OT professor investigates effectiveness of sex ed play for teens

Holly Gray - 27 July 2010

When it comes to sex and healthy choices, not everyone wants to talk about it, especially to grade nine teens.

But Are We There Yet? (AWTY) is out to do just that. A participatory play and sexual education workshop for 14 to 16-year-olds that gives students a chance to have all their questions about sex answered in a welcoming and relaxed environment, AWTY has reached more than 35,000 grade nine students in Alberta since 1998 and is now shown across Canada.

Shaniff Esmail, PhD, associate chair in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine is leading the qualitative research on the effectiveness of the play. His research explores the question, "Are the students going to put their knowledge of safe sex practices into action?"

"This question is more complex than it looks as we are looking at the impact the play has on the students but we have many variables such as gender, identity, style, present sexual experience, etc.," he explains.

Qualitative research looks past the facts and figures of quantitative research and aims to gather in-depth understanding of human thought and behavior.

"We know most grade nine students have a good understanding of safe sex," Esmail says. "The problem is they do not put their knowledge into practice. Our overall goal is to contribute to best practice for sexual health education."

Data provided by Edmonton Public Schools students shows that overall the play's message reaches the teens, emphasizing the importance of being yourself and making sexual decisions based on personal readiness and mutual self respect.

"I'd probably do what they did in the play and discuss it-trying to find a comfort level that is comfortable for both of us," says one Edmonton teen. "Before I saw the play I'd probably be really uncomfortable talking about that sort of thing but after seeing the play you realize it's not so bad really."

So far this research has been applied to the adaption of AWTY? for different cultural and regional settings including rural, urban, and aboriginal communities.

Esmail will continue his research as the play kicks off its 14th season touring Alberta in March 2011. He is part of a diverse research team, which includes Jan Selman, principal investigator and professor in the Department of Drama ; Brenda Munro, PhD, professor in the Department of Human Ecology; Jane Heather, playwright and assistant professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Drama, and Liz Ludwig, project administrator.

For more information on AWTY? or to book a school show in your gym or community, visit: http://www.concretetheatre.ca/Arewethereyet2011.html

For more information on the research being conducted by Esmail, visit: http://www.ualberta.ca/AWTY/index.html
Photo by: Epic Photography
About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.