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Analysis

Doug Ford’s Plan to ‘Repeal’ Sex-Ed Could Increase the Spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Countless studies show sex-ed delays sexual activity among youth and promotes ‘healthier sexual behaviours’

Ontario PC leader Doug Ford’s plan to “repeal” the province’s sex-ed curriculum would have serious public health implications, recent evidence suggests.

Throughout the Ontario PC’s recent leadership campaign, Ford courted the support of homophobic sex-ed conspiracy theorists and hardline social conservatives by promising to reopen the abortion debate, make the rights and freedoms of women an election issue and put an end to Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum.

“We’re going to repeal the sex-ed curriculum,” Ford told a room of supporters last month.

Ford complained children as young as “grade two” are being taught about “six different genders or ten different genders” and “all that nonsense.”

 

Ford’s statements have absolutely no basis in reality, of course: Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curriculum only teaches the process of aging and brushing your teeth in grade two.

Despite this, following his leadership victory last weekend, Ford doubled-down on his plan to repeal sex-ed.

What kind of impact could Ford’s ideologically-driven policy have on public health?

Similar social conservative attacks on sex-ed in the United States in right-wing Republican states show how it can seriously undermine public health and create conditions that enable the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Just last week, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Wisconsin’s biggest city is grappling with a major outbreak of syphilis and HIV infections, with high school students in the middle of the cluster.

Local health experts said the high number of students impacted by the outbreak underlines the urgent need for better sexual health education.

That’s because several years earlier, Republican Governor Scott Walker repealed the state’s comprehensive sex-ed curriculum and replaced it with abstinence-only teachings. Many states without comprehensive sex education see higher rates of teen pregnancy and STIs, as well.

On the other hand, countless studies provide evidence sex-ed plays a preventative role by delaying sexual activity amongst youth and leads to “healthier sexual behaviors and outcomes” – internationally, the World Health Organization lists comprehensive sex-ed in schools as a top priority in its global strategy to prevent the spread of STIs.

While Doug Ford apparently thinks the birds and the bees is a conversation best left to parents, public health authorities and mainstream educational institutions prefer the existing approach to sex-ed.

Ontario’s Institute for Catholic Education, which helps develop the curriculum in the province’s Catholic separate school system, endorses the sex-ed curriculum because students need to be aware of “potential health risks of sexual behaviour”:

“The topic of sexually transmitted disease is one that most young people say that they could not possibly talk about with their parents. One of the main reasons is that young adolescents believe that parents would automatically think that they were sexually active, or considering it in the near future.”

Research from the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada also shows Ontario parents express greater comfort with schools teaching students about sex than they are with the idea of leading those conversations themselves.

 

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