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Faculty of Science
Laurier professor’s research aims to improve teen sexual health
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Dr. Robb Travers, psychology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, is co-principal investigator for a research project that surveyed over 1,200 Toronto teens aged 13 to 18, conducted to study youth sexual-health needs.
As a community psychologist, Travers specializes in building research partnerships between universities and community organizations that provide answers to urgent and pressing community- and policy-related needs. His research focuses on factors that impact youth sexual health, understanding HIV risk factors in their social context, and the impact of social exclusion on the health and well-being of marginalized communities.
The Toronto Teen Survey, which was published today, was developed to help increase positive sexual-health outcomes for diverse Toronto youth.
According to the survey’s final report, teens face a variety of barriers to proper sexual-health information and services. The type of barriers and their impact depends on a teen’s age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and immigrant and socioeconomic status.
For example, young women were more likely to access sexual-health services than males, younger teens and people from Black, Asian, Aboriginal and Muslim communities. Eight percent of the teens surveyed had never received any sex education. Newcomer youth (in Canada less than three years) are more likely to miss sex education in school – this is particularly problematic as they also may not receive it in their countries of origin.
“Most of the teens surveyed are having sex of some kind and have received some sort of sex education, but the majority of those youth were dissatisfied with the kind of education they have received,” says Travers. “While they are learning the ‘ABCs’ of sex, they are looking for more relevant, personal information and exploring topics like maintaining healthy relationships.
“One of the more surprising findings was that pregnancy rates are three times higher among non-heterosexual teens – the next step is to try to figure out why.”
Possible explanations are that gay and lesbian youth are experimenting more than other teens, or they may be trying to prove to the world that they are 'not gay,' Travers says.
A final report drawn from the survey’s findings recommends a number of major changes to local and provincial sexual health-care programs, including more clinics in underserved neighbourhoods and clinic staff who represent the diverse youth communities they serve.
The Toronto Teen Survey was a joint project of Planned Parenthood Toronto, Wilfrid Laurier University, York University and the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Toronto Public Health. It is one of the largest and most diverse studies of teen sexual health ever undertaken in Canada, with 85 percent of respondents being non-white.
Travers and his research partners have a number of grants from prestigious funding agencies, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to continue to undertake a program of community-relevant and engaged research like the Toronto Teen Survey.
“I chose to come to Laurier because the community psychology program offered a supportive base from which to conduct my research and teaching,” says Travers. “Laurier has a rich history as a community-engaged institution, as a university that cares about community needs.”
For more information or to read the full report, visit www.torontoteensurvey.ca.