Updating sexual education

A recent study found that rates of teen pregnancy in the Yukon have been steadily declining since 1995. While health workers and educators believe these results may be overly optimistic, it's welcome news.

A recent study found that rates of teen pregnancy in the Yukon have been steadily declining since 1995.

While health workers and educators believe these results may be overly optimistic, it’s welcome news.

Especially considering the last study to come across their desks, which found that chlamydia among Yukon teens is actually on the rise.

The territory has one of the highest rates of chlamydia infection in Canada, with rates that are two to three times higher than the national average.

One of the problems is that young men are not getting tested because the symptoms often don’t turn up, said health promotion worker Susie Ross.

“It’s very different for girls though and there are often large consequences, including infertility.”

Chlamydia can cause scarring inside the female reproductive organs, which can later cause serious complications, including chronic pelvic pain, difficulty becoming pregnant, tubal pregnancy and other dangerous complications with pregnancy.

Ross and educators across the territory are trying to get the word out to teens, through sexual education and other nontraditional means.

For example, Health and Social Services has recently launched a new website at www.bettertoknow.yk.ca.

The site aims to correct misinformation that teenagers may have gleaned from each other or from the media.

It contains all the typical anatomical information, but goes on to answer questions about consent, sexual orientation and relationships.

“Most people think sexual education is just about puberty, STIs, and birth control,” said Ross.

The program also touches upon on personal boundaries, alcohol and other drugs, and sexual abuse.

The section on STIs is comprehensive, with tips on prevention, lists of symptoms and how to get tested and treated, which youth can now check online whenever they have a question.

Ross is the closest thing the Yukon has to a fully qualified sexual health educator.

Most of the sexual education is left up to the classroom teacher, although health promotion does offer presentations in schools and is available on demand.

It’s up to the planning teacher, said Ross.

“Something we’re also working on is increasing teacher training to help them become approachable adults – someone who the kids are comfortable coming to with questions,” she said.

“It’s a small community, so the more adults we train, the better.”

Health promotion recently revised the Grade 4 to 7 sexual curriculum.

The program now touches upon sexting – sending sexually explicit messages or photographs between cellphones.

The curriculum, which is based on the prescribed learning outcomes from British Columbia, also discusses emotional intelligence, values, sexual orientation, belonging, and family structures.

Two months ago, conservative groups were enraged when the Ontario government tried to change its sex education curriculum.

The changes included introducing topics like sexual identity and orientation in Grade 3.

“It’s important to talk about these issues early,” said Ross.

Many children in the territory have same-sex parents. And there are transgendered people in our community.

Also, kids that are not traditionally gendered or sexually orientated tend to know from an early age.

They are more likely to get bullied, which in extreme cases can lead to suicide.

Different sexual identities are everywhere, whether it’s on the street or on TV, with shows like Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, said Ross.

“If we don’t talk about it they won’t have information that’s balanced.”

The territory also provides emergency birth control free at all community health centres, the Yukon Communicable Disease Control Unit, hospitals and some doctor’s offices.

The “morning-after pill” can also be purchased at any pharmacy.

The pills may be used up to five days after unprotected sex but it’s best used as soon as possible.

If used correctly, the pill can reduce the risk of pregnancy to between 0.2 and 3 per cent.

However, it does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

On Tuesday, Health and Social Services is holding a workshop on promoting healthy sexuality with at-risk teens, with Dr. Steve Brown.

For more information or to register in advance, contact Ross at 667-8394.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com

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