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Sexual Health Education

A. Introduction: Sexuality Education: Health Promotion and Democratic Values.

Alexander McKay, Ph. D. is the Research Coordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SEICCAN), based in East York. He has written a new text (see references) related to the democratic values in sexual education in schools. These values are explicitly aligned with values in health promotion and Dr. McKay addresses them here for all of us. (L. Telford)


This feature is adapted and reprinted from the October 1998 Choices not Chances newsletter of the Haliburton-Kawartha-PineRidge District Health Unit (with permission). To reach Alex McKay or SEICCAN call

(416) 466-5304 or email

B. Appropriate Sexual Health Education Resources

Whether we consciously articulate them or not, each one of us is guided by a set of values that helps us to make judgements about human sexuality. Most sexuality educators have a sense of the source and substance of their own values related to human sexuality but also acknowledge their responsibility not to use their position to impose their own personal beliefs on their students. In other words, most sexuality educators concur with The Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education (Health Canada, 1994) which state that "Effective sexual health education is structured so that attitudinal and behavioural changes arise out of informed individual choice and are not imposed by an external authority" (p.8). This does not mean that

sexuality educators try to present "value-free" or "morality-free" programs but rather it suggests that we pay attention to our students' right to learn about sexual health in a way that acknowledges and respects their own values, moral beliefs and religious and ethno-cultural backgrounds. While there are certainly some values,

such as justice, equality, honesty, and respect, that we can all agree must embody sexuality education, we must also ensure that our programs allow people to apply these fundamental values to their own lives in a way that is compatible with who they are both as individuals and as members of their families and communities.

Choosing appropriate sexual health education resources requires that educators be vigilant and astute in detecting and rejecting biassed or inaccurate sexuality education materials. The following questions may serve as a useful guide to assessing the credibility of sexuality education resources.

*Does the resource suggest or claim that there is only one healthy, right, or good path to sexual health? In other words, is the resource aimed at persuading students that they must live a certain way rather than helping them to make informed choices for themselves?

*Does the resource integrate the positive, life-enhancing aspects of human sexuality as it pursues the equally important goals of reducing or preventing sexuality related problems such as STD/AIDS? Resources that exclusively emphasize one and exclude the other are likely to reflect an ideological basis.

*Are the persons pictured or used as examples in the resource exclusively white, able-bodied, and heterosexual? A non-biassed resource will tend to reflect the diversity of people living in our communities.

*Is the overall message and specific content of the resource consistent with available scientifically credible research on the effectiveness of various educational methods? Biassed sexual health education resources tend to be based more on an ideological agenda than sound research.

- submitted by Alexander McKay, Ph.D., Research Coordinator, SIECCAN, Associate Editor of the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, Reprinted with permission.

Too often, sexual health education programs have become the targets of those who seek to impose their own sexual ideologies on young people. In my recent book (McKay, 1998) I argue that we should resist attempts to use the classroom as a platform for ideological indoctrination. Rather, we must seek to ensure that sexual health education programs are grounded, first and foremost, in the basic democratic principles upon which our society is based. These include the right to make fully informed decisions based on complete and accurate information and the freedom to weigh and consider the available alternatives in making those decisions. It is only when we help our students achieve these rights and freedoms, that we can claim to be providing a truly

democratic sexual health education.

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C. Recommendations from Youth

To make the assertions even clearer, here are the recommendations from youth for sexuality education. Several focus groups were held with Ontario teens in the southwest, and the following recommendations were formed from the results:

1. Sexual health education should be more sex positive and have less emphasis on anatomy and scare tactics.

2. Sexual health education should include assertiveness training, relationships, how to ask for a date, violence and dating, gender differences in sexual relationships, sexual activity options and communication.

3. The sexuality education curriculum should be expanded to include such issues as homophobia, heterosexism, gay/lesbian and sexuality for the physically challenged.

4. The dated videotapes, long pamphlets and booklets should be replaced and new videotapes should be used in moderation.

5. Sexual health education should include varied learning approaches (e.g., interactive classroom discussion, use of humour, dynamic speakers, hands-on demonstrations).

6. Sexual health education should be available to all high school students beyond grade nine.

7. Public health nurses should be asked to teach sexual health topics since they are perceived by students as comfortable with the material, knowledgeable, open and separate from the school staff whom they see every day (p. 195).

A report summary was submitted by a team of sexual health program staff and university staff from southwestern Ontario, to PHERO (September 28, 1998 "Completing the picture: Adolescents talk about what's missing in our sexual health services." 9(9). p. 194-196). The full report has details and other recommendations about all sexual health services. For a full report call (519) 426-9974 or (905) 688- 3762. For more information contact: Brenda Perkins, Senior Sexual Health Program Consultant, Disease Control Service, Public Health Branch

(416) 327-7392.

D. References:

Health Canada. (1994). The Canadian guidelines for sexual health education. Ottawa: author.

McKay, A. (1998). Sexual ideology and schooling: Towards democratic sexuality education. London. ON: The Althouse Press.

Note: Please see OHPE 77.2 for resources related to sexual health education.