In the Blog
The Kids Will Be Alright: Youth Positive Sexual Health Services Across Canada
Illustration: Andrea Manica
I really like sexual health related stuff. I’ve written about how much I love IUD’s, and amazing sex ed programs for youth like Queering Sex Ed. If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, I’ve probably brought up something sexual or reproductive health related just because of who I am as a person. Anyways, I have more things to say in light of the “controversy” of Ontario’s update of sex education curriculum, as well as amazing support of it. And, there’s never been a better time to talk about how important sexual and reproductive health services are for youth when curriculum lacks!
The updated sex ed curriculum (the first since 1998) is a great start in teaching kids & youth about essential topics of navigating the world, like consent, gender identities and sexual orientations, and healthy relationships. The curriculum has been tailored for each grade and age bracket, and the subject matter matures as students do. Consent is taught in grade two, for example, in the context of learning how to say “no” in situations where you feel unsafe. This helps keep children and youth safer in all aspects of life, not just limited to the future where their understanding of consent will be applied to sexual activities. Sex acts like masturbation, oral & anal sex (which are things that youth do because those are things that many humans do) would also be discussed as “potential sexual activities” that are viable and healthy ways to get to know your body (if youth want to do those kinds of things) and how to navigate and make informed decisions about certain sex acts.
The backlash to the sex ed curriculum can often be from a place of ignorance and fear. There are a million threads to pull out of this debate. It’s rooted in our sex negative culture, heteronormativity, cisnormativity and our preoccupation with “innocence” and not validating youth as autonomous humans, and so many other factors.
In the meantime, living in this context as a young person can be really difficult. And, for many people (myself included) who think about sex education from an anti-oppressive, pro-choice, LGBTQ positive, and youth positive understandings, there’s still a way to go for sex education to be as expansive and inclusive as it could possibly be. Of course, in the societal place where we are now, mainstream sex ed curriculum is never going to be as progressive as it could be. The 2015 update is necessary with a lot more information which you can read it in more detail here, but our fight for social justice is always a continual process of unlearning, re-learning and creating new ways to think and exist, in order to counter the systems and norms we’ve created.
Spaces that are affirming and safe for youth are essential, and there are a few examples of where alternative spaces have gotten it right. In Toronto, EdgeWest is a new community health centre that offers primary, mental, and sexual & reproductive health care. It was created in consultation and informed by youth about their opinions on what kind of programs and services were needed and wanted. EdgeWest is also walks the talk of being anti-oppressive/anti-racist, youth positive and informed, sex positive, LGBTQ positive, pro-choice, non-judgmental and confidential, accessible, with a focus on using a harm reduction approach.
All across Canada, there are services available for youth, though most services are in cities, unfortunately. If you live in a rural area/smaller town or city, another great option if you have access to the Internet is to explore websites like Scarleteen, or services like the LGBT Youthline, Teen Health Source to be able to ask specific questions and get more information about sexual and reproductive health matters.
In British Columbia, there’s Options for Sexual Health Clinics across the province, and their website explicitly says they operate from a pro-choice and sex positive perspectives for people of all ages. To find a clinic near you if you live in British Columbia, you can look here. There’s also the Island Sexual Health Society, which is located in Victoria on Vancouver Island, and their mission statement says they celebrate healthy sexuality throughout life.
In Alberta, there’s the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, and a little north of Calgary in Airdrie, there’s the Airdrie Regional Community Health Centre that offers a Teen & Young Adult Clinic specifically for sexual & reproductive health services.
In Manitoba, there’s the Sexuality Education Resource Centre with two offices, one in Winnipeg and one in Brandon. There’s also the Nine Circles Community Health Centre in Winnipeg, which focuses primarily on HIV/STI prevention and treatment from a harm reduction approach.
In Saskatchewan, there’s the Sexual Health Centre of Saskatoon, which is a youth-friendly, pro-choice charitable organization. They provide sexual health information and resources, low-cost birth control, pregnancy options counseling and support, and doctor referrals. There’s also Planned Parenthood Regina.
In Quebec, there’s Tel-Jeunes, an online information service that also offers chat options for folks with questions. There’s also a youth organization called Head & Hands in Montreal, which offers a variety of non-judgmental services (including sexual health) for youth, also from a harm reduction approach.
In The Northwest Territories, there’s an amazing website that’s part of a series with Yukon and Nunavut, called “Respect Yourself”, that came out of the Department of Health and Social Services in the Northwest Territories. There’s an option on the website to anonymously post a question and have it answered by an expert in sexual health. The Yellowknife Primary Care Centre also offers sexual health services.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s a Planned Parenthood of Newfoundland & Labrador Sexual Health Centre in St. John’s, and as a Planned Parenthood clinic, also operates from a pro-choice perspective.
In Nova Scotia, there’s the Sexual Health Centre in Lunenberg County in Bridgewater. Their website notes that they are pro-choice, youth positive, and LGBTQ positive, and aim to offer non-judgmental sex ed information and services. They do pregnancy testing, education, outreach, community engagement, and other fun stuff, and refer folks to the Halifax Sexual Health Centre for things like STI testing and birth control prescriptions. They are also youth and sex positive!
In New Brunswick, there are some listings on sexual health clinics across the province here, but not too much information on their values. There’s also the Fredericton Community Health Clinic, which is located at the University of New Brunswick.
Unfortunately, there are no clinics exclusively for sexual health matters in Prince Edward Island or abortion clinics at the moment. Which isn’t cool and creating huge barriers. Folks can go to walk-in clinics for HIV testing, but anonymous testing isn’t available yet. To find a walk in clinic near you in P.E.I, you can look on this website. For folks seeking out anonymous testing, the closest option is the Moncton Sexual Health Clinic in New Brunswick.
So while we wait for the new sex ed curriculum in start in Ontario, and continue chipping at oppressive forces and ways of thinking until they crumble as we always do, check out these resources and spaces! It’s within our rights as youth to have information, access to health care, and to be supported and fully respected by health care professionals.