sexual health education. 

 "We used to tell people what they needed to know and now we're asking, especially youth, 'what do you need to know?' Gibson said. 

"If you hear it from a friend it's going to have a lot more power than someone you don't trust or someone you don't know very well," she said.

To hear the full interview with Jennifer Gibson and Maddy Morrison go to the audio labelled Students trained as sexual health 'ambassadors'