C/O Yoohyun Park

The key role of community-based education in sexual health 

By: Ahlam Yassien, Contributor 

Education and promotion of sexual health are just as important as the education and promotion of nutritional and physical health. However, conversations about sex education often occupy little space in homes or classrooms as this topic is still seen as taboo.  

Despite this, many believe it is the responsibility of schools to teach kids about sexual health. In 1979, an overwhelming percentage of sex educators argued parents were not providing their children with the right sex education, with just under half believing this education was properly supplemented in schools. While the data obtained in this survey is reflective of the opinions on an outdated curriculum, it is also indicative of a larger pattern — the constant battle between parents and schools about the responsibility for sex education.  

Flash forward nearly 40 years and parents have protested and threatened to pull their children from classes due to the introduction of a newer, more focused curriculum. While studies indicate that family-centred education programs reduce poor health outcomes and shame, conversations on sexual health are still too often ignored, usually treated as something you should already know and never ask about. Additionally, when considering the implications of different cultural and religious values, these conversations can be uncomfortable and daunting for both parents and children.  

Like many other second-generation immigrants, I did not have these conversations at home. However, in 2015, when Ontario announced it would be updating its sexual education curriculum for the first time since 1998 to include conversations about explicit content online and gender identity, my mom was among many who insisted these conversations could be taught at home.  

Despite this, I still went to class and learnt about consent and internet safety. I engaged in discourse with my classmates and teachers and then came home, assuring my mom that we were not watching explicit content in class.  

While I learned about sexual health at school, this education was supplemented by that enforced by cultural perspectives taught at home, both of which have grown to hold an important place in the ways I choose to go about my personal health.  

They have also served to reinforce the importance of having these conversations at home, at school and between classmates. I had not realized it then, but I had been actively engaging in discourse with various people from different communities and these discussions helped frame the ways I approach conversations with people holding opposing beliefs.  

I had been deeply embarrassed by my mother’s disproval and immediately sided with those who called parents too conservative. However, I, along with those who took on this view, had been actively ignoring the role social and cultural determinants played in the introduction of sexual education in many households. The importance of diversifying education and considering these perspectives has become immensely clear to me. By considering these perspectives, we can reframe the conversation and the ways we view the various actors in these conversations, particularly those we might consider “too conservative.” In many cases, the term “too conservative” itself ironically appears too conservative and narrow to encompass the perspectives and thoughts of the individuals in question.   

I had once believed sex education was a responsibility of the curriculum while my mother believed it was a parental responsibility. Now, I am not sure it is either.  

In thinking about the continuous disagreements between educators and parents, I noticed the importance and responsibility of healthy eating and exercise are not something commonly debated between parents and teachers. I knew the dangers of smoking and doing drugs before I learnt about the importance of consent. I learned about the value of consistent oral hygiene before I had learned about vaginal hygiene.  

But if I were asked to pinpoint where I had learned all these things I would not be able to give a definitive answer, mainly because these principles had been swiftly introduced and reinforced by various actors in my life. From family members to teachers, I had been taught about these things by the communities around me. As a result, I can make decisions regarding my health with these lessons in mind. Similarly, I think the goal for sex education should be to implement a curriculum not only taught at school or at home but also consistently enforced and endorsed by the community at large.  

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