Let's talk about sex, part two

Times-Herald Editorial Staff
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As I was researching for this particular column, I found some positive and some rather disconcerting information when it comes to sex and sexual health education in Canada.

Samantha Emann

By Samantha Emann, special to the Times-Herald

I pored over statistics and studies to see what the current situation is regarding what I see to be an extremely important part of one’s education and life experience.

When I look back on my own education on this subject, I can vividly remember my dad sinking low in his chair while my step-mother gave my sisters and I, all in our early teen years, the rundown on sex, birth control, condoms and consequences.

While I am sure they would have preferred if my sisters and I stayed abstinent until the ripe old age of whenever we were out of the house, realistically they knew that if we were going to have sex, we needed to be prepared and informed. And while at the time I would have preferred to be anywhere else doing anything other than having that mortifying conversation, I can now look back and realize the importance of it.

Unfortunately, not everyone’s experience of learning about sexual health is as honest and informative as mine was. I will give allowances for cultural and religious differences, but only to a certain extent as all youth should receive the same basic instruction on some key issues and fundamental information.

My interest and ire regarding this issue was further piqued after reading a story about a young woman who filed a human rights complaint regarding the “abstinence-based” education she received from a religious organization in Edmonton.

Thankfully, that group has since been dropped by the local school board as its sex education instructors.

Judging from what the group was teaching, that could not have happened fast enough. I am happy that Emily Dawson and her mother had the courage to stand up against something that, in my mind, is a clear human rights violation. 

According to CBC, the Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre “is affiliated with Care-Net, an American based anti-abortion movement. Both groups focus on advocating abstinence from sex.”

In the same article Dawson recounted her experience in the class, saying the educator was “basically shaming the girls and making them gatekeepers and meanwhile making it sound like the boys had no impulse control.”

Furthermore, when a lesbian student asked a question about not remaining abstinent, Dawson claims the educator said, “We’re not here to talk about that.”

Well, actually, they were.

One needn’t look hard to find the pitfalls of these particular ways of thinking or the abstinence-based or abstinence-only method of sexual education. After seeing this blatant disregard for objective instruction in a publicly-funded school, I decided to do a little research of my own to further illuminate the reasons why I find this type of sex education misleading, biased and inherently harmful. 

The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) sums up the issues with this particular form of teaching and thought in a 2010 report: “A substantial body of research evidence clearly indicates that most ‘abstinence-only’ sex education programs are ineffective in reducing adolescent sexual behaviour.” 

The report went on to state that “the evidence is strong that programs do not hasten or increase sexual behaviour but, instead, some pro- grams delay or decrease sexual behaviours or increase condom or contraceptive use.”

Here are some facts from a Statistics Canada report entitled “Trends in teen sexual behaviour and condom use,” published in 2008.

• In 2005, 43 per cent of teens aged 15 to 19 reported that they had had sexual intercourse at least once

• In 2005, about one-third of the 15- to 19-year-olds who had intercourse in the past year reported having done so with more than one partner.

The average age at which a Canadian youth has their first sexual experience is 16.5, according to Statistics Canada so, clearly, while abstinence may be the ideal route for teens, it is not the most realistic. 

Therefore information and safety is key. 

Emily Dawson’s mother said in an interview with CBC — quite rightly, I think — “Let’s leave the science to the school and the values to the parents.”

The teaching of religious and cultural values should be left to the parent, with care and an open mind, but science-based, medical and objective information on sexuality should be the responsibility of the schools, and the schools should find an unbiased and qualified educator (for example, a doctor or guidance counsellor) to lead the discussion. 

The mixing of religious or cultural and medical instruction in a publicly-funded school is not only unethical, but can be harmful as it often leads to the shaming or alienation of the teens who do not align with those particular beliefs.

Ideally, I think, teens will take what they learn from their parents and what they learn in school and use both to decide how and when they deal with their own sexuality and sexual health and we should be preparing them for every situation they may come across, whether we personally agree with it or not.

Find Samantha on Twitter or write her an e-mail.

Organizations: CBC, Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre, Care-Net Statistics Canada Sex Information and Education Council of Canada SIECCAN

Geographic location: Edmonton

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