Quebec’s ÉduSex Coalition, a sexual health advocacy group, is demanding change in the provincial education program as sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases, domestic violence, and sexual violence have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition contends that fighting these issues starts in the classroom. These health concerns are especially worrisome in a time where classes are online and educators are allegedly not receiving the resources or time to deliver proper sexual education, which is necessary to mitigate stigmas and allow young adults to make informed decisions regarding their health. For many, university is when their sexual activity begins, and it is important that entering students understand concepts like safe sex and consent before they arrive.
While the Quebec government stated that they provided online documents about sexual education, there is not enough time to include the yearly sexual health programming into online curricula. In a poll, the Coalition found that 75 per cent of teachers polled in November 2020 did not receive any training for sexual education courses they were asked to teach. The ÉduSex Coalition is circulating a petition with two major demands: To increase funding to schools so that they can deliver quality sexual education and to implement adequate support systems for educators so that they can develop the skills to address sensitive issues when teaching sexual health.
Comprehensive sexual education is the starting point in reducing stigmas around sexuality. Open discussions are the best way to prevent discrimination based on sexual and gender identity and to reduce negative connotations around topics such as masturbation, sexuality, and sex itself. Research has shown that proper education about sexuality and gender identity normalizes gender diversity, which can decrease bullying and violence. For example, female masturbation is not often represented in the media, while male masturbation is discussed frequently. But through education, the religious and social taboos around female masturbation can be alleviated and the act can be normalized.
Sexual education allows young adults to make informed decisions about their bodies by providing them with a better understanding of STIs and consent. Those who understand the importance of safe sex are better equipped to avoid or deal with situations of unwanted pregnancies and STIs. Additionally, cases of sexual violence can be mitigated through education about consent and what a healthy relationsips look like. It is important for young people to understand their own bodily autonomy and the importance of respecting others’ so that they can ask questions and then carry this with them. This kind of education is proven to work: When students lacked access to sexual education in Quebec, the cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea doubled.
The Édusex Coalition is fighting to ensure that young people have the knowledge to make smart decisions regarding their sexual activity, sexual health, and the way they view these stigmatized topics. McGill organizations, including Bodies A-Z, are doing the same. Bodies A-Z is a not-for-profit within Sex & Self whose purpose is to empower students in Montreal through comprehensive and engaging sexual education workshops and seminars. Student representatives go into high school classrooms offering full lesson plans that complement the Quebec Education Program sexual health curriculum, reducing the burden on teachers. While Bodies A-Z’s services are extremely important, their work is only complementary; there must be consistent material and support for teachers to extend the benefits of these programs. Teachers are already scrambling to deliver effective classes online, and without the proper support, this will be another burden on them during an already difficult time. Until comprehensive sexual education is implemented, young people will continue to feel the harmful effects of increased STI’s and sexual violence amongst other avoidable situations.