Outdated and out of touch

Manitoba’s sex-ed curriculum fails students at every turn

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Manitoba has one of the highest rates of teen dating violence in the country, according to a recent Statistics Canada report.

It found that 45 per cent of Canadian teens experienced some form of dating violence since turning 15. This “includes criminal acts such as physical and sexual violence, as well as acts that may not be considered criminal (like emotional abuse) but which can nonetheless have devastating consequences for victims.”

Emotional abuse (including name-calling, jealousy, stalking and online harassment) was most commonly reported, and all teens who experienced any kind of dat- ing violence experienced emotional abuse, either on its own or along with physical or sexual violence.

Among the provinces, Manitoba recorded the second-highest rate of teen dating violence, according to 2022 police reports that mostly involved violence against teen girls.

Policy change can’t eliminate any kind of violence entirely, but our current school system sets students up for failure.

Manitoba’s sex-education curriculum is woefully outdated and inadequate across all grade levels. Human sexuality generally falls under the provincial Physical Education and Health curriculum, which hasn’t been updated since 2005.

This curriculum hinges on addressing what the province considers major health risks for students, including “sexual behaviours that result in STIs and unintended pregnancies.”

It’s all too reminiscent of Coach Carr’s sex-ed lesson from Mean Girls: “Don’t have sex, ‘cause you will get pregnant and die.” But Carr was a parody of seemingly everyone’s inept health teachers circa 2004, when the original movie was released. Besides, even he was updated in the 2024 remake.

The province needs to abandon their risk-based, fear-mongering approach and listen to experts.

In a 2019 editorial for CBC, representatives from SERC, the Sexuality Education Resource Centre, urged Manito- ba to adopt a “balanced, comprehensive approach” that “goes beyond the science of how bodies work and how babies are made” to include “rights, consent, pleasure and harm reduction.”

The writers stressed that a robust, updated curriculum should “reach all students in every school throughout Manitoba,” be taught by teachers with trauma-informed training and reflect students’ diverse experiences, gender identities, sexual orientations and cultural backgrounds.

Almost five years later, many students still don’t receive the information they need. Some don’t attend sex-education classes at all.

In Manitoba, guardians can opt students out of health lessons about “potentially sensitive topics” like human sexuality and provide alternative instruction at home or through a church or counselling service. Even if this happens, there’s no guarantee students will receive accurate, inclusive information.

All students need to learn how their bodies work, as well as how to understand consent and recognize when behaviour is abusive. To do this, the province needs to better teach its educators, especially about what students do online.

The middle-school students I work with are starting to form romantic relationships, many of which happen almost exclusively online. In many cases, their parents don’t allow dating, they aren’t out publicly, or they live far apart from their partners.

Until schools teach comprehensive sex- uality education that includes online safety, it’s more important than ever to invest in community programs that address teen dating violence.

Locally, the “UMatter” Stop Youth Dating Violence Project out of Ka Ni Kanichihk works to address teen dating violence through an Indigenous lens, in- cluding how technology is used in “harassing behaviours.”

SADI, the Sexual Assault Discussion Initiative offered through Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre, offers workshops for middle- and high-school students about media literacy, internet safety and sexual violence, among other topics.

If you’re experiencing dating violence, you can call the Domestic Abuse Crisis Line at 1-877-977-0007, Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or the Klinic Crisis Line at 1-888-322-3019.

Danielle Doiron (they/she) is the copy and style editor of The Uniter. Lately, they call Winnipeg, Philadelphia, Fargo and Canberra home.

Published in Volume 78, Number 24 of The Uniter (April 4, 2024)

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