Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Exposure to and Desire for Sexual Health Education among Urban Youth: Associations with Religion and Other Factors

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Exposure to and Desire for Sexual Health Education among Urban Youth: Associations with Religion and Other Factors

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study utilized data from the Toronto Teen Survey to examine the sexual health topics that respondents had received information about and the topics they did or did not want to learn more about. Given the diverse sample of youth participating in the study, we placed particular emphasis in the current analysis on associations between religious affiliation and having received information on eight different sexual health topics, and the desire to learn more about the same topics. Overall, there were few associations of religious affiliation with either topics youth had received information about or with topics they wanted to learn more. Protestant youth were more likely than those with no religious affiliation to have received information about sexually transmitted infections. Muslim youth were less likely to express a desire to learn more about sexual health than those identifying no religion. Gender and age differences in sexual health topics that youth had received information about and topics they wanted to learn more about were also examined.


The Canadian Guidelines Jor Sexual Health Education (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2008) present three key components of behaviourally effective sexual health education: exposure to relevant information, motivation to use the information, and acquisition of skills to put this information into practice. It is understood that information, although not sufficient on its own, is vital for adolescents to make safer sexual health choices. Schools are often the formal source for such information and a number of Canadian studies have therefore investigated students' perceptions of the importance of different sexual health topics, the grades at which they would like to learn about them, and the extent to which their classes covered those topics (e.g., Byers, Sears, Voyer et al., 2003a; 2003b). Such studies have generally been done with relatively homogenous student populations and it is therefore of interest to know what a large sample of ethno-culturally diverse urban youth would say in response to similar questions. The present study used data from the Toronto Teen Survey (TTS) (Flicker et al., 2010) to determine what sexual health topics the TTS's diverse sample had learned about, what they wanted to learn more about, and how their religious affiliation was associated with these factors.

The literature reviewed below identifies the school and community sources of sexual health education available to youth in Ontario and examines background research studies on the associations between religion, sexual health education, and adolescent sexual behaviour.

Sources of sexual health education

Students in Ontario may attend the public school system or the Catholic school system, both of which are publicly funded, or they may attend private schools that have religious affiliation or private schools that have no religious affiliation. All secondary schools that grant the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) must teach the Ontario curriculum; private schools can choose to offer credits (which must also follow the curriculum) towards the OSSD, but they may also teach other credits not required by the government (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010a). To achieve their OSSD, all students must complete one credit in health and physical education. The Grade Nine Health and Physical Education course is the prerequisite for all other health and physical education courses (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010b), and sexual health information is included as a relatively small component of this course. Schools with religious affiliation, such as those under the Catholic school board and private schools, can supplement the existing sexual health education with information in courses of their own design. The ability of school systems to teach their own additional sexual health curriculum allows for variation in the sexual health information that students in Ontario are exposed to. …

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