Executive Director Blog: The Best Sex Education is the Truth

Nicole Chammartin is the Executive Director of Klinic and SERC. The work of these organizations focuses on health, community development, mental health, sexuality, equity, and social justice. In this blog Nicole writes about the important work of these organizations, leadership, and the larger world of community and sexual health.

I have written about this before: for as long as I can remember, talking about things that society has trouble with has been my passion.  Often, as I go about my job, I am reminded that the majority of the world does not talk about the things that I, and the people I get to work with, talk about every day. The working title for this blog was actually ‘hot chocolate and syphilis’, as I estimated that those were the two topics I had most talked about in the preceding week. I assure you, they are not related and I will leave you with the mystery of what my week entailed.

The SERC Training Institute is a place that is wholly committed to doing what I am passionate about: talking about the topics which we tend to avoid.  Our job is to make this comfortable and fun and if we are lucky, perhaps reduce the stigma and discomfort that many experience when talking about sex.

Last week, I was able to sit in on one of our trainings with teachers in the Winnipeg School Division.  I am grateful that they let me join their training for a bit, so I could get a glimpse of what is really a bread and butter activity for SERC, training teachers to teach sexuality education.   Jared Star, who has been our lead facilitator for the institute, led the course but this will be his last class as he is in a new role as our Director of Development. Jared’s replacement, J, was assisting and is ready now to lead future trainings.

The SERC Training Institute offers courses throughout the year for teachers and service providers.  You can access our calendar of events or sign up for our E News for more information.  This year we offered 14 public training events for service providers from all sectors in Winnipeg and Brandon. Combined with the customized training we offered on-site for various schools and organizations, the Training Institute reached over 2000 teachers, social workers, nurses and other service providers who have daily contact with our community. In the future, we will be expanding this menu, including a new course on sexual harassment for workplaces, which is planned to launch in April of 2019.

The title of this blog arises from something Jared says as part of the training, and aligns with SERC’s core mandate: we are about facts.  Accurate information about sex is critical to making healthy decisions for yourself and others.  The reality is, the more taboo a subject, the more misinformation there is out there; it is SERC’s job to keep it real. We know, based on research and evidence, that sexual development in childhood and adolescence involves exploration, experimentation and figuring out what feels right for them. The more informed young people are, the better and healthier decisions they can make.

One of the icebreaking activities of this session is sharing something you remember from your own sexual health education.  Depending on your age and your experience, it might be quite varied. People talk about being separated by gender, watching videos without any explanation, the embarrassment of their teachers when they had to name body parts. Most cannot and do not name a positive memory of sexual health education.

What do you remember? I remember the question box, a tool we still use today when working with students.  For many teachers the question box can be terrifying, but for many students it is a chance to find their voice and say the things they feel they cannot say aloud. I also remember that many of the questions in my class were based on fear that was being instilled in us at the time.  I was a child of the 80’s and early 90’s, growing up at the height of the HIV scare and when ‘just say no’ was a popular campaign and fear-based teaching was a common method.

This may feel like ages ago, but across Canada, most sexual health curriculum is woefully out of date. In Manitoba, the curriculum was written in 1998 (pre-internet) and updated last in 2005.  The world has changed a lot since then; that is why teachers and school divisions rely on us to help stay current in talking about the realities facing young people today.

Some school divisions, like Winnipeg School Division and several others we partner with to deliver this training, are developing their own supplemental curriculum to help teachers through this gap.  We talk about this added resource for these teachers in this training and other resources that are accessible, including SERC and our Teen Talk program.  At SERC, supporting school divisions to develop curriculum and training is an important part of what we do. These teachers will be the ones answering those question boxes and we want to make sure they feel supported and prepared to help this generation make the best decisions for them.  Our website carries fact sheets and resources for teaching, and we have two public resource libraries (in SERC’s Winnipeg office and SERC Brandon) where folks can access helpful reading material, as well as items for sale, such as birth control teaching kits.

I hope students these days have a different experience than my own:  a little less fear, a little more honesty, and a lot less shame.  Sexuality is part of our normal developmental process: it is time to take it out of the shadows, celebrate it and have real conversations.