By Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada. Follow Dr. Tam on Twitter at @CPHO_Canada/@ACSP_Canada
Sexual and reproductive health is a core part of health and well-being. Get the Facts highlights how critical it is for people to have access to reliable and accurate information in order to make healthy choices about their bodies and relationships. This is especially important with the continuing rise of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Canada, including syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
Provided with accurate information, people and communities can protect and promote their sexual and reproductive health. In the age of misinformation and disinformation, I know that it can be difficult to find reliable and trustworthy information, however, there are many things we can do together to help people Get the Facts.
We can normalize sexual and reproductive health conversations
In the past, our sexual and reproductive health has been considered a private topic. This contributes to shame and secrecy, facilitates the spread of mis- and disinformation, and can lead to poor health outcomes and unintended pregnancies. Educators, health care providers, parents, and friends all play an important role in encouraging open and frank discussions about sexual and reproductive health.
Normalizing conversations about sexual health also helps address stigma and dispel myths that are associated with many STIs, such as HIV. For example, people living with HIV who are on medication and maintain an undetectable amount of virus in their blood can lead a long, healthy life and feel confident of not passing HIV on to their sexual partners. This is known as “Undetectable = Untransmittable” or U=U. Spreading awareness about U=U can help break down the stigma around HIV, and encourage testing, treatment and prevention as a result.
We can meet people where they are at
Making information accessible is not just about making information available online – it’s about meeting people where they are at. This means information that is easy to understand, culturally relevant, and tailored to the needs, backgrounds, and experiences of different groups of people, in places where they can easily find and receive it. For example:
- Organizations like FOXY are working with Northern and Indigenous girls and women to start conversations about sexual health in creative ways and empower individuals to make informed choices about their sexual health and relationships.
- The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity is developing toolkits and training for teachers and service providers to make sex education more inclusive and relevant for 2SLGBTQI+ youth.
People also need to feel safe in their healthcare settings to receive information and discuss their concerns. Health providers can play a role in creating safe and welcoming spaces, free from misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination, for people to have these conversations. This includes taking a trauma informed care approach—asking people what happened to them—which is particularly important for people who have experienced physical or psychological violence.
The Canadian Public Health Association hosts workshops to equip healthcare professionals with the skills to provide safer, more inclusive and less stigmatizing sexual health services. Health professionals can also display resources like Action Canada’s Youth Bill of Rights where they deliver care to convey their commitment to safer care settings.
We can share trustworthy sources of information
Social media has amplified the spread of misinformation making it more difficult for people to access the resources they need. Lack of trust in institutions plays a central role in determining who is most at risk of believing and sharing mis- and disinformation.
Working with community leaders and partners is crucial to facilitate sharing of reliable health information and can help to build trust, particularly with marginalized communities. The value of community relationships, built over many years to tackle HIV, was demonstrated during the recent Mpox (monkeypox) outbreak in Canada.
We all have a responsibility to make sexual and reproductive health a part of our overall health and well-being, and it starts with accurate, reliable information. By having open conversations, creating safe healthcare spaces, and fact-checking our information sources, we can help to keep our communities healthy and safe.
Resources for individuals
- Booklet: Sexual Transmitted Infections - a plain language kit for youth to guide a fact-based conversation about safer sex.
- Promising Practices Portal - a rich directory of educational materials and resources on sexual and reproductive health topics, including consent, body image, sexual orientation and contraception.
- Safe Dates and Healthy Relationships - stay safe from violence by developing healthy relationships.
- Video Testimonials of People Living with HIV and knowing about U=U
Resources for healthcare professionals
- Sexually Transmitted and blood-borne infections: Guides for health professionals
- STI Barriers to testing course for healthcare professionals
SRH Week is funded in partnership with the Government of Canada.