FebruaryMagazine

Q&A with Shaniff Esmail

Name: Shaniff Esmail
Faculty: Rehabilitation Medicine
Position: Associate Chair, Department of Occupational Therapy and Rehab Medicine


One of the cool things about the University of Alberta is that it has a sexologist. As an occupational therapist, Shaniff Esmail counsels couples affected by disability to educates children with disabilities. This winter, Esmail’s teaching 200 undergrads HECOL 211 (Human Sexuality), a class about chromosomes, sexual development, and sexual education. Esmail even includes an entire lecture dedicated to the clitoris.

What’s the weirdest sex question you’ve ever been asked by a student?

One of the weirder questions is not a weird question, but I remember having a student come to me and ask me, “What is the right way of having sex?” There’s no right way. It’s whatever comes naturally. I talked about how her and her partner should just communicate and whatever feels right and comfortable is the best way.

So it’s 2017, are we still treating sex as taboo or are we starting to move away from that?

My mentor in the whole area of sexuality, Benita Fifield, started teaching sexuality way back in the ‘60s. I remember having a discussion with her about this, and she said students are actually more conservative today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. It was almost a like pendulum — before people used to be very conservative, then they became very liberal, and now it’s going towards more of a conservative end. Even though sex is at your fingertips on the internet there’s a lot of discomfort around it.

Which way do you think we’re headed now?

I think actually we’re going back towards a more liberal perspective and heading away from the conservative. It’ll take a few years.

What advice would you give a sexually-awkward youth or college student?

Wait. Just because it seems like everyone is having sex and all that, it’s not true; 20 per cent of university students have not had sex. That’s what I would tell any awkward youth, or any youth, don’t do it until you are comfortable. Do not feel coerced or in any way pressured to have sex.

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