The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Sex education should be more comprehensive

By in Opinions

Monica Gordon

Every teenager in Saskatchewan should be entitled to a thorough sex education. Understanding human sexuality is an essential part of life and it’s extremely unfortunate that sex education is so infamous for being mishandled.

In Saskatchewan, the provincial government’s curriculum is vague to the point of uselessness and in desperate need of an overhaul. While it is vital that students receive an appropriately thorough sex education, it’s worth contemplating what exactly a “comprehensive” sexual education should consist of and how it should be taught.

The Saskatchewan government’s required curriculum instructs teachers to “promote sexual health” and teach students how to avoid “health-compromising” behaviors, which appears to refer to unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The ambiguity of the curriculum’s language means that teachers have quite a bit of leeway in structuring their classes — the quality of the teacher dictates how comprehensive the sex education is.

An education that discusses the various forms of contraception and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is a great place to start — when done right. While the government should have more stringent requirements to ensure this, there’s still more we could be teaching.

I’d be willing to bet you could walk into any high school in Saskatchewan and overhear someone say “that’s so gay.” According to the American Center for Disease Control, LGBTQ teens are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens and are at an increased risk for violence due to homophobia. While high school isn’t easy if you’re heterosexual, it can be an absolute nightmare if you’re not.

Although including a discussion of sexual orientations in sex education wouldn’t eliminate harassment immediately, it could over time. Teaching students about different orientations would probably help many teens feel less confused about their sexuality. Besides that, it might also dispel the notion that a non-heterosexual orientation is inherently bad or unnatural.

However, bullying based on sexuality isn’t limited to LGBTQ students. Canadian teens Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons both committed suicide to escape from excessive bullying and harassment. Sexuality doesn’t exist in a vacuum — society has a lot of strong opinions about what makes for socially acceptable sex. We’re still sending the message that girls who have sex and enjoy it are “sluts,” and boys who aren’t having frequent sex are “unmanly.”

Sex education is the perfect vehicle to debunk these illogical attitudes, as slut shaming and tying masculinity to sexual prowess are harmful to both men and women. It’s worth emphasizing to students that — if it’s consensual — how much sex you’re having doesn’t determine your worth as a person and that there’s no shame in saying “yes” or “no.”

Of course, that is easier said than done. We are a society with a lot of baggage regarding sexuality. We’re okay with endless graphic violence in our television shows, but the second there’s any nudity, someone’s shouting “think of the children!” Humans have sex for so many different reasons, but the only thing we’re comfortable discussing in sex education is the biological aspect. The current curriculum does next to nothing to counteract the message that consensual sex is morally wrong or inappropriate. 

While it would be hard to make it a requirement, what we need is a sex-positive tone in sex education. If we encourage openness about sex, teens can develop a healthier understanding of their sexuality and figure out for themselves what their boundaries are. By creating an environment like that, we would be giving students the ability to resist both a culture that says they should be having casual sex constantly, as well as one that says their bodies are shameful and sex is dirty.

The problem is that the exact opposite happens in some schools. The continued existence of abstinence-only sex education in this province is a travesty and the fact that the ambiguity of the current curriculum permits its existence is beyond unacceptable.

While proponents of abstinence-only education claim that the comprehensive model increases the frequency of sexual activity and the total number of partners while encouraging teens to have sex at an earlier age, research presented to the World Health Organization and compiled by Advocates for Youth shows that none of that is true.

Advocates for Youth also finds that rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in teens are higher in places where abstinence-only education is common and rates of sexual activity aren’t reduced at all. Even teen adherents find creative alternatives to having sex, a phenomena so widespread it has invaded pop culture. A song titled “The Loophole,” written by the satirical music duo Garfunkel and Oates perfectly sums things up with the line “since I’m not a godless whore/he’ll have to come in the back door.”

Obviously the Saskatchewan sex education curriculum is a polarizing topic — any attempt to alter it would likely result in political backlash. When the potential consequences are as dire as unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, we can’t have such a vague curriculum or hope that parents will pick up the slack.

With so much room for improvement, it would be great to see Saskatchewan go from its current state to being a leader for sex education in Canada

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