Myth: Sex-ed encourages kids to have sex earlier and have more risky sex
Sadly, many people believe that to be true despite how scientifically inaccurate it is.
Here’s what’s true: there is strong scientific consensus around how providing young people with information and services related to sexual and reproductive health does NOT increase sexual activity. Instead, young people who have access to comprehensive sex-ed report feeling more empowered about their sexuality, delay sexual initiation and use contraception at higher rates.
This myth is based on the faulty belief that discussing sexuality and sexual behaviours openly encourages sexual risk-taking. Unfortunately, it has had a big influence on sex-ed in Canada and comes from what researchers have coined “promiscuity propaganda”.
Many of those who are against sex-ed in schools have pushed the idea that talking about sex more openly signals that society approves of young people having sex and then simultaneously reduces their perception of sex’s negative consequences. They argue this leads to sexual promiscuity, and their solution is to push for abstinence-based sex-ed where sex is always presented as ‘risky’ and ‘scary’ or for the kind of sex-ed that never talk about sexual behaviors even when talking about how to avoid unplanned pregnancies or STIs. This isn’t backed by any evidence. It is simply an (uninformed) opinion and one that has negative consequences as it leaves young people without vital information about sexual health.
Myth: Sex-ed is just about sex
Sex-ed teaches young people about health and sexuality which is not just “sex”. It’s about so much more!
Sex-ed teaches us about our bodies and how they work, and how to form and maintain healthy relationships of all types – from friendships to romantic partnerships. This sets us up for better health and better quality of life for the rest of our lives.
Sex-ed means learning about things like anatomy, safety, respect, kindness, gender norms, identity and self-expression, romance and love, values, power dynamics, the rights we have over our body, and the variation in human bodies. It means improving the skills needed to communicate effectively, make decisions, assert and respect boundaries, be an ethical person and partner, deal with rejection, take care of our bodies, and manage our health. It also a tool to learn critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence, leadership skills and how to self-advocate.
Sex-ed is a crucial step in one of the most important lifelong journeys we are on: learning about our full selves and about being in relationship with others so we can live healthy lives and thrive.
Myth: Sex-ed is not compatible with faith
We often think that it is inevitable that sexual health education conflicts with the worldview of religious people and communities. It doesn’t have to!
Something that the vast majority of people can agree on is the importance of young people’s health and wellness. Parents across religious and political lines acknowledge the importance of children’s sense of health and personal well-being. Good sex-ed requires educators to understand social and religious differences so they can provide inclusive and effective education that respect different worldviews and upholds everyone’s human rights.
That’s because more information on gender, relationships, sexuality and sexual health does not undermine people’s devotion to their faith or spirituality.
Sex-ed is about giving young people the tools and information they need to make informed choices and live their values (including religious, spiritual, and familial values) in an empowered way. Having more information about our bodies, how it works, how to take care of our health, how to navigate healthy relationships and then building the skills to communicate effectively and assert boundaries can in fact make it easier to clarify how we want to live our lives and give us the power to live out that vision.
Myth: Sex-ed that is LGBTQI2S+ inclusive is only good for certain kids
Sex-ed should be relevant for all students and make sure schools uphold everyone’s right to have information about their bodies and experiences, to have all the tools they need to stay healthy, and to not be discriminated against. Unfortunately, at this point, most sex-ed does not address the needs of young people who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual.
That’s why it is so important to push for sex-ed that is LGBTQI2S+ inclusive. But it would be a mistake to think that it would only benefit a minority of kids.
Safe and inclusive learning environments for LGBTQI2S+ kids benefit all children. Canadian studies have shown that the risk of suicide and risk-taking behaviours of all students (not just sexual and gender minorities) is lower in schools that have LGBTQI2S+ inclusive policies and Gay-straight Alliances (GSAs).
One of the ways inclusive sex-ed protects all children is that it reduces bullying and harassment across the board. Another way is that conversations around gender identity and gender expressions can help children and young people make sense of and challenge rigid gender norms – for example, what careers girls can “succeed” in and what boys are “allowed” to get away with.
Rigid gender norms are social “rules” about how men and women, girls and boys should dress, behave, and present themselves. These rigid norms limit who we are and can lead to very damaging outcomes. The myth that girls are weak, and boys are strong, that girls are vulnerable, and boys are aggressive, was found to be deeply held in countries all over the world. For girls this leads to higher school drop-out rates, increased rates of physical and sexual violence, early pregnancy, HIV and other STIs. For boys this leads to higher rates of depression and increased violent behaviour under the expectation of having to be “aggressive” and not show emotions and then, increased risk to be victimized by other boys and men.
Giving kids the tools to understand and question rigid gender norms from an early age supports their mental health by allowing them to express themselves in healthy ways for who they are, not what they are.
Myth: Sex-ed should be taught by parents only
It’s complicated! Parents and guardians are the first educators in a child’s life. They teach, either explicitly or by example, what the family’s beliefs and values are. They share information and answer questions. They scaffold the teaching of complicated ideas over years of daily interactions.
That said, school and community-based education play a very important role when it comes to sex-ed. It complements what is being done (or not done) at home on the topic of sexual health.
The vast majority of parents know that very well. Canadian research shows that 94% of parents in Ontario support sex-ed in schools, 92% in Saskatchewan, and 94% in New Brunswick. School-based sex-ed is not a controversial issue despite how the media or our politicians sometimes makes it look. The pushback against sex-ed is led by a small number of vocal people in Canada.
Young people also support school-based sex-ed. The vast majority of young people want adults and educators who are knowledgeable and comfortable to teach them about sexuality, health and relationships. Not every parent feels equipped to dive into complex topics around relationships and sexuality. In fact, Canadian studies show that a high number of parents do not teach sex-ed at home which means sex-ed being offered at school is doubly important to make sure everyone has the information they need to be healthy.
Young people have so many questions and they want to learn so, creating many opportunities to do so serves them well! Parents and schools can be partners in that mission.
Myth: Sex-ed is not appropriate for young kids
When we talk about sexual health, we don’t often associate this topic with babies and kids, but we should. As a parent or caregiver, we want our children to grow up healthy and happy and this includes a focus on their sexual health and well-being. Sex-ed starts in our home as soon as our children are born, when we teach them that we respect their boundaries when they don’t want a hug or to be tickled, when we answer their questions about what makes a family or when we challenge the idea that pink is only for girls.
Some people may be worried about the “sex” part in “sex-ed” or “sexual health”. Does it mean encouraging children or teenagers to have sex? Or exposing them to inappropriate materials or topics? Fret not, because that’s not what it means!
Teaching young children about sexual health and wellbeing - in age and developmentally appropriate ways – means teaching young children over years about things like consent, body safety, gender norms, gender identity, intimacy, and healthy relationships. It looks like teaching about how to be a good friend, how to say ‘no’ to unwanted touching, it means knowing our body parts and how to keep your body safe.
Good sex-ed is always in line with what we know about children development to make sure we can build young people’s knowledge and skills over time.
Myth: Sex-ed pushes propaganda on young people
The Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health education stresses that content delivered in sex-ed programs must be grounded in current and credible scientific research evidence and best practice. Not only that but the teaching strategies and methods used should also be well- tested and supported by ethically and scientifically sound research.
In short, high-quality sex-ed should be about what the science tells us leads to the best health and social outcomes, not beliefs, fears and misguided opinions.
When we hear that sex-ed pushes propaganda on kids, it is often in reaction to the inclusion of content on gender identity and sexual orientation. Anti-LGBTQI2S+ organizations and politicians have intentionally misrepresented what students are being taught and have used these lies to gain support and power through the media. Attacks against LGBTQI2S+ content in schools are said to be about “protecting children” but removing this content does the exact opposite.
Our communities and our classrooms are diverse, that’s not up for debate. Everyone has a gender identity and a sexual orientation. The science is clear on how our own understanding of those part of ourselves emerge during childhood. Refusing to talk about it in age-appropriate ways would not change those facts. It would only prevent people from getting the information they need to be healthy and feel seen and understood
Learning about gender and sexual identities is not part of political agenda and is not inappropriate. For younger children, it looks like talking about how some children have two moms or two dads and that colors are for everyone, it’s as simple as that.
Sex-ed offers us information about the diversity of people who are part of our communities to foster health, inclusion and respect. The science is clear: it benefits everyone in the classroom!
Myth: Sex-ed is not as important as math, history, or English
Sex-ed is as important as any of the subjects that students get tested on, if not more! There might not be standardized tests to see if everyone has learned about contraceptive methods and what consent is but sex-ed is about building the knowledge and skills we need to live healthy lives, have healthy relationships and thrive!
While these lessons are literally life-changing, that is not how sex-ed is treated in Canada.
When done right, sex-ed means having the information and skills you need to make healthy choices, take care of your body and treat yourself and others with respect. As a society, it means we address big issues like rising rates of STIs, discrimination, and gender-based violence. Getting that kind of education can change our lives in so many deep ways.
It is time that all people in Canada join the call for better sex-ed for all, from coast to coast to coast!