Girl Talk brings sex education to residences

Girl Talk and What's Love Got to Do With It may sound like part of a student's iPod playlist, but they're actually names of new outreach initiatives coming out the U of T Health Service that focus on sexual health and healthy relationships.

Better Health for a Better GPA and Fertility and Delayed Child Bearing are some of the other new workshops that have come to fruition because of productive partnerships with various groups on campus such as SHOP, a peer health education program; the graduate student initiative; first-year learning communities (FLC); and the Counselling and Learning Skills Service (CALSS).

Health promotion co-ordinator Kathryn Haworth credits U of T's mentorship program and her mentor Sam Minsky, director of CALSS, with encouraging her to spearhead tailored outreach programs.

One of the newest programs, Girl Talk, is a proactive, mobile Q and A session where women put anonymous questions in a hat and Haworth answers them. It is relaxed and informal and usually held in the don's room in residence.

"They ask about anything from orgasms to oral sex to menstrual cramps -- anything that is sexual health related," she said. "If the group is quiet at first, I will go through what a first pap test is like and what to expect, as well as some of the common STIs [sexually transmitted infections] and methods of birth control. I really try to focus on the needs and interests of each group."

So far six Girl Talk sessions have been held in residence but Haworth emphasizes that the group can be held anywhere, as long as it is private. She said the informal structure is paramount to the program's success "because the last thing they need at the end of the day is another lecture."

Alona Itzkovitch, former don at Laurence House in New College residence, organized a Girl Talk session last year and highly recommends it. "We all learned something new -- whether it was by looking and touching the props provided or by asking questions anonymously. There was also lots of free stuff. Overall, it was an intimate, fun and informative session," she said.

Haworth's fertility seminar became so popular, with graduate students asking policy questions, that she collaborated with the School of Graduate Studies and the family care office to create a new panel, Can I Have Both: Pursuing Academia While Becoming a Parent, to respond to students needs. Approximately 40 people, including 10 men and 2 babies, attended the most recent session.

Better Health for a Better GPA is a session given as a Jeopardy-style game, where one of the categories -- What's Love Got to Do With It -- is all about sexual health. Haworth said that this is one of the best-attended programs because it is administered through the well-established First-Year Learning Communities program.

Heidi Pepper Coles, FLC program co-ordinator, said that hundreds of first-year students in the FLC program have participated in the Better Health for a Better GPA sessions. She said the informative and informal nature is perfect for getting the message out -- and sexual health is a popular topic. "I really like the session because it breaks down some of the stigma around talking about sexual health and makes the topic fun for the students," she said.

To book a Girl Talk session, or to find out more about sexual health services, contact Haworth: kathryn.haworth@ utoronto.ca.

U of T's Health Promotion Programs and Health Service will host a student health fair and flu vaccination clinic on Nov. 26. SHOP students will host a display on HPV. More information: http://utoronto.ca/health/posterhf22.pdf.