06/06/2018 16:35 EDT | Updated 07/11/2018 19:37 EDT

On Sex Education, Ontario Youth Have A Lot To Lose In This Election

They have a lot to say but their voices are often lost in decisions that affect their lives, especially when they can't vote.

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Editor's note: Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on July 11, 2018 that schools would be reverting back to the old sex ed curriculum developed in 1998 for the next school year.

When Ontario updated its sex-ed curriculum three years ago, it was the first update in almost two decades. Think about how much has changed since the '90s on issues like consent and the recognition of human rights for LGBTQ2+ people and families. Advancements over the last 20 years have also drastically altered the ways in which young people learn and talk about sex and relationships — Snapchat wasn't a thing in 1998.

In the Netherlands, where sex-ed is comprehensive, mandatory and begins in elementary school, the majority of people report their first sexual experiences as positive, nine out of 10 adolescents use safer sex methods during their first sexual experience, and the adolescent pregnancy rate is among the lowest in the world.

Comprehensive sex-ed has positive effects on young people's health and well-being, but when politicians attack it and stories in the media legitimize those jabs by giving them disproportionate air time and painting the opposition to sex-ed as widespread, an unhelpful and misinformed discourse starts to develop. In blunt terms, the health and well-being of children and young people is being sacrificed for clickbait and cheap votes.

Young people have a lot to say but their voices are often lost in decisions that affect their lives, especially when they can't vote.

Compromising young people's access to information and life skills means putting people's health on the line. There are real negative consequences that come from not receiving the accurate information people need to live safe and healthy lives.

That's why international human rights law guarantees children and young people the right to receive scientifically accurate information and education related to sexual health, and recognizes young people themselves as rights holders. This means that children and young people have the right to quality sex-ed. Stripping them of that right is not an option. And while Canada is strongly promoting the right to quality sex-ed with other countries at the UN, our federal, provincial and territorial governments aren't meeting those rights obligations for young people at home.

The quality and scope of curriculums vary from province to province and territory to territory. Most are substandard, and Canada as a whole needs to do more to guarantee that young people across the country receive quality sex-ed that meets their needs and is grounded in human rights.

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Young people have a lot to say but their voices are often lost in decisions that affect their lives, especially when they can't vote. From all the research out there, we know that young people want guidance on more than just "the birds and the bees" or how to put a condom on a banana. Healthy relationships, HIV and sexual pleasure were among the top areas young people said they wanted to learn about in the 2015 Toronto Teen Survey — but less than 30 per cent had learned about healthy relationships, and not one person reported learning about sexual pleasure.

We also know that young people who identify as LGBTQ2+ or come from LGBTQ2+ families and communities often do not see themselves reflected in the ways topics like reproduction, safer sex and healthy relationships are taught.

Providing the kind of sex-ed that young people want isn't about special interests, it's about making sure that every kid in the classroom gets the information they need to live a safe, healthy and fulfilling life.

The human right to comprehensive sex-ed is not up for debate.

And parents are on board, too. In 2014, 94 per cent of parents in Ontario strongly agreed that sex-ed should be taught in school. In New Brunswick in 2002 the rate was 94 per cent, in Saskatchewan in 2008 it was 92 per cent. But their majority voices are being overshadowed by a small but loud minority who are undermining the rights of young people, of women and of LGBTQ2+ people and communities.

In a time of #MeToo and the historic Bill C-16 that added gender identity to the Canadian human rights code, we're just beginning to shed light on the need to talk about consent from an early age and the levels of violence, harassment and discrimination experienced by trans and gender diverse people, there is a lot riding on Ontario's election.

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The human right to comprehensive sex-ed is not up for debate. In Ontario and as a country, we need to move away from hateful discourse and "fake news" that supports homophobic and transphobic agendas that aim to take away people's right to live a safe and healthy life and make informed decisions about their own lives and their own bodies.

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