Name: Samantha Bitty
Job title: Sexual-health and consent educator
From: Scarborough, Ont.
Currently lives in: Toronto
Education: Liberal arts diploma, George Brown College; certificate in public administration and governance, Ryerson University
First job out of school: Serving and bartending in the hospitality industry
When Samantha Bitty was 17, she lied about her age to get a job in a sex shop. (The minimum was 18.) And thus began a career in sexual-health education and advocacy. Sixteen years later, she’s inspiring and informing young people all over Toronto, a calling that was partly the result of not great sexual-health advice she received as a teen and partly because she observed some pretty deep systemic issues with the way people communicate about sex.
And those issues start early. “One of the biggest problems I see with the way that we teach sex ed is that it’s risk-averse—it’s focused on negative outcomes, which inherently is not empowering,” says Bitty. “Sex is supposed to be fun—so I thought ‘How do we talk about sex in a way that feels fun and where everybody feels invited to the conversation?’”
A volunteer peer-counsellor gig at Planned Parenthood in her early 20s set her on her path; it eventually led to a job there, followed by a stint doing sexual-health-education work in Tanzania. “It was my first experience creating and facilitating workshops and learning what intersectional approaches to reproductive healthcare look like—and I loved it so much,” she says.
She returned to Toronto and started Inner Development Project, in which she leads workshops on body image, self-esteem and sexual health for adolescent women and non-binary youth. And, later, she created a game, Sexy Sexual Health Trivia, which she hosts on college and university campuses. “All the questions are designed to provoke thoughtful conversations about sex and consent and to normalize those conversations and to also address all the aspects of our lives that inform where our sex education comes from,” she explains.
An early—and significant—roadblock for Bitty was self-doubt. “One of my biggest fears was ‘Oh my god, I’m going to fuck up someone’s life by giving them the wrong information or the wrong suggestion,’” she says. “So each step of the way, it’s been about me trusting my experience, trusting my empathy, trusting my professionalism, trusting my boundaries and trusting myself.”
And the feedback she gets from people who attend her events has also gone some way to quell that doubt. “A lot of times, people will come up to me after and be like, ‘I really learned some shit today—I thought I knew this but you made me think differently about it.’ That’s success to me.”