Youth Leadership in Transforming Sex-Ed

Too many youth in BC are not getting the sex-ed they need to make informed decisions. That message became clear throughout the work that YouthCO has done this past year.

Last winter we heard from more than 600 high school aged youth through our BC-wide youth-led sex-ed curriculum review. Two YouthCO staff members visited high schools across BC to connect with GSA (Gender and Sexuality Association) groups who hosted our discussions. We also wanted to make sure that we were able to reach youth in schools that we didn’t visit, and in places we didn’t travel to. So, we launched an online survey which expanded on the questions we asked at our discussion groups.

Our values at YouthCO guided us throughout this work. We believe it is necessary to center youth perspectives when it comes to sex-ed, especially as it affects them the most.

Youth we talked to emphasized the need for sex-ed that affirms the bodies and identities of all people (including LGBTQ+/2S youth), acknowledges the variety of ways they can experience sexual pleasure, and links them to the care they need around STIs, HIV, and sexual assault. While this is the vision that youth have for their sex-ed, most shared that they were only learning about penis in vagina sex—despite the fact that STIs are passed by oral sex too, and that most HIV diagnoses among young people in BC occur in the context of anal sex.

Youth also shared experiences where educators teaching sex-ed were not always familiar and comfortable with the different ways youth express gender and sexuality. In these cases, educators often continue the assumption that all of us are cis and straight. One example of this assumption is when sex-ed classes are separated by perceived gender, which erases those of us who don’t prescribe to this binary.

Youth need sex-ed that is affirming of our gender and the many ways we choose to express it!

What’s next for YouthCO

Following this project, we launched the Sex Ed is Our Right campaign in partnership with the Community-Based Research Centre. The campaign is a call-to-action that advocates for better sex-ed across BC and centers youth voices in those conversations. We have also been working with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education to better support and resource schools and educators to deliver accurate, relevant, inclusive and fun sex-ed classes across the province.
This project showed us that youth are excited and keen to shape their sex-ed curriculum. As one young person in Vancouver put it, “stuff [is] always changing, youth should be consulted at every point.”