In the upcoming year, sex education classes will be reintroduced in Quebec schools after being removed from the province’s curriculum in 2005. The sex education pilot project is to be mandatory for all students from kindergarten through high school, regardless of the student’s or their parents’ religious and personal convictions.
The sex education program will be introduced in around 15 schools in the province and will last two years. While the pilot program will affect only 8,200 students, it could be adopted on a provincial level by 2017. Sex education will be taught for at least five hours a year at the primary level and 15 hours each year of secondary school. According to the Canadian Press, the province invested some $860,000 into the management of the project.
According to Victoria Pilger, Funding and Partnerships Coordinator at Head & Hands (a Montreal non-profit organization that provides medical, social, and legal services to the city’s youth) one of the potential benefits of the program is informing Quebec youth about the importance of healthy sex. Furthermore, the concept of health extends beyond contraception and sexually transmitted infections, and encompasses body image, communication, boundaries, and consent as well.
According to Gabrielle Bouchard, Peer Support and Trans Advocacy Coordinator of Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy, “If you want to talk about any area of sexuality, you have to start with consent.”
“When you talk about these basic concepts of consent in a meaningful way. […] that will already be a very useful tool for anybody thinking about sex and sexual relationships,” Bouchard continued.
Introducing an educational program about consent to students from a young age could greatly impact community groups like Head & Hands and the Centre for Gender Advocacy.
“If the government of Quebec started doing [consent education], maybe we wouldn’t have to fight so much here at university to get consent workshops or [have] to deal with so much sexual violence and non-consensual situations at the university level,” added Bouchard.
“There’s no opting out of consent. Consent is mandatory, so knowing about consent should be mandatory also.”
Concerns of community groups
Some of the concerns about the new sex education program regard the fact that there are no exemptions. Some – like Lorraine Normand-Charbonneau, the president of the Quebec School Principals Federation, who spoke to the CBC – have already voiced their opposition to the program, citing cultural reasons and arguing that some parents “don’t want their teen to learn about masturbation.”
“While recognizing that norms about sex and sexuality vary across cultures and communities, what remains the same is that every youth deserves access to unbiased and truthful information to help them be informed and empowered to make decisions about their bodies,” Pilger said.
Magaly Pirotte, Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN) Project Coordinator, explained that sex education today tends to take a negative tone in talking about sex.
“A lot of the sex ed that we see happening talks about the risks of sexual activity and the possible negative outcomes of having sex when you’re young,” Pirotte told The Daily.
“This is a pretty disempowering way to talk about sex with teenagers. A lot of the time, notions of desire and sex positivity and consent are not part of classes, so we are not answering the needs and questions of the people.”
“Every youth deserves access to unbiased and truthful information to help them be informed and empowered to make decisions about their bodies.”
Pirotte also explained how critical it is that the pilot project not overlook the other issues related to sexuality. For example, homosexuality is often taught separately, as though it is not a part of ‘normal’ sex life, thus reinforcing heteronormativity. “For now, we’re just wondering and hoping that it’s going to be there.”
Another concern has to do with the effectiveness of the program, which could be less than ideal if the government does not consult and partner with people and groups who are involved with sex education on a community level.
“Are these groups […] with their expertise and experience just going to be put on the side?” asked Pirotte.
“Putting back a program is good, but if you don’t give the means to teach it in a meaningful way – […] the teachers haven’t been trained to give this class,” she said.
Pilger noted that the delivery of the pilot project is a main area of concern for Head & Hands as well.
“It’s really important [that] those educators have an actual grasp of youth sexuality and youth needs, and are trained so that they won’t be shaming youth for what they’re doing because of the generational gap,” Pilger said. “[Head & Hands] thinks it’s really important that the government consults community groups to learn from us what we’ve learned from youth. […] We have access to a lot of honest information you might not otherwise have access to.”