Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sex Education: Are we doing enough?

First off, a disclosure: I work part time (very part time, mind you … 4-5 hours a week) as a receptionist at Options for Sexual Health. Opt is an affiliate of the venerable International Planned Parenthood Federation. Our pro-choice and pro-LGTB clinic provides sexual health education, referral and counseling as well as contraceptives, pap tests, STI testing and treatment. Opt “envisions a society that celebrates healthy sexuality, its diversity of expression, and a positive sexual self-image for individuals throughout life”. It’s a great organization.

One might say then that I am biased. They would be right.

Recently Opt posted an article on FB written by Patrice Daniel, a psychotherapist and feminist activist from Barbados. In it she succinctly argues the point that sex education is not only a necessity but a moral imperative. She writes: There is the misconception that giving adolescents accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health and rights will propel them into careless, unfettered sex. In reality, the opposite is true. When adolescents have sound, comprehensive information about the responsibilities associated with sexual activity, they are more likely to delay sexual activity. Those who are sexually active are more likely to adopt responsible practices, such as consistent contraceptive use.

Unlike many other places in the world, British Columbian’s are fortunate. We have, for example, a well regarded K-12 sex ed curriculum and excellent guidelines set out by the BCTF. What we do not have is 1) mandatorycourses in how to teach sex ed—it is up to the teacher to do the research and, 2) a standardized system whereby the school and/or school board makes sure the BCTF guidelines are followed.  Not everyone can teach a science or English class without specialized training, the same goes for sex education. So, despite the fact that we have what seems to be an excellent program we still have situations where a certain organization, previously discredited by the Delta School Board  for giving misinformation about contraceptives and condoms, was allowed to come in to Surrey schools and give presentations to the students.

This lack in oversight is problematic. It was only after a parent complained that the Delta contract was cancelled. In the Surrey case, it was CTV that pushed the school board into action.  I am also concerned about safe environments for the LGBT community. Only one third of BC school districts have voluntarily adopted anti-homophobia policies. One might be inclined to ask, then, if sexual orientation is included in the other two-third's curriculum ... one would be inclined to think not.

Sex education is not about teaching kids to have sex. It is to provide youth with information so they can go safely and knowledgeably out into a world that is buzzing with both implicit and complicit messages about sex. Kids need to know more than just how their body functions.  They need to know how to discern between physical wants and emotional feelings; what their inherent rights are concerning their body; how to do provide healthy self care; how to say no and how to be safe when they say yes; where to get information, counselling and treatment if needed; and that everyone is unique and should not be shamed or ostracized because of their sexual identity.

BC’s curriculum seems, from this fairly untrained eye, to be able to deliver these objectives. What remains, however, is the question of whether it being taught in all of our schools in the spirit of its creation.

The problem is that many of us don’t really know.  We weren’t taught much about sex, if anything, back in our school days and our parents tended to be rather uncommunicative on the subject. Most of us were self taught and some may be still holding on to misinformation gleaned through the pages of Cosmo or the washroom walls. Now we are parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents with kids who are exposed to far more information, both true and false, than we ever were. We need to be better informed as much as they do. The best solution I can offer is to not only interview your child’s Sex Ed teacher but get educated yourself.  Better still, become an “ask-able adult”. There are plenty of options on how to do this from the free resources offered on this link to taking a course like those offered at Options for Sexual Health.

Ms Daniel ends her article with this statement: The Commission on the Status of Women is taking place this week at the United Nations in New York. The meeting aims to address global discrimination against women and girls and the rampant violations of their human rights. The denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights remains a barrier to gender equality and justice. It is time for political decision-makers to not only speak, but implement. Their actions and inaction continue to cost young people, especially girls, their lives. Comprehensive sexuality education in schools is not the enemy. Ignorance is.

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