By Jess Munday | Scribe
‘Queer youth experiencing unsafe sex and STI rates are directly connected to the lack of safe, accurate, and accessible information about their sexual health.’
Sex education in school is uncomfortable for just about everyone involved. Nobody wants to listen to their gym teacher talk for several days or even weeks about how important condoms are instead of having their usual gym class, and these lessons can also be harmful when they leave out groups of students.
Unsafe, incorrect, and inaccessible information about queer sexual health can be harmful. When you’re not taught safe sex in school or by an adult you trust, you turn to other sources like the internet and friends which can lead to a lot of misinformation that can at times even be dangerous.
“It’s really important for one to feel included, if you don’t see yourself in the curriculum or in the content you can feel very much excluded,” said Cameron McKenzie, an Assistant Professor for the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University. Mckenzie wrote an article on the current state of Ontario’s sexual health curriculum in 2015, that is still very much relevant to the current curriculum which is almost completely the same as it was in 2010.
“The 2019 curriculum, it’s the same old policy from 2010,” Mckenzie added.
The sexual health curriculum for Ontario public schools has only had minor changes in its timeline through the Kathleen Wynne, and current Doug Ford governments. “It kept getting pushed aside.”
Sex education in the public school system needs an overhaul when it comes to teaching students about queer sexual health.
The Lack of Queer Sexual Health and the AIDS Epidemic
The AIDS epidemic serves to reinforce and as an important reminder for the necessity to institute factual, accurate and comprehensive sexual health education. It is proven that comprehensive sexual education can minimize the rates of sexually transmitted infections. However, if sexual health education isn’t available to someone, then they have no resources and are put at risk.
“When we’re talking about at risk for STIs and HIV, people can fall through the cracks,” said Mckenzie.
This is what happened to many during the AIDS epidemic because the public hadn’t been provided information on how to protect themselves from contracting HIV and in turn protecting themselves from getting AIDS. Rather than making an effort to educate and remove the stigma against the gay community – specifically gay men – the government perpetuated the stigma by not allowing gay people to work for the government.
Making it illegal for queer people to congregate in groups, and even isolating people who were HIV positive from their families and the rest of the world, caused many to die alone. This led to years of harmful bias towards the gay community and even terms like “gay cancer” were created when speaking of those who died from cancer they got from contracting HIV.
The AIDS epidemic forever left a mark on the queer community and in 2020, 35 million people died from HIV since 1981.
The Absence of Queer Sex-ed effects STI Rates and Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says almost half of those who are sexually active will contract a sexually transmitted infection by the age of 25. Though anyone who is sexually active is at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection, men who have sex with other men are at a higher risk. The lack of LGBTQ2S+ sex education plays a big part in this.
In the LGBTQ2S+ community, the numbers of STI infections surpass their straight counterparts. As recent as 2019 the CDC put out a report which showed that 2SLGBTQ+ men accounted for nearly half of all primary and secondary Syphilis and Gonorrhea cases in the United States – which is a staggering number when in comparison to heterosexual men.
This doesn’t mean LGBTQ2S+ people contract STIs more easily, but instead shows how the lack of proper queer sexual education and homophobia can relate to higher STI rates in the gay community. This is harmful to the queer community as a whole as it puts the entire community at risk of further infections and bias.
As time progresses and the internet has become a more prevalent source for educational information on any topic, there’s still plenty of misinformation out there that could be combated much easier if young people were more educated early on about sexual health and the importance of practising safe sex to keep yourself and others safe.
Sexual Health Education in Schools
“It’s really important that people have the right information so they can make the best decision,” McKenzie said. LGBTQ2S+ people shouldn’t be left out of the safe sex education curriculum, it’s important that everyone understand their bodies and the effects of their sexual health so that they can make informed decisions about exploring sex.
Students should be provided with a safe, inclusive environment where they can discover who they are facing bias or being embarrassed.
Lindsay Mackenzie a registered nurse at Lambton Public Health explained the importance of offering free private testing where you don’t need a health card.
“Doesn’t matter who you’re attracted to, or what body parts you have, everybody has different sexual preferences. So the testing would be based basically on that,” she said.
Though the topic of LGBTQ2S+ sex is danced around within the health classes of Ontario high schools, the information and resources given are still less than what’s provided for cishet students. Some public and post-secondary schools have made efforts to provide students with adequate resources within their schools to give students the opportunity to learn or ask questions if needed.
Bindia Darshan, manager for wellness education and programs at Humber College explained that the college wants to make sure all students have the necessary tools, “health services, counselling services, accessible learning services, student distress support, and sexual violence prevention education,” Darshan said.
With support provided specifically to the queer community, the college also has a fully staffed LGBTQ2S+ resource centre. Having LGBTQ2S+ people mentioned and talked about in sexual health education would provide students with a safer learning environment to gain knowledge. As well as provide a more open conversation about LGBTQ2S+ topics when it comes to health classes and regular classroom conversation.
Even though the current curriculum in Ontario outlines how safe sexual health should look for straight and cisgender people in general, such as using condoms and birth control, it doesn’t always meet the needs of all individuals.
Resources for Students Outside of the Classroom
Inclusive sex education doesn’t just end when the school day does either. Though it’s recommended to talk to a healthcare professional for concerns when it comes to sexual health, not everyone is going to feel comfortable doing so or have the option to. Also, not every student is going to feel comfortable raising their hand in front of their peers. Having access and knowledge of resources outside of the classroom is important for students so they have some way to access safe and inclusive sexual education on their own.
Lambton Public Health makes the effort to go to schools directly and offer a wide range of sexual health education services and harm reduction services for anyone who needs it.
“Your care is not based on what gender you’re identifying as or how you’re labeling your sexual orientation,” said Mackenzie, who personally goes into schools and educates students at any age with a focus on equality, the understanding of consent and healthy relationships.
Other resources such as Trans Women Safer Sex Guide created by Morgan M. Page, and A Call To Action: Lgbtq+ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Ed by Planned Parenthood, are educational guides that students should have access to so they’re able to educate themselves without having to possibly out themselves in an unsafe environment.
Young people may find some helpful resources at GLAAD.org, Youtube channels like Queer Kid Stuff – an LGBTQ2S+ educational web series for children ages 3+ hosted by Lindsay Amer, a Queer rights activist – HQ in Toronto, Rainbow Health Ontario, and the519.
Sexual health education should coincide with basic bodily health education. Just as you would go to the doctor for an ear infection or to the dentist with a toothache, people who are sexually active should also consider getting tested regularly as they would with any other bodily health concern.
Health includes your entire body and mind, you shouldn’t neglect any aspect of it when it comes to taking care of yourself or educating yourself about it. Everyone has the right to be educated on their sexual health and no one should be left out of the conversation.