Play safe this Valentine’s Day

Health centres across Canada raise sexual health awareness

Pop culture tells us the week up to Valentine’s Day should either involve a scramble for restaurant reservations, or eating pints of ice cream in bed.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights has another idea.

“Everybody’s mind is on romance and sex at this time of the year … we deal with the other side of the coin,” says John Britton, the executive director of the Halifax Sexual Health Centre.

Britton, along with sexual health proponents across the country, is celebrating the 13th annual Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week from Feb. 9 to 13. This year’s theme is “Heart Your Parts.”

“What we’re trying to encourage is awareness of sexual health and sexually transmitted infections, but also just more broadly, self-care with respect to our sexual lives,” says Sandeep Prasad, the executive director of Action Canada, who is taking the lead on the event this year.

“Share the information with your friends … engage in discussions on these issues,” Prasad encourages.

To facilitate these discussions, Action Canada is unveiling a new website, srhweek.ca, as a hub of information about sexual health, available year-round.

They describe it as covering everything from “preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, to consent and caring for yourself and your relationships.”

One of the biggest problems with sexual health is a lack of information and conversation about it.

“We’re constantly battling stigma here,” says Britton.

Action Canada hopes the website will make information more widely available and easy to access.

In addition, sexual health organizations across the country are holding events this week.

In Nova Scotia, the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County is holding a series of workshops for students at the Amherst Regional High School. Called “Internet Sex and Safety,” the workshops focus on consent.

“We have to be vigilant in not only taking care of our own sexual health, but also ensuring that we raise sexually healthy children,” says Ruthie Patriquin, the executive director at Cumberland County’s sexual health centre.

She thinks spreading knowledge about sexual health starts with our young people. “As community members, we all have a role to play in that,” she says.

Patriquin and the Cumberland County sexual health centre also run an annual condom campaign for the awareness week, in which they partner with local restaurants and bars and make free condoms available in the washrooms.

Because of limited resources, Patriquin says, the campaign usually only runs in Amherst, but this year a partnership with the Cumberland Health Authority is allowing them to offer condoms in other areas of the county as well.

Unfortunately, those limited resources are the norm for sexual health centres across Canada.

Like many clinics, Cumberland County’s has no core funding; it does fundraising throughout the year to be able to provide their services, and receives help by being a member of organizations such as Sexual Health Nova Scotia and United Way.

The sexual health centre in Halifax doesn’t even have the means to offer events for Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week.

“We’re very limited in services, so most of our resources go into the clinic,” says Britton.

But he isn’t deterred by not being able to provide special programming this week.

“Even though it’s a week, we do it 24/7, 365 days a year,” Britton points out.

CL - sexual health
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights launched a new “online sexual information hub” on Monday in conjunction with Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week. (Photo: Leah Collins Lipsett)
For your sexual health info, visit:

srhweek.ca

scarleteen.com

sexualityandu.ca

goaskalice.columbia.edu

… and Sexual Health Nova Scotia will be launching a new website in March.

The Halifax Sexual Health Centre can be reached at hshc.ca, or by calling 902-455-9656.