When it comes to topics that make people uncomfortable, youth sexuality is high on the list. Whether discussing safety and consent or the actual mechanics of sex, it’s something that a lot of people just don’t want to talk about.
This is something that Insight Theatre is hoping to change. Each year the youth-led theatre creates a show about sexual and reproductive health based on the Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines. The shows are then performed in junior highs and high schools throughout the Ottawa area as part of their sex-ed programs.
This year’s show, In the First Place, is a series of 10 first-person monologues written and performed by teens at the Bytown Museum, as part of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.
“We have core topics that we have to cover,” says Insight coordinator Luna Allison, who is also directing the show. “But because we’re interested in offering a broader sex-ed perspective to youth… we also talk about identity, and we talk about bullying, and we talk about sexual pressure, and we talk about sexual pleasure, too.”
Insight member Hannah Watt, 18, will perform a monologue about her first time having penetrative sex with a trans partner. “It was a lot of fun,” Watt says of the writing process. “It was also very stressful because it was very emotional to be doing it. It was really personal.”
The performers have struggled with the language they’re able to use in their performances. “We’re all sex educators and we’re all willing to throw around all of these words and talk about our sexuality,” Watt says. When the group visits schools, however, some censorship is required. “You can’t say things like ‘Oh yeah, I was fucking this girl.’ You have to be like, ‘Oh, I was fooling around with this person.'”
Allison says she wanted to do the show because there are so few opportunities for youth to talk about coming of age, experimentation and exploring elements of identity. “I think there’s a danger of us as adults forgetting that youth are going through this complex process.”
The show is part of the Fringe Festival’s Bring Your Own Venue initiative, which allows performers to host their shows in the space of their choosing. When the show is performed at the Bytown Museum, the youth will be telling contemporary, personal stories in a space that represents Ottawa’s public history.
“Speaking for the troupe, we’re all definitely very interested in [youth sexuality],” Watt says. “There’s a lot of creativity there, but there’s the obvious education factor. We’re not trying to teach, exactly; the idea is presenting the information and then you do what you want with it.”