Conference aims to get positive about sexual health

UAlberta hosts 11th biennial Western Canadian Conference on Sexual Health, May 1 and 2.

Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine - 29 April 2014

(Edmonton) One of Canada's only conferences devoted to sexual health education and promotion is returning to its roots at the University of Alberta with a goal of getting positive about sex.

The Alberta Society for the Promotion of Sexual Health hosts its 11th biennial Western Canadian Conference on Sexual Health, May 1 and 2 at the Lister Centre on north campus. This year's conference theme, "Being Sex Positive," emphasizes healthy elements of sexuality that are often overshadowed in education, counselling and the media by potential dangers and risks.

"We're focused on positive ways of looking at sexuality," said Shaniff Esmail, associate chair of occupational therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, and a conference organizer. "Sex is part of health care, part of education, part of who we are and everything."

The biennial conference was first organized 20 years ago through a grassroots effort of local health and sexual health professionals. It's the lone conference west of Ontario that brings together sexual health professionals, counsellors, therapists, outreach workers, educators, activists, health-care professionals and students.

The Department of Occupational Therapy has maintained a strong relationship with the conference dating back about 15 years, when Benita Fifield introduced the topic of sexual health to students. That involvement continues today through Esmail, whose work focuses on sexuality, education, disability and quality of life. OT students are participating in this year's conference as part of a course module on sexuality and ability.

The Western Canadian Conference on Sexual Health features two keynote speakers: Ducky Doolittle and Kelly Falardeau. Doolittle, an author, sex educator, and sexual assault and violence intervention counsellor, will speak about her life experience and how she learned to care for herself while growing up in foster care and grappling with homelessness.

Falardeau will also talk about her exemplary life, from her near-death experience as a childhood burn survivor to becoming an author, sought-after public speaker and Fierce Woman of the Year.

More information about conference speakers and registration information can be found at