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Sexual education compared across Canada

sex education in schools canada

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This article is more than 9 years old and some information may not be up to date.

Ontario’s newly-revised sexual education curriculum introduces kids to the proper names for genitalia by Grade 1, the physical changes of puberty in Grade 4, and how to prevent sexually-transmitted infections in Grade 7.

sex education in schools canada

When you compare these milestones with those in other provinces, they stack up similarly.

We went through the curriculum for each province and examined when certain key concepts are first introduced to children. You’ll find our results below. Note that many curricula suggest strategies for introducing concepts at an age-appropriate level, for example: a discussion of sexual abuse in a kindergarten class would likely be about what inappropriate touching is and the importance of reporting it. And in many classrooms, concepts could be introduced earlier than required by the curriculum.

For more information on how a province describes a concept, you should look directly at the curriculum document.

And as an aside, while all provinces spend a lot of time talking about sex, only one guideline document specifically mentions love: Quebec’s.

The grade at which children are expected to know the names of all body parts:

  • Ontario: Grade 1
  • B.C.: Kindergarten
  • Alberta: Kindergarten
  • Saskatchewan: Grade 5 (possibly earlier)
  • Manitoba: Kindergarten
  • Quebec: By 5 years old
  • New Brunswick: Grade 6
  • PEI: Grade 6
  • Nova Scotia: Grade 3
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Grade 4

The grade at which children are introduced to the concept of sexual orientation:

  • Ontario: Grade 3
  • B.C.: Grade 6
  • Alberta: Unclear
  • Saskatchewan: Grade 3
  • Manitoba: Unclear
  • New Brunswick: Grade 8
  • PEI: Grade 8
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Grade 9 (may be mentioned earlier)

The grade at which children are introduced to the concept of gender identity:

  • Saskatchewan: Grade 1
  • Manitoba: Grade 5
  • Quebec: Between 8 and 11 years old
  • PEI: Unclear
  • Nova Scotia: Grade 4
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Unclear

The grade at which children are told about STIs and their prevention:

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  • Ontario: Grade 7
  • Alberta: Grade 6
  • Saskatchewan: Grade 6
  • Manitoba: Grade 7
  • Quebec: Between 12-17 years old
  • New Brunswick: Grade 9 and 10
  • PEI: Grade 8 (expected to understand abstinence in Grade 7)
  • Nova Scotia: Between Grades 5 and 7: HIV/AIDS mentioned in Grade 5, consequences of sex in Grade 6, contraceptive methods in Grade 7
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Grade 7 (HIV/AIDS mentioned in Grade 5)

The grade at which children are told about Internet safety and/or sexting:

  • Ontario: Grade 4
  • B.C.: Grade 4
  • Saskatchewan: Grade 4
  • Quebec: Unclear, but strong focus on safety/exploitation starting in kindergarten
  • New Brunswick: Unclear
  • Nova Scotia: Grade 8

The grade at which children are told about birth control:

  • B.C.: Grade 6 (unclear)
  • Alberta: Grade 8
  • Saskatchewan: Grade 9
  • Quebec: Between 12 and 17 years old
  • Nova Scotia: Grade 7
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Grade 8

The grade at which children are expected to understand consent (healthy relationships in general are discussed earlier, or the two are blurred in many provinces):

  • Ontario: Grade 7 (some mention in Grade 2)
  • B.C.: Grade 8
  • Quebec: Between 10-11 years old
  • New Brunswick: Grade 7, emphasized in Grade 9 and 10
  • PEI: Grade 9

The grade at which children are told about sexual abuse:

  • Nova Scotia: Grade 5
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Grade 2

Note: Quebec does not have a formal dedicated sex ed curriculum, opting instead to integrate this instruction into other subjects. This approach has resulted in some criticism .

  • Consent curriculum: What do you think of Ontario’s new sex ed?
  • What Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum teaches in Grades 1 through 12
  • Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum will teach consent in Grade 2

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What parents need to know about the new Ontario sex-ed curriculum

The Ontario government has released the new sexual-education curriculum, which includes details of when and what students will be taught.

The province says the curriculum, for Grades 1 to 8, has been updated following feedback from the public and consultation with experts. 

The Ministry of Education says the new 320-page Health and Physical Education Curriculum focuses on various topics including mental health, sexual health and consent. 

It also examines the effects and risks of substance use, including cannabis and vaping. 

The new curriculum replaces a much-criticized teaching plan brought in after the Progressive Conservatives took power last year.

The government has broken down what students will learn and when. Here’s a brief guide of what to expect and what’s changed:

  • In Grade 1, students will be taught to identify body parts, including genitalia (penis, testicles, vagina and vulva)
  • In Grade 1, students will be taught to use body-positive language
  • In Grade 1, students will learn about habits and behaviour, including vaping
  • In Grade 3, students will learn about the different types of legal and illegal substance use
  • In Grade 5, students will learn to identify the factors that affect the development of a person’s self-concept, including their sexual orientation
  • In Grade 5, students will learn about the negative effects of making homophobic comments
  • In Grade 8, students will learn about gender identity (male, female, Two-Spirit, transgender) and learn more about sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual)
  • Under the former Liberal government’s plan, gender identity and sexual orientation was to be taught in Grade 6. It has been delayed until Grade 8
  • In Grade 8, students will learn about abstinence, contraception and the use of suitable protection to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted blood borne infections (STBBIs)
  • Parents can now opt their child out of sex-ed lessons with a new policy put into place – this must be completed by Nov. 30
  • The new curriculum has a stronger and earlier emphasis on mental health, starting in Kindergarten 

The new curriculum will go into effect at the start of the 2019 school year.

To view the full Health and Physical Education curriculum for Grades 1 to 8, click here.

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Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education

The 2019 Canadian guidelines for sexual health education by Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) are meant to be a guide for educators and policy makers when it comes to comprehensive sexuality education in Canada. The 2019 edition includes new content on the importance of comprehensive sex-ed in Canada, a list of key educators and settings important for access to comprehensive sex-ed, and benchmarks on providing STI prevention education and STI testing in schools.

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This app features content from the Your Sexual Health Hub and is available if you are offline. To visit the full Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights website, go to www.actioncanadashr.org.

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sex education in schools canada

Parents can benefit as much as their kids from Ontario’s new sex ed

sex education in schools canada

Associate Professor, Education, York University, Canada

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In time for back-to-school 2019, the Ontario government released a revised health and physical education curriculum. Commentators have noted that despite Premier Doug Ford having stressed the need for an overhaul, the new curriculum is strikingly similar to the one from 2015 , prompting some to call it a backtrack of election promises.

But what is new is that the Ontario government is now touting an opt-out policy for parents who want to remove their children from certain lessons on human development and sexual health .

The new policy requires schools to implement a more detailed process to “ provide parents with a list of all Human Development and Sexual Health expectations by grade .” It also give parents at least 20 school days notice before students are taught human development and sexual health.

With regards to the new opt-out policy, there are significant concerns about potential threats to children’s access to inclusive, accurate sexual education. However, progressive responses that criticize the new parental opt-out policy must be careful to not get stuck inside the government’s framing of sex education as a potential violation of parents’ rights.

Parents as partners

The majority of parents in Ontario support progressive, inclusive and comprehensive sex education. A large study by Alex McKay, executive director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, and colleagues found that 87 per cent of Ontario parents agreed that sexual health education should happen in schools . The study was conducted during earlier conflicts over the Ontario sex education curriculum.

Even the government’s own consultation process received overwhelmingly positive support for sex education in schools .

But what about the parents who don’t support the curriculum, and might be contemplating the opt-out?

Many advocates of progressive sex education oppose opt-out policies — and for good reasons.

Education researcher Lauren Bialystok, from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, for instance, writes that Ford’s olive branch opt-out policy to those at odds with liberal norms is about framing democratic policy-making as an adversarial struggle between “the people” and “the elite.”

Read more: Doug Ford's reboot of sex education in Ontario: Same as it ever was

She has argued that parents’ rights to determine how their children are raised shouldn’t override students’ right to learn about sexuality . I agree with her. However, my concern is that focusing now on the opt-out policy might reinforce the misleading belief that parents are only an obstacle to their children’s sex education.

Why, we might ask, are schools not concerned about parents who might complain or opt out if their children are not receiving a progressive — and inclusive —enough sex education? What would sex education look like if progressive sex ed advocates took those concerns more seriously?

Larger issues

Discussions of sex education should begin from the assumption that all parents are invested in their child’s education. Even when parents — conservative or liberal — have concerns about the sex education their child receives at school, they act out of love and care, not just political convictions.

The government has cynically positioned sex education as a potential violation of conservative parents’ rights. In response to this strategy, progressive advocates must be careful not to repeat and reinforce that antagonism.

I know of no studies documenting how many parents opt their children out of sex education in Canada. But qualitative research from the United States suggests the number is very small .

If sex ed advocates, researchers or educators acquiesce to the government’s framing of this issue and make the opt-out policy the problem, they may lose sight of the larger issues.

For instance: How can our society provide teachers with the resources to implement this curriculum? How will schools ensure all students, including racialized and Indigenous students, girls and LGBTQ students, are able to explore their ideas about sexuality and gender both in and out of the classroom?

sex education in schools canada

Sex ed in the playground

Even still, sex education researchers and advocates know that sex education is never confined to a single class. Even as parents, politicians, educators and researchers debate what should or shouldn’t be included in a formal sex education curriculum, young people are taking the lessons they receive from their teachers out into the playground.

There, the formal curriculum is modified by the informal sex education students receive at school about gender and sexuality. Sex education happens in the cafeteria, locker room, on Instagram, in movies, through music and on Netflix.

Sex education includes all these teachers. And if schools are going to help young people navigate these lessons, both in and out of the classroom, they should enlist the help of parents.

Schools have a responsibility to offer students comprehensive, inclusive, medically accurate sexual health education regardless of who their parents are. But this mission is enhanced when schools, and sex education advocates, recognize parents as resources for sex education.

Let’s not be afraid of sending home notices about the sexual health education students will be receiving. Let’s invite parents to share their concerns and hopes with schools and teachers. Let’s opt parents into sex education. They may benefit from it as much as their kids.

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How should we be supporting queer and trans students? All schools and school districts are dealing with this issue, both at a policy level and in individual classrooms. How do we encourage a school culture that respects the spectrum of sexuality and gender? How do we respond to community backlash when it occurs? The role of sex education and the renewed controversy over sex ed in some provinces can be explored, looking beyond the rhetoric to focus on what the research says, as well as specific programs to address homophobia, misogyny, sexism and consent. What does the research tell us about sex education, gender-related bullying, and LGBTQ students, and how can that translate into good practice? What are the barriers to overcome?

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Questions and Answers: Sexual Orientation in Schools – What can schools do?

  • Table of Contents

What can schools do to support and improve the health and safety of sexual minority students?

Comprehensive school health, including broadly-based sexual health education, involves the entire school community coming together to work collectively to create an inclusive school environment, which emphasizes the values of “reciprocity, equality, and respect … [as the] pre-requisites for healthier and safer sexual and social relationships” Footnote 35 . One of the successful programs at improving the feelings of safety of sexual minority students and reducing incidents of homophobic violence within schools has been Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs) Footnote 36 . GSAs have the advantage of requiring that their members declare only a concern to counter act homophobic harassment and not their sexual orientation to join. They build on the principle that social networks can overcome the paralysing isolation felt by so many lesbian, gay and bisexual students and other students vulnerable to being labelled as gay. They can also create a safe space and a counter-weight to the intimidation exerted by harassers. A guide on how to create a GSA is included in the Resources section at the end of this document.

HETEROSEXISM: The assumption that everyone is heterosexual and that this sexual orientation is superior. Heterosexism is often expressed in more subtle forms than homophobia.

In creating a safe space at school, lesbian, gay and bisexual students may come out at school before they come out at home. It is important that disclosure remain in the hands of the individual student who can gauge when or if it may be safe to disclose at home. Schools that prematurely reveal students’ lesbian, gay or bisexual identity may risk setting them up for violence or expulsion from home.

What you can do

The following suggestions for teachers, schools, and the larger community are provided to stimulate thought and discussion on what educational stakeholders can do to create an environment in which broadly-based sexual health education is considered an absolute right for all students regardless of their sexual orientation.

TW O-SPIRI T : Some Aboriginal people identify themselves as two-spirit rather than as bisexual, gay, lesbian or transgender. Historically, in many Aboriginal cultures, two-spirit persons were respected leaders and medicine people. Before colonization, two-spirit persons were often accorded special status based upon their unique abilities to understand both male and female perspectives.

  • Educate yourself and provide professional development opportunities for your school staff and school board members.
  • Reflect critically on your personal values regarding sexuality. Take inventory of how these values may interfere with your professional obligation to provide education and services that respect the rights and needs of sexual minority youth.
  • Make your classroom a safe and welcoming space by challenging stereotypes, name-calling, and homophobic bullying whenever you see or hear it occur Footnote 37 .
  • As part of broadly-based sexual health education, learn how to talk openly about sex, sexuality and sexual orientation.
  • Explore how to approach issues of sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation with your colleagues and school administration.
  • Articulate and support a rights-based approach in which knowledge, skills, and attitudes are linked to universally accepted human rights principles Footnote 38 .
  • Never counsel or attempt to “change” a student’s sexual orientation.
  • Assist sexual minority youth in identifying resources where they can get information and support Footnote 39 .
  • Maintain student confidentiality when and where it is professionally appropriate.
  • Consider supporting the creation of a Gay-Straight Student Alliance as a safe space in your school Footnote 40 .
  • Seize a teachable moment to educate students about sexual orientation, prejudice, and homophobia.
  • Address assumptions that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is a bad thing and reinforce that everyone in the school environment deserves to be respected.
  • Confront the stereotypes and misinformation behind insults and abuse of sexual minority youth.

Confront the stereotypes and homophobia of your colleagues.

Explore with students more appropriate responses to insults than physical violence or reverse name-calling.

In the schools

AL L Y : A person, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, who supports the human, civil, and sexual rights of sexual minorities.

  • Advocate at the local, provincial and territorial levels for the use of the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education as a framework for developing a broadly-based sexual health curriculum, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Establish clear school policies to support teachers in the discussion and delivery of broadly-based sexual health education in the classroom.
  • Read your provincial/territorial curricula to identify where and how sexual orientation is addressed. If it is not included, contact your Ministry representative.
  • Encourage your school district to develop clear safe school policies, which explicitly protect sexual minorities and same-sex parented families against discrimination.

Become knowledgeable of community-based supports and services designed to assist sexual minority youth and their families in the coming out and coming to-terms processes.

Help sexual minority youth identify healthy and unhealthy behaviours, which impact their mental, physical, and sexual health.

Increase educational and social supports for sexual minority youth by developing evidence-based programming (i.e. Gay-Straight Alliances and safe spaces) to foster peer acceptance, school connectedness, and student safety.

Make available to all staff training sessions on sexual orientation. For example, Professional Development days could have workshops or presentations to raise awareness and levels of knowledge about the experiences and needs of sexual minority students. These workshops could provide an opportunity to discuss the skills needed to be a good ally and to develop an ‘action plan’ or list of concrete actions needed to improve the school environment for people of all sexual orientations Footnote 41 .

In the community

  • Advocate for the basic human and sexual rights of sexual minorities to be treated with equality, dignity, and respect.
  • Support the adaptation and age-appropriate delivery of current and broadly-based sexual health education at all grade levels.

Emphasize that education in your school is for all students.

Challenge inaccurate or sensationalized media stereotypes or misinformation.

What can I do to support the parents/caregivers of sexual minority youth?

Families are not always a safe place for sexual minority youth. It is, therefore, important not to involve the parents/caregivers of sexual minority youth unless the youth themselves have already disclosed their identity to their families or you have a legal duty to report such as in the case of risk of self-harm. Involving parents/caregivers before a student has disclosed their identity to them may put the student at risk of mental, physical or emotional harm within their homes. Parents/caregivers whose children “come out” to them may have a variety of reactions ranging from loving acceptance to rejection and expulsion of the child from the home Footnote 42 .

LGBTTQ: A commonly used acronym for the constellation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, and queer identities. Sexual minority is a synonymous term.

All parents/caregivers of sexual minority youth can be supported by directing them to community and counselling resources and support groups to help deal with the range of emotions including relief, shock, anger, grief, guilt, and shame. Parents/caregivers will likely be seeking answers to many questions and should be provided with information on sexual orientation to educate them on what their child is experiencing and why, as well as the health and safety concerns of their sexual minority child Footnote 43 . Parents/caregivers of sexual minority youth may need help in understanding that their child’s sexual orientation was not caused by poor parenting, nor did their child choose it.

Well-informed and accepting parents/caregivers can be allies in ensuring the healthy development and resiliency of sexual minority youth. Parents/caregivers can help sexual minority youth learn techniques of recognizing and combating stigma, discrimination, and verbal abuse, and to develop coping strategies Footnote 44 . All children, regardless of sexual orientation, need support, acceptance, and compassion from their families to thrive and parents/caregivers should be supported in this role to ensure the healthy development of sexual minority youth.

How can I help to build the resiliency of sexual minority youth?

Resiliency (or protective factors) can be considered as the internal and external influences that can have a positive impact on healthy youth development. They help to protect youth from engaging in unhealthy behaviours or destructive coping mechanisms. Individuals are born with an innate resiliency and the capacity to work to develop protective factors.

Research identifies the following key attributes that are often exhibited by resilient children and youth Footnote 45 :

  • Ability to solve problems proactively and think for themselves;
  • Capacity to understand complex emotions and deal with frustration;
  • Strong internal sense of control and sense of personal autonomy;
  • Awareness of the structures of oppression, such as a hostile or homophobic school environment;
  • Healthy self-concept and positive vision for the future;
  • Resist internalizing put-downs and negative self-labelling;
  • Have a sense of humour and a tendency not to hold grudges;
  • Feel they have the ability to live a meaningful and rewarding life; and
  • Work to develop and build friendships based on mutual support and trust.

QUEER: Historically, a negative term for homosexuality. More recently, the LGBTTQ community has reclaimed the word and uses it as a positive way to refer to itself.

Based upon these attributes, “schools, institutions, and community groups can foster these qualities by helping young people establish relationships with caring adult role models and by providing environments that recognize achievements, provide healthy expectations, nurture self-esteem, and encourage problem-solving and critical thinking skills” Footnote 46 .

Teachers and schools can do several key things to build the resiliency of sexual minority youth, including:

  • Creating a support or social group where they feel part of a community can lead to greater sense of self-worth and increase the likelihood that they will remain in school. Research conducted in Canadian schools indicates that low behavioural attachment and high feelings of alienation within school leads to greater risk of dropping out Footnote 47 .
  • Making resources on sexual orientation available in the school libraries and included in the curricula. For example, consider introducing books into lesson plans which address prejudices and sexual orientation issues (for a list of resources, see the list at the end of this document). Exposing students to issues of sexual orientation and related resources will not cause students to question their sexual orientation. Rather, it provides assurance to the student who already knows that they are different and who often suffers the consequences of that difference (i.e., name-calling, harassment, etc.) that they are not alone.

While some sexual minority youth experience significant negative school and life experiences because of prejudice and stigmatization, other sexual minority youth do not experience these negative mental health and educational outcomes. The difference between those youth at-risk and those who are resilient is often the differing levels of support they receive from important adults in their lives, such as their parents/caregivers, teachers, administrators, coaches, or faith leaders.

Although many sexual minority youth experience risk and protective factors which are the same as their heterosexual peers, several critical factors have been identified to help support these youth in the development of a “resilient mindset” Footnote 48 . These protective factors include:

  • supportive and caring teachers and adults;
  • a sense of belonging and safety at school;
  • a strong sense of family connectedness; and
  • access to community resources Footnote 49 .

All of these factors are critical targets for interventions designed to help sexual minority youth move from feeling at-risk to becoming resilient in their schools, families, and communities. Targeted interventions should also include dedicated work with families and caregivers of sexual minority youth to help them positively address issues of sexual identity. In doing so, families and caregivers will be able to support the enhanced mental health, safety, emotional well-being, and personal resiliency of sexual minority youth in their care.

Concluding Perspective

Ultimately, when working with sexual minority youth, educators should always strive to respect a student’s human rights and dignity. Evidence-based strategies should be used to support age-appropriate discussions on sexuality, sexual health, and informed decision-making. The Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education represents one important resource educators can use in assessing their current sexual health education programs to ensure that they are accurate, evidence-informed, and non-judgmental. The Guidelines also provide guidance on how to plan, implement, and evaluate sexual health education that is inclusive of the health, safety, and educational needs of sexual minority youth.

The failure to respond adequately to the pressing educational, social, cultural, and public health needs of sexual minorities removes these youth from key supports and protective factors in their lives. These critical absences exacerbate the complex and multiple risk factors they experience as vulnerable youth who need to be supported to grow into resilience and become healthy, happy, and productive adults.

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  • v.18(2); 2013 Feb

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Language: English | French

Sexual knowledge of Canadian adolescents after completion of high school sexual education requirements

Maya m kumar.

1 Department of Pediatrics, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry; London, Ontario

Rodrick Lim

2 Pediatric Emergency Medicine, London Health Sciences Centre; London, Ontario

3 Children’s Health Research Institute, University of Western Ontario; London, Ontario

Cindy Langford

Jamie a seabrook, kathy n speechley.

4 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, Ontario

Timothy Lynch

Background:.

Formal sexual education is a mandatory component of the high school curriculum in most Canadian provinces. The present study was a preliminary assessment of sexual knowledge among a sample of Ontario adolescents who had completed their high school sexual education requirements.

A questionnaire, testing understanding of the learning objectives of Ontario’s minimally required high school sexual education course, was distributed in a paediatric emergency department to 200 adolescent patients who had completed the course.

Respondents demonstrated good understanding of pregnancy physiology and sexually transmitted infections, but poor understanding of concepts related to reproductive physiology, contraception, HIV/AIDS and sexual assault. Most respondents could not identify Canada’s age of sexual consent.

CONCLUSIONS:

Respondents demonstrated concerning gaps in sexual knowledge despite completion of their sexual education requirements. Further studies must determine whether a representative, population-based student sample would exhibit similar findings. Sexual education currently offered in Ontario may require investigation.

HISTORIQUE :

L’éducation sexuelle est un élément obligatoire du programme d’études secondaires de la plupart des provinces canadiennes. La présente étude visait à obtenir une évaluation préliminaire des connaissances en matière de sexualité d’un échantillon d’adolescents ontariens qui avaient terminé leur cours d’éducation sexuelle au secondaire.

MÉTHODOLOGIE :

Lors de leur visite au département d’urgence pédiatrique, 200 patients adolescents qui avaient terminé leur cours d’éducation sexuelle ont reçu un questionnaire afin de vérifier leur compréhension des objectifs d’apprentissage du cours d’éducation sexuelle de base offert dans les écoles secondaires de l’Ontario.

RÉSULTATS :

Les répondants ont démontré une bonne compréhension de la physiologie de la grossesse et des infections transmises sexuellement, mais une mauvaise compréhension des concepts liés à la physiologie de la reproduction, à la contraception, au VIH-sida et aux agressions sexuelles. La plupart des répondants ne pouvaient pas préciser l’âge du consentement sexuel au Canada.

CONCLUSIONS :

Les répondants ont démontré des lacunes préoccupantes en matière de connaissances sexuelles, même s’ils avaient terminé leur cours d’éducation sexuelle obligatoire. D’autres études devront déterminer si un échantillon d’étudiants représentatifs en population donnerait des résultats similaires. Les cours d’éducation sexuelle actuellement offerts en Ontario méritent peut-être d’être évalués.

Adolescence is a crucial period for learning about healthy sexuality ( 1 , 2 ). As teenagers struggle to complete the developmental tasks of adolescence, such as accepting their changing bodies and defining their sexual identities, they are at risk for negative sexual consequences ( 3 ). Sexually active Canadian teenagers commonly engage in risky sexual behaviours, including unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners and intercourse, before 15 years of age ( 4 ). Canadians 15 to 24 years of age also have the country’s highest incidences of chlamydia and gonorrhea infections ( 5 ). Such statistics raise concerns about whether young Canadians have sufficient knowledge to make responsible sexual decisions. Comprehensive sexual education for adolescents effectively reduces the incidence of negative sexual outcomes ( 6 , 7 ). The Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics ( 8 , 9 ) recommend that paediatricians participate in the development and implementation of comprehensive sexual education programs in schools.

In Canada, education is under provincial jurisdiction and almost every province’s high school curriculum contains formal sexual education. Within the province of Ontario, sexual education is a subcomponent of health and physical education courses; each course is comprised of approximately 110 h of instruction. However, only a fraction of course time, determined by each school, is dedicated to sexual education; consequently, there is potential for significant variability among schools. Ontario’s Ministry of Education has outlined six course expectations ( Table 1 ) for its Grade 9/10 Healthy Growth and Sexuality unit ( 10 ). Completion of this unit is the minimum sexual education required for a high school diploma or certificate in Ontario.

Course expectations for Ontario’s Grade 9/10 Healthy Growth and Sexuality course ( 10 )

There are currently no standardized examinations or evaluation processes to assess the knowledge of students who have completed their sexual education requirements and no other standardized assessments of sexual education quality.

Several studies have attempted to assess the sexual knowledge of Canadian adolescents. The majority of these studies, however, limited the scope of their assessment to knowledge of HIV/sexually transmitted infections (STI) alone ( 11 – 16 ) or HIV/STI, contraception and limited reproductive physiology ( 17 ).

The present study will expand on previous Canadian work in two ways. First, it will assess student knowledge in multiple domains using an assessment questionnaire addressing all major topics included in Ontario’s high school human sexuality curriculum, including reproductive physiology throughout life (not just adolescence), HIV/STI, contraception and responsible sexuality including sexual consent. Second, unlike most previous Canadian studies, participants will be recruited from many different schools.

The objective of the present study was to conduct a preliminary assessment of sexual knowledge related to the learning objectives of Ontario’s minimally required high school sexual education course, among a sample of adolescents presenting to an emergency department who had completed their provincial high school sexual education requirements.

The present descriptive study used a convenience sample of adolescent patients (see patient eligibility below), from the paediatric emergency department of the London Health Sciences Centre, a tertiary care facility located in London, Ontario, whose catchment is two million people and which treats 37,500 patients annually. Ethics approval was obtained from the Health Sciences Research Ethics Board at the University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario) and the Clinical Research Impact Committee at the Lawson Health Research Institute (London, Ontario).

Questionnaire development

A questionnaire ( Appendix A ) designed to test expectations 1 through 4 outlined in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Grade 9/10 Healthy Growth and Sexuality course ( Table 1 ) was developed (achievement of expectations 5 and 6 was not considered objectively testable by the authors.) Specific questions pertaining to each objective were developed using the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, 3rd Edition published by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) ( 18 ). This guideline, created by a national task force of health care professionals, educators and experts in adolescent development, contains recommendations for subject matter to be included in a comprehensive sexual education curriculum. Questions were also created using Canadian laws relevant to responsible sexuality ( 19 – 21 ) and Canadian health guidelines ( 22 – 25 ).

Questions were arranged into six categories: pregnancy; reproductive physiology and puberty; STI; contraception; HIV/AIDS; and sexuality and the law. Questions were true/false/unsure or multiple-choice. Participants were not asked about their personal experiences or values related to sexuality.

Additionally, participants used a seven-point Likert scale to rate the usefulness of various sources of sexual information ( Table 2 ), in which 1 = not at all helpful, 4 = somewhat helpful and 7 = extremely helpful.

Frequencies of respondents’ ratings of usefulness for six common sources of sexual information on a seven-point Likert scale

Data presented as n (%)

Baseline characteristics were assessed, including age and sex; whether currently in school, and current/highest grade successfully completed; the number of high school health courses completed; whether the school in which these courses were taken was private or public, religious or secular; municipality in which the school was located; household structure (eg, two-parent, single-parent or alternative arrangement); and reason for presenting to the emergency department.

The questionnaire was piloted among a convenience sample of adolescents before distribution. Feedback was obtained about readability, time required to complete the survey, printed layout of the questionnaire, subject matter covered by the questions and whether any questions were perceived as invasive; further revisions were consequently made. The questionnaire took 10 min to 15 min to complete. Its Flesch Reading Ease score was 68% and its Flesch-Kincaid Grade level was 6.8.

Patient eligibility

Adolescent patients attending London Health Sciences Centre’s paediatric emergency department were considered eligible if they had completed at least one credit of health education in an Ontario high school (minimum provincial requirement), and triage scores upon presenting to the emergency department were neither resuscitative nor emergent (ie, Canadian Pediatric Triage and Acuity Scale score of 3 [urgent], 4 [less urgent] or 5 [non-urgent]). No age minimum was set as long as the educational requirement was met, but all participants were younger than 18 years of age (maximum patient age accepted by the paediatric emergency department). Exclusion criteria included incapacity to provide one’s own consent (assessed by the attending physician); insufficient fluency in written English (as self-reported by patient after inquiry); and acute pain, psychiatric or psychosocial crisis of such severity that recruitment was deemed inappropriate (assessed by the attending physician).

Questionnaire distribution

Once deemed eligible, the patient received the questionnaire with an accompanying letter of information. Completion of the questionnaire implied informed consent. Participants could complete the questionnaire in the presence of parents/guardians but were asked to refrain from discussion while completing it. However, respondents and parents/guardians were informed that upon return of the questionnaire, they would receive an answer key with explanations for each question that they could review together and take home. This allowed parents/guardians to let their child complete the questionnaire privately, knowing that the answer key would be available shortly for review and discussion.

If an eligible patient did not wish to participate, their reason for declining was documented.

Statistical analysis

Because this was a descriptive study without primary or secondary end points, a sample size calculation was not performed. It was decided that a sample size of 200 would obtain a sufficient cross-section of adolescents from different socioeconomic backgrounds and types of schools, while acknowledging that the convenience sample of emergency department patients may not be representative of the general adolescent population. Mean (± SD) scores were calculated for each question category and each question. Categorical variables were reported as percentages. A χ 2 test was used to assess associations between categorical variables; P<0.05 was considered to be statistically significant.

Of the 206 patients approached who met eligibility criteria, 200 agreed to participate. The six patients who declined cited disinterest in the subject matter as their reason. Respondents experienced a variety of presenting complaints, but the most common were musculoskeletal complaints (31%), minor trauma (13.5%) and abdominal pain (13.5%). Other baseline characteristics are summarized in Table 3 . Ages ranged from 14 to almost 18 years; the mean (± SD) age was 16±0.9 years. The mean current grade was 10.6±1.8. Fifty-six per cent were girls. Almost all were currently in school, with most attending a publicly funded school. Of the five available health/physical education courses offered in Ontario schools, almost one-half of respondents had completed one course (the minimum requirement) and approximately one-fifth had completed two courses.

Baseline characteristics of participants (n=200)

Data presented as n (%) unless otherwise indicated

Mean scores within each question category are summarized in Table 4 . Respondents correctly answered most questions relating to pregnancy physiology (79.6%), but performed less well on questions related to general reproductive physiology (61.6%). For example, 27% of respondents reported that pregnancy could result from oral sex, anal sex or mutual masturbation; 40% agreed with the statement that when a couple cannot conceive, the woman usually has a medical problem; and 55% could not identify when a woman is most likely to get pregnant during her menstrual cycle.

Mean scores within each question category

Respondents demonstrated good understanding of STI prevention (79.6% of questions correct). Each of the following were correctly identified by 75% to 90% of respondents: the need for regular sexual health examinations in both sexes; the potential for untreated STI to cause infertility or fetal harm during pregnancy; that STI are transmittable through oral sex; that condoms do not protect against all STI; and that STI may be asymptomatic. However, the majority (almost 60%) did not know that human papillomavirus may cause genital cancer in males in addition to females. Respondents also performed relatively poorly on questions related to HIV/AIDS (51.4% correct). Only 54% knew that HIV is not transmitted through all types of skin-to-skin contact, and when presented with a list of activities that included tattooing, piercing, sexual intercourse, intravenous drug use and blood transfusion, only 43% correctly selected blood transfusion as an uncommon method of contracting HIV in Canada.

Respondents held several misconceptions regarding common contraceptive methods (43.1% of questions correct): 78.5% erroneously agreed that the ‘morning-after pill’ terminates an existing pregnancy; 38% overestimated the contraceptive efficacy of male condoms with typical use; and 37.5% did not agree with the statement that oral contraceptives can be dangerous for women who smoke.

When presented with four scenarios, each depicting an instance of sexual assault, only 29.6% of respondents identified all four incidents as assault and 29.1% only recognized two or fewer as assault. Only 42.5% correctly identified Canada’s age of sexual consent as 16 years.

Girls scored better than boys in the pregnancy category (81.7% versus 76.9% correct; P=0.03) and the reproductive physiology/puberty category (64.5% versus 57.9% correct; P=0.04); other baseline characteristics did not correlate with any significant differences in scores. With respect to different types of schools attended (eg, private versus public, urban versus rural, religious versus secular) or the number of sexual education courses taken, no statistically significant differences were detected between the subgroups.

Respondents’ ratings of the usefulness of six common sources of sexual information are shown in Table 2 .

The present study built on previous Canadian assessments of student sexual knowledge in several important ways. Only one previous study attempted to assess sexual knowledge in multiple domains ( 17 ), and still failed to assess knowledge of reproductive physiology throughout life (including pregnancy), any STI other than chlamydia or HIV, abortion, sexual assault or sexual consent. Another weakness of earlier Canadian studies was that most recruited students from only one or two schools, making them vulnerable to selection bias. Three studies were performed on a national level with large samples ( 11 , 12 , 16 ) but all limited their assessment to knowledge of HIV/STI. The current study’s questionnaire was more comprehensive and included most of the topics recommended by an internationally recognized body of experts (ie, SIECUS).

Similar questionnaire-based studies have been performed in other nations to assess general sexual knowledge among youth ( 26 – 30 ), but the current study was the first to use a questionnaire systematically designed to correspond to our provincially mandated sexual education curriculum.

Sexual knowledge

Although respondents performed well on questions related to pregnancy physiology, they carried several concerning misconceptions related to general reproductive physiology, which could lead to negative outcomes throughout their lifespan.

Respondents were knowledgeable about STI prevention but performed less well on questions related to HIV/AIDS transmission. A previous study showed that most surveyed Canadian teenagers could identify major risk factors for HIV transmission (eg, sharing needles, unprotected sex, multiple sexual partners) ( 31 ). However, our results suggest that teenagers may have a poorer understanding of minor risk factors for HIV transmission (eg, that HIV is not transmitted through all skin-to-skin contact, and is rarely contracted via blood transfusions in Canada).

Many respondents held misconceptions about contraception that could lead to unsafe choices. Belief that the ‘morning-after’ pill causes abortion may lead to underuse of emergency contraception. Overestimation of the contraceptive efficacy of male condoms may explain why many sexually active Canadian girls use condoms without back-up contraception ( 32 ). Failure to understand the risk of smoking while taking oral contraceptives may increase the risk of thromboembolism in later adulthood.

No previous Canadian studies have assessed understanding of sexual consent laws among high school students. Canadians 15 to 24 years of age have an incidence of sexual victimization almost three times higher than the general population ( 33 ). Although learning to engage in ‘responsible sexual relationships’ is an expectation of Ontario’s sexual health curriculum ( 10 ), our findings suggest that Ontario students may have a poor understanding of sexual consent laws despite completing their course requirements. The relationship between this knowledge gap and the risk of sexual victimization could represent a potential area for future study.

Sources of sexual knowledge

High school sexual education classes received the highest average rating of usefulness among all listed sources. Ontario students appear to place great importance on their high school sexual health courses, which should motivate educators and policymakers to ensure that educational quality is maintained.

Interestingly, 17% of respondents rated the usefulness of the Internet as 6 of 7 or 7 of 7, putting it ahead of sexual health classes received before high school and popular media. A decade ago, many young Canadians were already using the Internet as their main source of sexual information ( 31 ). Given the recent explosion of social networking, further studies could explore how the ‘Facebook generation’ uses the Internet for sexual information, to determine whether it would be advantageous to incorporate modern online venues (eg, social networking sites) into sexual education.

Study limitations

The present study used a convenience sample of 200 adolescents from a southwestern Ontario paediatric emergency department. The emergency department setting permitted recruitment of students attending many different schools, an important advantage given the potential for variability in sexual education among schools. However, it is uncertain whether the sample was sufficiently representative to generalize the data to other adolescents in our region. Even more caution is needed before generalizing the data to adolescents from other parts of Canada where cultural, socioeconomic and municipal factors may affect local delivery of sexual education.

Teenagers did not have a separate space in which to complete the questionnaire without the presence of parents. Although parents were asked to refrain from discussing any questions with their children until provided with the answer key, their physical presence may have caused respondents to answer some questions differently. We observed that the study design frequently fostered healthy discussions about sexuality between participants and their parents; however, we must acknowledge that it may have also created bias.

Our questionnaire had an uneven distribution of questions from each category, which may have affected validity through its heterogeneity. For example, there were only two HIV-specific questions; therefore, answering one correctly produced a subscore of 50%; subscores may have been different had there been more HIV-specific questions.

Emergency department patients may also have other risk factors, such as lower socioeconomic status and/or more risk-taking behaviour ( 34 ), which may have affected their scores. While the results may not generalize well to youth outside of the emergency department, they at least suggest that this subset of students has gaps in sexual knowledge.

An important limitation was the use of a previously unvalidated assessment questionnaire, necessitated by the absence of standardized examinations or evaluation methods for sexual education courses in Ontario. Unlike the United States, where the SIECUS guidelines have long existed, Canada lacks national guidelines for content and delivery of school sexual education, which could have provided a benchmark for investigators to use when assessing the sexual knowledge of Canadian students. The Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education, while providing general principles for administering sexual education, provide no specific suggestions for curriculum content or teaching strategies ( 35 ). In the absence of national standards and existing assessment tools, we had to create an original tool. A strength of the present study, however, was the systematic development of its questionnaire based on objective resources (ie, Ontario’s sexual education curriculum, SIECUS guidelines, and Canadian health laws and guidelines). Piloting the questionnaire among a sample of adolescents before its distribution was also a strength of the study; an additional pilot among health care providers experienced in working with adolescents may have further ensured accuracy and inclusion of an appropriate range of topics.

Although respondents disclosed the number of sexual education classes they had taken and the types of schools they attended (urban versus rural, private versus public, religious versus secular), the sample size was inadequately powered to detect significant differences between subgroups. Larger population-based studies are required to determine whether meaningful differences exist.

Finally, the present study could not assess the respondents’ knowledge of topics missing from Ontario’s sexual education curriculum, including sexual orientation, masturbation, sexual fantasy and sexual dysfunction. These topics are excluded despite SIECUS’s recommendations that they be included in any comprehensive sexual education program ( 18 ). Additional studies should assess understanding of these topics among Canadian adolescents, and intervention is required to incorporate these topics into Ontario’s curriculum.

The present study demonstrated significant gaps in sexual knowledge among a sample of Ontario adolescents who had completed their high school sexual education requirements. Subsequent studies are necessary to determine whether these findings can be replicated, and whether clinically meaningful differences exist between subgroups, by using a representative, population-based sample. Educators and policy-makers should consider conducting formal evaluations of high school sexual education courses that are currently being offered.

APPENDIX A. Children’s Hospital Sexual Education Assessment Survey

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DISCLOSURE: The authors do not have any real, potential or perceived conflicts of interest to disclose. No honorarium, grant, or other form of payment was given to anyone to produce this article. Dr Maya M Kumar presented the results of this study in an oral platform presentation at the Canadian Paediatric Society Annual Conference on June 16, 2011, in Quebec City, Quebec.

CANADIAN GENDER REPORT

sex education in schools canada

How the Sex Ed Curriculum has changed

Comparing Sex Education in Nova Scotia from 2012 to 2021 – Parents and Biology are Now Out

This article is reprinted with permission by anonymous parent Shooting Star @turnthetide2018.

On July 7, 2021, Twitter user Shooting Star published the following tweet thread on July 7, 2021. In it, they compared the Nova Scotia sex education curriculum documents for 11-12 year-old/Grade 7 students from the years 2012 and 2021. To see the side-by-side comparison is quite an eye opener. It is clear that parents are now out and gender ideology is now in.

Following is a comparison of certain topics in the 2012 and 2021 editions of the book. 

The Nova Scotia website shows the 2016 edition.

2012: 

sex education in schools canada

In 2012, sexuality and gender are each given their own pages.  Advice on medicalizing gender distress is offered. 

sex education in schools canada

In 2021, sexuality and gender are given more room, particularly for the development of gender concepts, and the section contains a new guide for LGBTQQ2S+ terms.

sex education in schools canada

Once again in 2021, a page is devoted to gender distress with the option to consider changes to your body with hormones and surgeries. 

sex education in schools canada

In 2012, students are directed to their parents as a source of information and help because “No one cares about more than they do, and it’s worth listening to different points of view. “Parent” is used six times.

sex education in schools canada

In 2021, someone’s “relationship to you does not automatically make them knowledgeable, trustworthy, or safe.” The word “parent” is used once, in a list also including teacher, friend of the family, and coach. 

sex education in schools canada

If the child does not feel safe talking to their parent, a definition for “Chosen family” is helpfully provided in the Useful Information section. 

sex education in schools canada

Regarding biology, in 2012, we have the use of “female” and “male” along with specific risks per each sex, organized with cervical cancer after the female diagram and testicular cancer after the male.  Girls, women, and young men are also mentioned. 

sex education in schools canada

In 2021, we have “Genitalia and Gonads” separated by “likely assigned M or F at birth.”

The two diagrams are together, and the cancer pages come after. Students are referred to as youth with cervixes or people with testicles. 

sex education in schools canada

And lastly, for kids wondering about confidentiality, parents are #1 on the list in 2012. 

In 2021, parents don’t appear in that section at all, except to say that information can be kept secret from them. 

sex education in schools canada

Thank you, Shooting Star, for taking the time to make very clear exactly how much has changed in less than 10 years.

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  • Sex Information and Education Council of Canada Provides a variety of resources for students, educators and the public for Autistic youth. They are also developing similar resources for physically disabled youth so check back here .

Indigenous Health

  • Access the toll-free Helpline (1-855-242-3310) or the Online Chat, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to connect with a counsellor on-line.
  • Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada  Aboriginalsexualhealth.ca provides culturally safe and healing sexual health information for Aboriginal communities.
  • Alberta Health Services  Indigenous Health offers information about province-wide and zone-specific services for Indigenous people in Alberta.

Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity & Expression 

  • LGBTQ2S+/ Sexual and Gender Diversity
  • Tools and Resources for Welcoming, Caring, Respectful and Safe Schools: Gay-Straight Alliances
  • Alberta GSA Network A collective of resources specific to Alberta K-12 students, teachers and school staff, funded by the Government of Alberta
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity resources and information
  • Information and resources on  Diversity, Equity and Human Rights
  • PRISM Toolkit for Safe and Caring Discussions about Sexual and Gender Minorities, for Elementary Schools
  • PRISM Toolkit for Safe and Caring Discussions about Sexual and Gender Minorities, for Secondary Schools
  • Camp fYrefly A national leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, intersexed, queer, questioning, and allied youth
  • Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Public Library Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: Recommended Fiction and Nonfiction Resources for K-12 Schools
  • Egale Every Class in Every School: Final report on the first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools . This report discusses the results of a national survey of Canadian high school students  to investigate what life at school is like for students with sexual or gender minority status
  • Questions & Answers: Sexual Orientation in Schools  Answers common questions about sexual orientation in schools
  • Questions & Answers: Gender Identity in Schools  Answers common questions about gender identity in schools
  • SOGI123 provides teachers with resources to support them in learning and teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in their classroom.
  • The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta includes resources for educators, students and families.
  • Trans Equality Society of Alberta (TESA) TESA’s mission is to be a witness to and a voice for matters concerning trans Albertans.
  • University of Alberta LGBTQ Teacher Resources (includes LGBTQ2S+ undergraduate and graduate courses)

Sexual & Reproductive Health Information

  • MyHealth Alberta Answers common questions about the HPV vaccine
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health   Program and service information on sexual and reproductive health services in each zone, including pregnancy options, health topics and resources by topic and related websites. Includes information on abortion services
  •   Aboriginalsexualhealth.ca Culturally safe and healing sexual health information for Aboriginal communities.
  • Sexandu.ca Provides guidance and advice to help individuals develop and maintain a healthy sexuality.

Sexual Health Education

  • Alberta Health Services Sexual and Reproductive Health Education and consultation programs and services provided in each zone.
  • Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights  Provides resources and information on advocacy, education, services and international and national policy engagement
  • MediaSmarts   Provides educational resources to help raise a media savvy generation
  • Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education Provides information to educators about key concepts in comprehensive sexual health education.
  • Questions & Answers: Sexual Orientation in Schools  Answers common questions about sexual orientation in schools
  • Questions & Answers: Sexual Education in Schools Answers many questions about sexual health education in schools.
  • Talking About Sexuality in Canadian Communities For service providers working with high-risk youth and youth with disabilities
  • Technology & Media
  • NeedHelpNow For youth who have been impacted personally by a sexual picture or video being shared by a peer or peers (sexting), cyberbullying personally or are supporting a friend. 
  • MediaSmarts   Provides educational resources to help raise a media savvy generation.

Links to resources outside of the TeachingSexualHealth.ca website are provided for information only and do not imply an endorsement of views, products, or services. Although our staff regularly reviews these links, we can’t be certain that they are 100% credible since their content can be changed at any time.

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sex education in schools canada

sex education in schools canada

Why people protested LGBTQ+ education in schools

Here’s what they’re protesting for and against.

⭐️HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW⭐️

  • Thousands protested across Canada on Sept. 20.
  • They were there to oppose how schools address sexual orientation and gender.
  • They say parents should be responsible for deciding whether and when to teach these subjects.
  • Counter-protesters also showed up in opposition.
  • They say having schools involved is essential for the well-being of LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Learn more about some of the arguments on both sides. ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️

Thousands of Canadians rallied across the country yesterday to voice their concerns about how LGBTQ+ issues are handled in schools.

From Vancouver all the way to Charlottetown, Canadians gathered to speak out about everything from sex education to preferred pronoun policies.

In many cases, they were met by counter-protesters.

For some, the message was that schools are overstepping and parents should decide when kids are exposed to these topics.

On the other side, many said that LGBTQ+ education is essential and that school should be a safe space for kids to explore their gender.

  • WATCH — Here ’ s what 2SLGBTQQIPAA+ stands for

sex education in schools canada

What protesters say

A group called the “1 Million March 4 Children” organized the protests, though it’s important to note that not everyone who showed up to support the protest shared the same beliefs or goals.

On the group’s website, they say their goal is to advocate for the “elimination of the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.”

sex education in schools canada

They say they’re protecting kids from indoctrination and sexualization. Indoctrination is like brainwashing, where you force somebody to accept a set of beliefs.

Demonstrator Nathan McMillan, who joined protests at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Ontario, said he was there to “support children” and “maintain their innocence.”

He was one of many who said that conversations about sexuality and gender should be “​​between parents and their children,” and teachers and schools should stay out of it. 

Some people also came out to protest school policies around preferred pronouns.

Pronouns are how we refer to people without using their names. Examples include: he/him, she/her and they/them.

  • WATCH — She/her, he/him and they/them. What are pronouns?

Saskatchewan and New Brunswick recently started requiring teachers and schools to inform parents when their child, if they are under the age of 16, chooses to use a different gender pronoun than the one they were assigned at birth. 

“I don't believe that our education system should be teaching kids to be untruthful with their parents,” New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said during Wednesday’s protest.

“We are going to be insistent that there ’ s a process here where parents are informed, parents make decisions and they decide. It ’ s not the system deciding for them.”

What the LGBTQ+ community and their allies say

Counter-protesters, who also showed up at Wednesday ’ s rallies, said LGBTQ+ education is essential to make sure LGBTQ+ kids feel represented in the classroom and understand that others like them exist. 

sex education in schools canada

Keegan Vergara said a lack of LGBTQ+ education when she was growing up led to self-hatred and isolation. Vergara is an LGBTQ+ representative for the Social Work Students’ Association at the University of Manitoba who joined a Winnipeg counter protest. 

“Being queer was never something that was ever talked about, so I had no understanding of what these feelings were I was experiencing,” she said.

“All I knew is that they were bad because this was just being thrown at me by other kids,” said Vergara, 21.

  • FIRST PERSON — I’m not learning LGBTQ+ history in school. That’s a problem

Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, a non-profit focused on public education, told CBC News that research supports the value of LGBTQ+ education. 

In Ontario, she said, the curriculum has been informed by a wide range of groups including experts in health, mental health and well-being.

Kidder said the group ’ s research shows it’s important for kids to learn about gender and sexual orientation as early as possible, so they’re not suddenly met with confusion around what’s going on in their minds and bodies. 

  • Gender-affirming care: What it means and why it’s in the news

Many of the counter-protesters said it isn’t always safe for kids to talk to their parents about their preferred pronouns. 

Counter-protester Theo Robinson, a transgender Anglican Church pastor in Manitoba’s Interlake, said that outing a kid to their parents can sometimes put them at risk of violence. 

“The reason why kids are doing that at school and not at home is likely because the house isn’t safe, so now they're trying to make laws where the teachers are forced to out [the kids to] their parents,” he said at a counter-protest in Manitoba. 

CBC Kids News is planning more coverage on some of these issues. Keep checking cbckidsnews.ca in the coming weeks for more stories.

Have more questions? Want to tell us how we're doing? Use the “send us feedback” link below. ⬇️⬇️⬇️

With files from Bryce Hoye/CBC, Jacques Poitras/CBC and Adam Carter/CBC

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Sexuality Education in Canada: What is taught to children and at what age?

Sexuality Education in Canada: What is taught to children and at what age?

Sexuality education is taught in most provinces and territories across Canada. Here's a look at how sexuality education is taught in different parts of the country.

In Canada, there are formal guidelines for sex education at the government level, but most curriculum decisions are left to school boards and individual teachers. Many Canadian students can learn topics such as consent, gender fluidity, or sexual orientation in school, but not mandatorily, and they are given in different amounts in different provinces.

For example, students in British Columbia are not required to learn about different sexual orientations, but such lessons can be taught as electives from age 5 or 6 up until the last grade in school. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut have extensive programs about gender identity and fluidity, but they are not part of the compulsory curriculum, which means they can be ignored. Some provinces and territories allow parents to opt out of sex education for their children altogether.

As of today, sex education in Canada is as follows.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are taught in BC schools starting in grade 6. In Alberta, sex education classes cover reproductive organs (not just names, but human anatomy and reproduction) from grade 5, and STDs and basic contraception from grade 8. These same topics are covered with students in Manitoba, Nunavut and the Northern Territories. In the Atlantic provinces more topics are taught, including gender fluidity and sexual orientation.

Ontario and Quebec have the most extensive sex education programs. Ontario's curriculum includes reproductive organs (from Grade 6), gender fluidity (from Grade 9), sexual orientation (from Grade 9), STDs (from Grade 7), types of contraception (from Grade 8) and consent issues (from Grade 9). In Quebec, reproductive organs are studied from kindergarten, sexual orientations from grade 7, sexual contact and pleasure from grade 9, STDs, contraception and consent from grade 8.

Note that many curricula are in the process of being updated by the province or territory, so the situation may look very different in a couple of years, but the overall approach remains patchwork and inconsistent.

In Ontario, for example, students in kindergarten through eighth grade learn about sex education based on the old curriculum developed in 1998. Students in grades nine and up follow the new 2015 curriculum. The new curriculum additionally addresses issues such as the potential consequences of online activity (texting and sending personal photos), prevention of reproductive system problems, and relationships at different stages. Students are also taught how to deal with the stress of separation, divorce, toxic relationships, conflict resolution strategies, and more.

Now the provincial government is writing a brand new curriculum for the 2019/2020 school year.

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  2. Reasons Why Sex Education is Important and should be Taught in Schools

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  3. Quebec unveils details of sex education pilot project

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  4. 9 Ways to Teach Sex Education

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  5. Sex education in primary school

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  6. The Right to a Comprehensive Sex Education

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COMMENTS

  1. What are your children actually being taught about sex in school?

    What Ontario children learn about human development and sexual health by grade: Grade 1: Children learn about senses and hygiene as well as to identify body parts, including genitalia, by their ...

  2. Ontario sex education curriculum controversy

    In Canada, education and healthcare are provincial jurisdiction, and so each province has differing education systems and different sex education curricula. In Ontario, some form of sex education has been present in schools since the early 1900s. From 1925 to 1933, the Ontario Health Department charged nurse Agnes Haygarth to give lectures on ...

  3. Sexual education compared across Canada

    Sexual education compared across Canada. Most Canadian students are introduced to condom use in Grade 6 or 7. Shaen Adey / Getty Images. Ontario's newly-revised sexual education curriculum ...

  4. Sex-ed curriculum: What parents need to know

    Parents can now opt their child out of sex-ed lessons with a new policy put into place - this must be completed by Nov. 30. The new curriculum has a stronger and earlier emphasis on mental ...

  5. Sex Education in BC's Schools: An Explainer

    A National Parent Survey conducted by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada in 2020 found that 90 per cent of parents surveyed in B.C. agreed that sexual health education should be ...

  6. School context and content in Canadian sex education

    Sex education, mandated in most Canadian schools, aims to teach youth about healthy sexual expression and relationships. However, programme delivery may vary widely, and sex education tends to focus on pregnancy and disease prevention and less on interpersonal issues such as relationships and violence. Sex education research tends to follow suit, focusing on dichotomous health outcomes rather ...

  7. Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education

    613-241-4474 x 13200. [email protected]. The 2019 Canadian guidelines for sexual health education by Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) are meant to be a guide for educators and policy makers when it comes to compre.

  8. Parents can benefit as much as their kids from Ontario's new sex ed

    A large study by Alex McKay, executive director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, and colleagues found that 87 per cent of Ontario parents agreed that sexual health education ...

  9. Attitudes towards sexual health education in schools: A national survey

    School-based sexual health education plays a key role in providing young people with the information, motivation, and skills needed to enhance their sexual health. However, the extent and quality of sexual health education curricula varies across Canada. Though parents' support is often considered when making curricular decisions, there is limited data examining parental attitudes towards ...

  10. Childhood Sex Education in Canada

    sex education, but that they need it in order to develop healthy relationships with their bodies as well as proper understanding of age-appropriate and normative sexual behaviour. An important demographic is also largely being left out of the conversation when it comes to Canadian children's sex education; the LGBTQIA+ communities of Canada. This

  11. Thousands gather in GTA for protests over gender, sexual identity in

    Ontario's current sexual education curriculum was introduced in 2019, and requires school boards to allow parents to exempt children from teachings on human development and sexual health.

  12. Sexuality education and early childhood educators in Ontario, Canada: A

    Approaches to sexuality education in Ontario, Canada are heavily contested as conversations continue regarding the place of comprehensive sexuality education within Ontario school boards and how such debates construct children and childhood (e.g. Bialystok, 2018, 2019; Bialystok et al., 2020; Davies, 2021; Davies and Kenneally, 2020; Grace, 2018). ...

  13. Gender & Sexuality in our Schools

    To advertise in Education Canada, contact: Dovetail Communications Inc. (905) 886-6640, ext 306 or [email protected]. What does the research tell us about sex education, gender-related bullying, and LGBTQ students, and how can that translate into good practice?

  14. Questions and Answers: Sexual Orientation in Schools

    Advocate at the local, provincial and territorial levels for the use of the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education as a framework for developing a broadly-based sexual health curriculum, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity.; Establish clear school policies to support teachers in the discussion and delivery of broadly-based sexual health education in the classroom.

  15. What are children actually being taught about sex in school

    What Ontario children learn about human development and sexual health by grade: Grade 1: Children learn about senses and hygiene as well as to identify body parts, including genitalia, by their proper names, as part of teaching kids to understand and respect themselves and their bodies, as well as how to communicate to ask for help in case of ...

  16. Sexual knowledge of Canadian adolescents after completion of high

    In Canada, education is under provincial jurisdiction and almost every province's high school curriculum contains formal sexual education. Within the province of Ontario, sexual education is a subcomponent of health and physical education courses; each course is comprised of approximately 110 h of instruction.

  17. How the Sex Ed Curriculum has changed

    On July 7, 2021, Twitter user Shooting Star published the following tweet thread on July 7, 2021. In it, they compared the Nova Scotia sex education curriculum documents for 11-12 year-old/Grade 7 students from the years 2012 and 2021. To see the side-by-side comparison is quite an eye opener. It is clear that parents are now out and gender ...

  18. Additional Resources

    Access the toll-free Helpline (1-855-242-3310) or the Online Chat, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to connect with a counsellor on-line. Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada Aboriginalsexualhealth.ca provides culturally safe and healing sexual health information for Aboriginal communities.

  19. Home

    The Sex Information & Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) is a not-for-profit charitable organization established in 1964 that works with health professionals, educators, community organizations, governments, and corporate partners to promote sexual and reproductive health.

  20. Why people protested LGBTQ+ education in schools

    Thousands protested across Canada on Sept. 20. They were there to oppose how schools address sexual orientation and gender. They say parents should be responsible for deciding whether and when to ...

  21. Sexuality Education in Canada: What is taught to children and at what

    In Canada, there are formal guidelines for sex education at the government level, but most curriculum decisions are left to school boards and individual teachers. Many Canadian students can learn topics such as consent, gender fluidity, or sexual orientation in school, but not mandatorily, and they are given in different amounts in different ...

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  23. School context and content in Canadian sex education

    Sex education, mandated in most Canadian schools, aims to teach youth about healthy sexual expression and relationships. However, programme delivery may vary widely, and sex education tends to focus on pregnancy and disease prevention and less on interpersonal issues such as relationships and violence. Sex education research tends to follow suit, focusing on dichotomous health outcomes rather ...