Canadian teens need to be more aware of STIs — and it starts with sex ed

Arti Patel
Global News, October 22, 2017

We’ve come a long way from the condom on a banana approach to teach young people how to have safe sex. The teens who make up a chunk of Generation Z, the population raised by the internet, have multiple avenues and resources (including pornography) to learn about foreplay and sex.

And while one 2005 report indicates the proportion of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 having sexual intercourse has decreased — some studies note Gen Z doesn’t have much interest in sex to begin with — there was no change in rates of teens having multiple partners or males not using condoms. Experts say this still puts this age group at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Between 1998 and 2015 (the most recent national data available), chlamydia — the most commonly reported STI in Canada — has risen from 39,372 to 116,499 annual cases among all ages and genders, and gonorrhea infections increased from 5,076 to 19,845 in the same time period. Infectious syphilis rates rose dramatically from 501 to 4,551 cases.

According to a 2014 report from Health Canada, teens aged 15 to 19 made up 1,081.9 cases of chlamydia per 100,000. The cases of gonorrhea in this age group was 101.79 cases per 100,000, while cases of infectious syphilis made up the lowest rate of four per 100,000.

However, the greatest relative rate increase, Health Canada notes, for syphilis was in males aged 15 to 19 — a 300 per cent increase.

The importance of sex ed

Dr. Dustin Costescu, family planning specialist in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says the rise among STI rates in teens is multi-factorial. He says, however, the issue (for any age group) is still around condom use.

“We know teens underestimate the rates,” he tells Global News. “A lot of people don’t see themselves [at risk] because they date one person, and they think they are at a lower risk compared to those who have multiple sexual partners.”

Messaging around condom use also needs to change, he says, since the majority of teenagers think of condoms as contraceptives.

“We do know some populations are at an elevated risk,” he says. “While teens are exploring their sexuality, they may be neglecting condom use. Teens struggle in negotiation around condom use.”

He says when you ask teenagers about things like HIV, they see it as a chronic disease, something that has been cured

He adds while adolescent pregnancy rates in Canada are decreasing, teenagers know they have to use protection, but the messaging around condom use for STIs is not so clear.

He says there is also confusion around screening guidelines, pap tests and STI tests. Many are unsure when to get tested and STIs also come with a stigma of otherness — there’s a “type” of person who gets an STI.

STIs in the curriculum

STIs are introduced in school curricula through sexual education and health classes. In Ontario, the Ministry of Education says students learn about safe and healthy relationships throughout the provincial curriculum.

“The curriculum is structured so that students learn about human development and sexual health as one component of their overall health,” a ministry spokesperson tells Global News. “The focus is not simply on learning facts, but on helping students use facts and knowledge to make healthy choices and connections to their everyday lives.”

Since Ontario’s sex ed curriculum change in 2015, students are now introduced to STIs in Grade 7 (how to prevent them), and in Grade 10, they expand their knowledge on infections themselves, as well as how to use condoms and find a health expert.

“There are also optional examples and prompts provided to teachers in the curriculum. They are there to help prepare teachers for the questions and discussion that may arise during the learning and to encourage students to think about different questions/situations that they could possibly face,” the ministry adds.

Similarly in British Columbia, STIs are part of the physical and health education curriculum, and students explicitly start learning about the topic in Grade 6. However, the B.C. Ministry of Education adds classroom teachers may bring up the topic at any point in relation to their class. In Grade 9, students learn about protection from sexually transmitted infections in particular.

In Alberta, schools are required to offer human sexuality education in Grade 4 to Grade 9, and STIs are introduced starting in Grade 8, while Quebec’s new sex ed curriculum is set to launch in the fall.

And for the rest of the provinces, STIs and prevention usually start in Grade 5 or 6, and this includes topics around HIV/AIDS, condom use and abstinence.

Are Canadian teens aware?

Drew, an 18-year-old student from Pickering, Ont., says STIs were first covered in sex ed class in Grade 9.

“Most of the topics in school, whether it be safe sex or learning about STIs, were often taught using educational videos,” he tells Global News. “[But] I would say that I do not really have a good knowledge about STIs. I can honestly say that I do not know what the effects of STIs like gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia are… I really only know the names of them.”

In his friend circle, he adds, STIs don’t often come up in the conversation around sex. If anything, most people in his age group are worried they may get pregnant.

For Jordana, 17, of Toronto, the thoughts are similar. STIs are mostly treated like a joke (if someone gets a pimple, for example, it’s mocked as herpes) and rarely is it seriously discussed.

“I definitely think that learning about STIs should be something that is covered in school every year, and information and support should be readily available to anyone,” she tells Global News.

She adds STIs should be covered every year (in Ontario, it becomes optional after Grade 10), because some teens don’t often think about the repercussions of having unprotected sex with a stranger or multiple partners at ages 14 and 15.

Matthew, a Grade 8 student in Toronto, says he was introduced to STIs in Grade 6 and the topic of safe sex was covered the following year. And although he believes he has enough knowledge about infections, he could learn more.

While Hadiqa, 16, of Hamilton, Ont., says STIs are still seen as “weird” and “gross” for the majority, and people in her age group just don’t talk about them.

And while she agrees with most teens that sexual health education should be mandatory until Grade 12, she says it will only become more and more useful as teens move into adulthood.

‘The talk’ is still valuable

Costescu says parents and educators need to start meeting teens where they’re at and talk openly about safe sex.

“We need to do a good job of listening to adolescents and what messages work with teens,” he says. “Ideas among adults will not go anywhere if it’s not a relevant message.” He stresses talking to them about sex does not increase sexual behaviour — a common reason parents don’t open up about it.

Dr. Jillian Roberts, child psychologist at Family Sparks, says it’s also important to step in as parents because teens are more likely to look up sex and pornography online before talking to adults.

“It is no longer possible to avoid ‘the talk,’” she tells Global News. “Further, it is no longer appropriate to think of ‘the talk’ as a single event. Doing so places kids in harm’s way.”

She adds adults themselves still see a stigma and shamefulness about sex, and this also needs to change to ensure STI rates drop for teens in the future.

“Kids need to have a strong relationship with their parents and know that they can talk to their parents about all the complex issues facing the modern generation. Parents need to shed any embarrassment and tackle this topic head-on.”

Original Article:

When it comes to safe sex, younger generations are more responsible: Survey

Simone Paget
Toronto Sun, April 1, 2019

A few years ago, I dated this guy we’ll call “The Cop.” He was a divorced single dad and worked in law enforcement. The dating scene in my hometown is inundated with men in their 30s and 40s who are still waiting for their band’s “big break” and therefore can’t commit, so I liked the idea of dating someone who appeared to be a responsible adult.

The only problem: When it came time to be intimate, The Cop sulked and complained about having to wear a condom. One night, he even refused outright. His argument? He used to be married and felt he “shouldn’t have to.” Besides, I should “just trust him” (Did I mention that this guy already has four children? Four.)

It was the kind of behaviour high school guidance counsellors had warned us about (just kidding — my high school’s sex ed program was practically non-existent. I got most of my sex info from Salt-N-Pepa songs.) I don’t remember experiencing the dreaded condom tug-a-war in my teens and twenties, but now I frequently encounter men who share The Cop’s attitude towards safer sex practices.

It makes sense. Kind of. Gen X and older millennials like myself, came of age at the height of the AIDS crisis in North America. Many of us spent our formative years terrified of accidental pregnancy and STIs. Having survived thus far, I get the sense that some of my peers have become more loosey-goosey when it comes to condom use. With that said, there’s still a prevailing stereotype that it’s the younger generations who like to play it fast and loose when it comes to safe sex. But that’s simply not the reality — and there are the stats to back it up.

Skyn Condoms recently surveyed 2,000 Gen Z adults (18-22) and millennials (23-38) in the U.S. and Canada, asking them to provide detailed information about everything from condom use and sexual education to favourite sexual positions and fantasies.

Not only are younger generations on top of their same sex game, but it’s 18-22-year-olds that are leading the way. The survey found that 65% of Gen Z respondents reported using condoms “all of the time” or “some of the time,” while only 54% of millennial participants answered the same.

“Gen Z seems to have gotten the message a little more strongly than millennials that safer sex is an important part of health,” remarks Rena McDaniel, a clinical sexologist and sex and intimacy expert for Skyn Condoms. However, it’s not all sunshine and multiple orgasms. “Gen Z seems to be getting it on at earlier ages than millennials, but this doesn’t seem to translate into having better sex with 10% of Gen Z faking orgasms all of the time, compared to 6% of millennials,” says McDaniel.

I was also disappointed to learn that the ol’ condom standoff is still alive and well amongst Gen Z and millennials. When asked “have you ever, even once turned down sex with someone because they wanted to use a condom?” Ten percent of people surveyed answered “yes.”

Which, brings me to my final question. If a partner refuses to wear a condom, how should you respond? McDaniel says it’s simple: “In short, tell them ‘bye!’ If someone is refusing to honour your boundaries around safer sex and is actively taking risks, like not using a condom, that put you and your health in danger, then it might be time to question whether or not this relationship is serving you.”

Conversations about safer sex and condom use don’t have to be heavy. “A whisper in a lover’s ear of, ‘I’m so turned on. I’m going to get a condom,’ can build anticipation as safer sex becomes part of the sexual experience and not something that takes you away from it,” says McDaniels.

Original Article Here: