SExT creator, Shira Taylor, wanted to integrate her research on public health with an artistic theatrical component. The goal? To change the way we think about and teach sexual education in Canada.
Countless studies make recommendations to improve sex education, yet few studies explore creative ways of turning these recommendations into action. Unlike the sex education that participants reported having received in school, SExT incorporates youth input, a peer education model, and moves beyond biology and the ‘birds and bees’ to target the social climate in schools and communities.
The SExT pilot program began in April 2014 with the goal to affect change at a grassroots level inside one of Toronto’s newcomer areas.
Funding for the 2014 pilot program was generously provided by the CIHR Social Research Centre in HIV prevention. In order to recruit youth, a partnership was established with Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in East York, serving Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park, one of Ontario’s most diverse and densely populated high schools.
The school principal at Marc Garneau gave permission for student recruitment through flyers and class talks. The Flemingdon Health Centre, conveniently located across the street from school, agreed to supplement SRC support by providing free space for workshops and rehearsals. While the hope was to finish the process with 10 dedicated youth, a group of 19 youth completed the program with near-perfect attendance. For the last 10 weeks of the school year, Shira held two-hour weekly workshops tackling topics decided in consultation with youth. In addition to safer sex, community-specific issues such as gender roles and women’s attire, barriers to testing, consent, abuse, racism, and homophobia were paid special attention. Each workshop included theatre training and exercises, group discussion, and opportunities for youth to engage with the subject matter by devising skits, songs, raps, poems, and dances.
The process culminated in a 75 minute theatre performance to engage other youth in the community, rehearsed over a full-time week of July in a camp environment. SExT: Sex Education by Theatre was performed at the Ontario Science Centre, located a short walk from the school. Based on positive audience reactions and press, the performance was re-mounted for two shows at the Palmerston Library Theatre in August. The dedication of the youth truly led to a lively and powerful performance.
The Pilot Program
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends a performance of SExT at the
One More Night Festival (2016)
"SExT gives youth a voice. Its peer-to-peer approach delivers sex-ed tailored to the needs of youth, instead of inviting experts to talk at them."
- Dr. Shira Taylor, SExT Creator & Director
Aiming to address gaps in the evaluation of arts-based interventions, surveys, focus groups, peer to peer interviews, arts-based evaluation workshops, and field notes were used to evaluate SExT before and after the pilot program, and at 3-4 month follow-up for peer educators and audience. Surveys assessed impacts on personal and social development, as well as impacts on sexual health. Qualitative and arts-based methods were used to understand the how and why of any program impacts. Youth were included as active partners in the research process. The data is in the process of being analyzed and preliminary results are extremely encouraging.
In July 2016, SExT made its professional debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July 2016, showcasing the evolution of the project for the public at large. After a critically-acclaimed run and a -NNNN review from NOW Magazine, SExT went on to perform at the Summerworks Theatre Festival (where it made Critic's Pick) as well as The One More Night Festival with Premier Kathleen Wynne in the audience (watch her emotional response to our show here).
In 2017, we partnered with Ophea to perform SExT for over 1000 high school students at Toronto's Factory Theatre.
In 2018, we partnered with The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) to embark on our first-ever national tour to areas of Canada most affected by HIV/STIs. We performed for over 4500 students in high schools and Indigenous reserves across Ontario and Saskatchewan. With the support of Ontario Arts Council, we were able to reach youth living in Toronto's Flemingdon/Thorncliffe Park and Lawrence Heights communities. In fall 2018, SExT released two original music videos in partnership with CANFAR on the topics of consent (Bodak Consent) and intimate partner violence (Tunnel Vision). SExT was the recipient of the 2018 ArtBridges/ToileDesArts Award for Remarkable Innovation in community-engaged arts in Canada.
In 2019, we embarked on our second national tour, reaching over 2000 students across Ontario, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories (NWT) in partnership with CANFAR, the Government of the Northwest Territories, and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in response to the rise of Gonorrhea and Syphilis in the NWT. With the support of Ontario Arts Council, we were able to reach youth living in Toronto's Flemingdon/Thorncliffe Park and Lawrence Heights communities.
Making Our Mark
Following the cancellation of our Manitoba tour in 2020 due to the pandemic, SExT has re-located online as we continue to perform digitally for schools and create digital content for youth and their communities. Our latest quarantine music videos "Quarantine Dream" and "It Wasn't Me" are are most-watched videos yet with a combined 30,000 views!
Catch us this summer at the 2021 Digital Toronto Fringe Festival with our new show: "Captain Condom & the COVID-19 Conundrum".
And our journey continues. Click here to read our blog, featuring articles written by our cast and creatives.
Where We Are Today
In 2018 we partnered with the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) and embarked on our 1st national tour.