We need to bring sex ed to post-secondary — Part Two

The curriculum should focus on prevention of STIs and sexual violence among other things

Sex education should be mandatory for all students. PHOTO: Cottonbro / Pexels

by Victoria Lopatka, Staff Writer

Content warning: mention of sexual violence in fourth and fifth paragraph

Previously, I discussed how sex ed in high school can be terrible, with many students receiving fear-based, inaccurate, and limited lessons. Sex ed at SFU should focus on prevention of STIs and sexual violence, and be designed with marginalized groups in mind. It should also be offered in multiple formats to increase accessibility. 

It is crucial that sex ed provides students with information on STIs to reduce the stigma surrounding them. The Sheaf reports, “Canadians aged 18 to 24 are at the greatest risk of contracting [STIs].” Despite this, studies show young Canadians aren’t worried about getting STIs because they’re unaware of the risks, chances of asymptomatic infections, and symptoms

The physical symptoms of STIs include sores, rashes, pain, or discharge in the affected areas, and long-term complications include infertility, consistent pain, inflammation, and more. Those living with STIs may also experience depression and anxiety. Comprehensive sex education would help prevent the spread of STIs.

Sex education could partially address the problem of sexual violence on university and college campuses. A study on sexual assault in American universities noted first-year students are the most vulnerable to sexual assault due to age and inexperience. 

Many universities, including SFU, have been critiqued for their handling — or rather mishandling — of sexual assault on campus. That is why curriculum on enthusiastic consent, rape culture, toxic gender expectations, and healthy relationships (to name a few potential topics) should be mandatory in post-secondary.

When designing such courses, educators should be aware of the barriers some young people may face when it comes to learning about sex, and assess how to organize the lesson in a impactful way. Students who are queer, have physical or learning disabilities, or are from varying religious or cultural backgrounds, should all be considered when planning inclusive sex ed. For example, ActionCanada outlines what young people want to see in their sex ed, including information on healthy relationships, LGBTQIA2S+ inclusive content, and discussions of sex as fun and pleasurable. 

As for the methods of delivery, SFU can learn from the University of California, Berkeley, which has a “student-run course titled Sex 101: Topics in Sexual Health that students can enroll in just like any other academic class.” Since being introduced, the class has become incredibly popular for all age groups, from freshmen to seniors.  

At SFU, sex ed could take many forms: a synchronous or asynchronous course taught by a sex educator, a Canvas course (like the plagiarism modules we all do), or a workshop (like the resume and cover letter workshops for co-op).

Different forms have different strengths and weaknesses. Asynchronous courses and Canvas courses are more widely accessible, and some students may feel more comfortable learning sex ed privately. However, they’re less hands-on than synchronous courses, which may be more engaging and could allow for real-time dialogue and discussions. Students can ask questions, learn from others’ questions, and create safe spaces to share experiences and concerns among peers. But scheduling this for thousands of students is a concern here.

Combining strengths from multiple forms may be a good first step for SFU. This could look like a remote, synchronous class, with accompanying Canvas modules. Or it could take the shape of an in-person workshop that is streamed and recorded, with take-home resources for participants. Ideally, all forms should be available, and students could select the option(s) that work best for them.

Such education could create a community where sex and conversations about it are destigmatized, accurate information is freely accessible, and students are empowered to make healthy choices about their sex lives.