Sex and Sensibility

Women’s and Health Groups Call for Sex Ed in Classrooms

Gonorrhea has increased five times in young women since the provincial government pulled sex education in 2001. Photo Riley Sparks

On Sept. 1, a coalition of health and women’s groups called for the provincial government to implement a comprehensive sex education course in Quebec high schools after new findings suggested the rates of sexually transmitted infections have skyrocketed among youth since the Ministry of Education stopped offering classes in 2001.

“Whether it’s federal government statistics that are emerging, or our own information we’ve been gathering, [numbers are] indicating that sex education is critical in our high schools,” said Sarah Odell, fundraising coordinator of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-based community outreach group Head & Hands.

“When we do our surveys and talk to our youth, we have gotten some pretty alarming answers back,” she said. “For instance, when we interviewed grade nine students, 50 per cent believed that there is a cure for AIDS […] This is an indication that the [sex ed.] reform clearly is not providing the information to youth in classrooms.”

Odell also cited a recent statistic from Quebec’s Health Ministry that found gonorrhea among 15-24 year old women has increased by five times since 2004. A Statistics Canada report from 2005 also found that three out of 10 young people who had sex with multiple partners within a one-year period had not used condoms during intercourse.

“It’s a hot button issue right now because of the emerging statistics. People are talking about it. Sex education should be a priority for the health of our youth.”

For Head & Hands, who started up the Sense Project—peer-based sex education workshops that set up in Montreal high schools and CEGEPs—in 2005, an ideal curriculum in Quebec would “give information that reflects the reality of youth.

“A program that is youth friendly, empowering, harm reductive and has a holistic approach to sex education, ideally,” said Odell.

“We want to encourage healthy, consensual relationships that don’t only emphasize the physical aspects of sex, but the emotional ones, like building healthy relationships. Hopefully the ministry can follow something along those guidelines, but it’s hard to visualize right now how [they] are going to reintroduce this.”

As of press time, neither Head & Hands nor The Link were given direct comment from the Ministry.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 05, published September 14, 2010.