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Sexual health media clubs opening at schools throughout Cumberland County

Rene Ross, executive director at the Sexual Health Centre of Cumberland County, along with no-nonsense puppet Little Rene, star in videos produced by the SHCCC, including their latest video about safe partying. Ross says puppets help provide fun, imaginative ways to teach youth about issues surrounding sexual health.
Rene Ross, executive director at the Sexual Health Centre of Cumberland County, along with no-nonsense puppet Little Rene, star in videos produced by the SHCCC, including their latest video about safe partying. Ross says puppets help provide fun, imaginative ways to teach youth about issues surrounding sexual health. - Dave Mathieson

AMHERST, N.S. – The Sexual Health Centre of Cumberland County has found a whimsical way to teach teenagers about sex.

“Because so many of our youth are on social media, I’m interested in how we can use humour and social media to provide accurate sexual health information to youth in Cumberland County,” Rene Ross, executive director at the SHCCC, said.

One way to engage youth is to teach them how to make sexual health education videos themselves. A media club created by the SHCCC called It Matters Media produced sexual health education videos over the summer, and one video they produced, Dealing With It, focused on rejection.

“Half of the rejection video was filmed by a Grade 8 student,” Ross said.

Earlier this fall, It Matters Media opened branches at schools in Amherst, Pugwash, River Hebert, with a total of 25 youth participating. Two more clubs will open soon in Springhill and Parrsboro.

“At Amherst Regional High School right now we’re looking at gender and identity issues, and in River Hebert, we’re looking at topics surrounding puberty and growing up,” Ross said.

Each video has at least three educational messages encompassing sexual health issues.

“We want to make it funny and silly while getting the key messages across.”

The videos use puppets, which helps raise the silliness factor to a whole new level. One of the puppets, modelled after Ross, is used by Ross in the videos.

“I never thought I’d be puppeteering and learning about puppeteering, but the introduction of puppets into the program has really opened up a whole new world for us.”

Most of the puppets were created by youth.

“We had a summer camp this summer as part of our media program called, ‘Hey, what am I, a puppet?’” Ross said. “The kids all made their own puppets and then filmed them. They were in Grade 7 and Grade 8. We have about 10 different puppets now.”

Ross also teaches sex education to Grade 6 students throughout the county, and many of the video topics come from questions posed by those students.

“As part of the school program I have a question box and I read the questions out to the students,” Ross said. “I keep all the questions and we run our questions through spreadsheets to find out what some of the more common issues are. That helps us to come up with our topics.”

Questions of concern for the puberty video currently being produced in River Hebert include ‘will I gain weight, will I get taller, and when will I start to shave.’”

The videos, along with an extensive discussion guide, is given to teachers to help them teach issues surrounding sexual health.

“We provide resources to teachers who are struggling with sexual health outcomes because we know teachers need more support around teaching this stuff.”

Whether they’re creating a script, filming, or editing, creating videos helps youth build self-esteem.

“It’s a great way for us to not only talk about important sexual health issues but for youth to develop skills and gain self-confidence,” Ross said. “We have some youth in the program who were really shy and quiet and are now leading the production of the videos. We’re all learning as we go.”

Each video costs about $20 to produce and are also uploaded to Youtube and other media platforms.

Ross says people are often nervous talking about issues surrounding sex.

“Sex is a funny word, and that’s fine, and nervousness is fine,” Ross said. “It’s important to embrace that silliness and that awkwardness, and the videos are a great way to have fun and to get people to talk about these issues.”

The videos can be found, among other social media platforms, on the SHCCC Facebook page or on youtube.

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