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The Do’s and Don’ts of Sexual Education: Ontario: Are You Listening?

By Nada Nassar

Health Canada states that healthy sexuality involves much more than just avoiding negative outcomes and unintentional pregnancies. It involves developing the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to maintain good sexual and reproductive health throughout your life.

Ontario’s sexual health curriculum, and Canada as a whole, doesn’t involve the development of those skills and knowledge.

Research into reports from Action Canada, CDC, Health Canada and many news outlets have concluded that there is something wrong with sex education in Ontario. From political leaders to teachers in the classrooms, everyone plays an important role in the development of youth. It is their job to ensure they are providing the best education to the next generation.

But when it comes to sex education, it isn’t happening.

The Situation:

Kathleen Wynne introduction of the Liberal’s 2015 curriculum was seen as a major step in a positive direction. Until that point, the curriculum hadn’t been updated since 1998. However, when Conservative Premiere Doug Ford repealed the elementary curriculum in 2018, he reinstated the version from 1998, most likely in deference to the traditionalist wings of the party. These actions have called into question the competency of Ontario’s educational systems and programs.

Action Canada states, “The sex-ed currently offered in Canadian classrooms does not live up to human rights standards, the most modern international evidence on best practices, or the 2019 Canadian Guidelines for Sexuality Education”.

The Guidelines are updated frequently, so why shouldn’t the sexual education curriculum in Ontario evolve with them?

The Problem:

“All territorial/provincial health education curricula were drafted in different years without any specific stated requirements or suggested dates for renewal,” says Action Canada. The publications throughout Canada were created from 2000 to 2012 with not much change, indicating a lack of modernization and revision for Sexual Health Education (SHE) across the provinces.

This lack of updating promotes old, traditional views and concepts that are no longer relevant or ignore current changes in society. An article published by The Conversation highlights that, while most educators and sexual health experts in Canada and at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) believe in comprehensive school-based sexuality education, it has been difficult “to bring educational policies into line with their recommendations, even with strong public support.”

Some of these difficulties have resulted from many parents who have voiced concerns about the content their children will be learning. In response, Doug Ford implemented a “snitch hotline” where parents could tattle on teachers who were educating their students about LGBTQ+ identities, contraceptives and birth control.

According to Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, “Having a Ministry of Education ‘snitch line’ that bypasses the systems already in place to deal with issues at the school level will prohibit parents and educators from addressing classroom concerns constructively.”

The Solutions:

The Canadian Guidelines for Sexuality Education argues that “a prevention-only focus can result in a distorted view of human sexuality that emphasizes negativity and contributes to shame and stigma.” It does not reduce sexual activity.

The obvious solution is to concentrate on evidence-based content and sex-positive discussions.

According to Action Canada, students don’t want their teachers delivering sex-ed because of their poor training and a lack of anonymity. Bringing in professional health educators encourages learning based on facts, not preconceived notions, in a non-toxic environment.

Finally, students need to be part of the discussion. We need to survey high school seniors on what could have prepared them better for the situations they’ve experienced. When students enter high school, they are at the height of their curiosity and vulnerability. Without proper sex education, how can we expect them to make the right choices? We can’t.

As well, we can’t expect them to proactively consider a healthy approach to their sexual activities, identity, and expression during the most challenging and confusing time of their lives.

A UTP Journal article states, “it’s clear that Canada is not doing its part to uphold the rights of children and young people” when it comes to accessing sex education.

When it comes to sex education, Ontario deserves a failing grade.