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It is essential that youth not only feel educated but empowered to take control of their own bodies. | photo: First Light

It is essential that youth not only feel educated but empowered to take control of their own bodies. | photo: First Light

Ideas

education sex, knowledge, and justice for youth

by Jessica Yee | March 31, 2008

Humans are inherent sexual beings. If we understand sexuality as part of the foundation of who we are as people, it should be paramount that sexuality be an integral part of public dialogue around our health.

However, in taking a closer look at what we are actually talking about where it counts – in our education systems and for our youth – it does not appear that we are as open and diligent about putting it “healthily” out there. What is more, the voices of youth, who are willing to take a stand for their sexual health, are not being heard.

In Canada, every province with the exception of Quebec has mandated some form of sexual education in schools. Yet the regulations vary significantly from region to region, and the realities of the mandated education that is actually received by students are astonishing.

In PEI, currently the status of sexual education is behind the modern day reality. Grades 7-9 is the only time when sexual education is taught in depth. The issue is that abstinence and postponement of sex are how our youth are being taught to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unplanned pregnancies. Unfortunately it is well known that this approach is ineffective and this is proven with the increased numbers of teen pregnancies and STI contraction as a result.

— Kevin Walker, 21, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Kevin has recently started an online petition to get condom machines put into PEI schools to combat this lack of education and give the power to youth to make healthy choices.

It’s not as though directives for this education do not exist: the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education were developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 1994 and revised in 2003. Yet, once we acknowledge that the current state of sexual education is flawed and access to accurate information woefully inadequate, we must examine who is most severely impacted.

The reality is that we barely ever get sex ed. in a small community like Burns Lake. We need to learn more about it so the teenagers can be safe while having sex and learn what can happen if things aren’t done right. Smaller communities should be more involved in youth conferences that actually happen in their community and not have to travel to learn these things, although they should know a little bit about this themselves.

— Sonya Tamara May Patrick, 15, Burns Lake, British Columbia

The information has been developed and is out there. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has developed their sexualityandU.ca website which has a multitude of valuable resources. However, this crisis in sexual education goes beyond the information that is available on the Internet. It has a great deal to do with the readiness and ability of educators to physically teach it, and the awareness of existing resources to effectively do so.

Well, sexual education can be a confusing thing nowadays – from our parents being scared to teach us about it to the unwillingness of teachers to teach it in schools. I’ve found that there are teens that are willing to learn and help teach it, but they are just not getting the opportunity. Of course I can’t speak for all teens but I can speak for the ones that are fearful and want to learn.

— Jordan Lyall, 16, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

The reality of this is that the current health professionals, the resources, etc. all depend on the youth coming and seeing them to discuss sexual health, or obtain information. Since this is such a sensitive subject the majority of people are unwilling to talk about it. What professionals involved in this field need to do is outreach to make sexual education effective.

— Kevin Walker

It is essential that youth not only feel educated but empowered to take control of their own bodies. Sonya Tamara May Patrick believes that peer education is vital to the success of sexual education.

Youth should be presenting it to other youth because then they actually listen and feel more comfortable around youth that are presenting and would probably feel more comfortable talking with them instead of an elder or older person.

— Sonya Tamara May Patrick

The dialogue on sexual education must also expand to support culturally competent initiatives. When we talk about the ability to make healthy sexual “choices” we must also encompass ethnically and racially diverse voices and realize that the concept of “choice” falls short when placed against the backdrop of poverty, race, culture, and oppression.

The consequences of a lack of information and a lack of awareness have everything to do with fundamental issues of empowerment and justice and are profound enough to warrant a public outcry. We need to really listen to what our youth are saying in every part of the country about their sexual health.

Jordan Lyall reminds us:

It is really our right ... plain and simple. If we are denied this right we end up having things like teen pregnancies. I know first hand about this ... I also know that it leaves teens scared of the unknown.

A longer version of this article originally appears in the spring 2008 edition of Our Schools, Our Selves, “Capitalizing on Crisis in Schools and Society” published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

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