MONTREAL (CUP) — The cancellation of formal sex education in Montreal high schools is contributing to the proliferation of sexually transmitted infections, some health organzations worry. Young people in Montreal are not learning the realities of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to Christina Foisy of Head and Hands, a Montreal non-profit organization that provides medical and legal services for young parents as well as sexual education for youth.
“Approximately half of Grade 9 students in Canada do not realize there is no cure for AIDS, while Chlamydia rates of infection have gone up 150 per cent among young women,” Foisy said.
Formal sex education programs were cut from Montreal high schools in early 2005, even though more than 50 per cent of HIV/AIDS-infected Canadians live in Quebec, and HIV infection rates are now growing fastest among young heterosexual women, according to Health Canada. In its place, academic teachers are expected to teach aspects of the curriculum in all classes — whether it be gym class or algebra.
Linda Henderson, the consultant for sexual education for the English Montreal School Board, insists that while sexual education has no specific curriculum, the new reforms approach the topic in a more holistic way. “A child’s sexual education does not end when he exits his sex ed class,” Henderson said. “Because sexuality is not confined to one aspect of living, it can be taught in any subject.”
Although Head and Hands embraces the prospect of a more comprehensive approach to sexual education, Foisy says it isn’t being taught in every class and calls it “sporadic” because the Canadian Health Agency’s guidelines are not being followed.
“The fact is that sex ed in schools just isn’t happening, and when it is happening, it’s outdated,” she said. “Teachers don’t have the research to develop a sexual education program that is complete and diverse.”
Lance Lamore, HIV educator for AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM), agrees that emphasizing education is a deterrent to higher-risk sexual activity.
“The more knowledge you have, the more you realize the need and the know-how to defend yourself,” Lamore said.
According to Health Canada, “young people who have had access to proper sex education [are] more likely to delay their first sexual relation.”
Head and Hands has begun the “Sense” project under the slogan “It makes sense to have sex ed.” The project talks first to students and then to administrators to create a culture of peer education that trains students to be resources in their schools.
The project, together with the ACCM’s teacher workshops, is an attempt to compensate for the current approach to sex ed and take the load off of guidance counselors.
“Teachers are so excited — especially in alternative high schools where students have the least access to resources but are most at risk,” Foisie said.