I respect myself…and you should too

I haven’t really talked that much about what exactly I’m doing here when it comes to work.   Since I’m in the communications part of Health and Social Services, what we really do is a little bit of everything.  But the biggest thing I’ve been involved in so far is developing the content for our new sexual health website aimed at youth.  With rates of STIs here through the roof (17% higher than the national average), and 67% of Inuit youth living in Nunavut in 2003 indicating that they need more sex education, it was decided that there needed to be some renewed energy behind getting youth to use a condom, because they most definitely are having sex.  Not being pregnant as a teen here is an anomaly.

Before I even got here, the fantastic people I am working with decided on the theme of “I Respect Myself”.  My fabulous boss says its a mix of positive reinforcement and fake it til you make it combined into one – if people start seeing I respect myself everywhere, they’ll say “you know what, I do respect myself”) and type it into their web browsers, it’ll only be so long til it becomes true.  There are excellently provocative posters that made 14 to 20-something year olds say it made them want to use a condom, different colours and flavours of condoms in matchpacks with a different design each month, lube, female condoms and tattoos that say I Respect Myself and Personal Protective Equipment required.  And, Community Health Representatives (CHRs for short, who are health promotion staff) got lighted display stands to display sexual health info on at public events.  Tomorrow, Iqaluit’s CHRs are setting up a display in Northmart for Sexual and Reproductive Health Day, that happens to fall on Iqaluit’s equivalent of a PD day.  I’m hoping to go visit and take some pictures to post here.

I got to play a role in writing content (which was based on the Northwest Territories’ site, www.respectyourself.ca) and some of the materials for the launch from speaker’s notes to the first draft of our news release (Did I mention how great the other people I work with are?!) I have to credit the lovely people at Sex, Etc. and Scarleteen as well as Advocates for Youth for their inspiration.

I highly suggest you check it out – www.irespsectmyself.ca, especially if you have questions about sexual health and healthy relationships.  It covers everything from how pregnancy happens to sexual anatomy to no means no to the signs and symptoms of STIs.  Here’s some of what I wrote about the website and why sexual health is so important:

‘I Respect Myself’ means taking care of your health and standing up for yourself in your relationships.  It also means believing in yourself and that you are capable of reaching your goals and that you are worth being respected by others. When it comes to relationships and sex, respecting yourself means making decisions that are right for you, and being informed about all the things that come with sexual health.  Respect for ourselves and in all our relationships is the foundation of healthy communities and healthy Nunavummiut.

Its easy to avoid talking about things like STIs, birth control and unplanned pregnancies with our children, with our partners and with our peers.  But avoiding these conversations means we aren’t taking sexual health seriously.  This website is aimed at giving youth the tools and the facts to have these important conversations and make good choices around their sexuality and relationships, including protecting themselves and their partners.

This website empowers youth to be in control of their sexual health, helps keep them and their partners safe and develop healthy relationships by giving them the facts they need to know to make the decisions that are right for them.

Sexual health includes physical health, mental health and emotional health – how we feel about our bodies, how we feel in our relationships and how we treat our partners.  When respect for ourselves and each other is the foundation of what we believe when it comes to sexual health and healthy relationships, we are able to make good decisions for ourselves and our partners.

This campaign is goes far beyond sexual health.  We believe that this message – I Respect Myself – will empower youth not only to take care of their physical, mental and sexual health, but it will also help them to believe they are important and that they are capable of reaching their goals and worth being respected by others.  This campaign encourages youth to take responsibility for their actions and decisions when it comes to relationships and sexual health, and encourages role models in their lives to open the conversations to help them form healthy habits and beliefs around relationships and sexuality from the beginning.

If you’re a parent, talk to your kids.  If you are a teacher, talk to your students.  If you’re in a relationship, talk to your partner.  Respect your body and how fabulous it is by protecting it. Use a condom yourself, or get your partner to use one. Think about oral dental dams and lube. Get tested.  Talk about monogamy if you don’t want to use a condom.  Have sex only if you want to – and don’t let anyone else decide that for you.  Get help if you are being forced into any kind of unwanted sex.  Respect the fact that no means no.  Know the facts.  Don’t sell yourself short – you’re worth protecting.

Make good choices – for you and your partner.

*****

I bet some of you were wondering how long it would take me to talk about sex on this blog.  I definitely would have gotten to it earlier, but I was sworn to secrecy prior to today’s press conference at 2:30pm.

You should also know that someone at work made me a nameplate that reads “Sarah Chown, Acting Director of Condom Distribution”.  I have a limited number of ones from the campaign, so if you want them, let me know and I will mail away.

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