Schools are in a unique position to reach nearly every child, young person, and their families in Ontario with information and skills to promote their health and well-being over their lifetime. Age-appropriate HIV education is an important component of the health education provided by schools. It provides students with opportunities to learn how they can help prevent the onward transmission of the HIV virus and contribute to a caring and compassionate society for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. Age-appropriate HIV education also provides students with opportunities to address stereotypes and stigma, prevent bullying and harassment, and develop living skills to help them navigate a world in which HIV is a reality.
Age-appropriate HIV education is generally situated more broadly within sexual health education, as young people are most likely to be exposed to HIV through sexual contact. The knowledge and skills students acquire regarding the prevention of HIV transmission also support them to take care of their sexual health and well-being more broadly, for example, avoiding STIs and unplanned pregnancies. Young people still need to be aware of other modes of HIV transmission (such as sharing drug-injecting equipment) and prevention strategies.
There are many reasons to provide children and youth with comprehensive sexual health and age-appropriate HIV education in schools.
Learning about HIV and sexual health is part of the Ontario Curriculum.
Children and youth have the right to learn about the topics that affect their health and well-being, and sexual health is an important aspect of people’s overall health and well-being. Young people need information, skills, and opportunities to think about and to discuss topics in depth in order to equip them with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions about their sexual health.
As the only institution that has contact with nearly every child and young person in Ontario, schools are in a unique position to ensure that all children and youth have the knowledge and skills to make and act upon decisions that promote sexual health and well-being throughout their lives.
Research evidence tells us that social norms, attitudes, and behaviours within broader society influence the populations most at-risk of HIV. Nurturing within all youth safe and responsible social norms, attitudes, and behaviours can reduce HIV risk behaviour among children and youth from the five most at-risk populations, as well as the general population.
Research shows that adolescents are sexually active and do engage in HIV risk behaviours. The 2003 Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study found that 40 per cent of young men and 46 per cent of young women in Grade 11 had engaged in sexual intercourse at least once. The average age of first intercourse among these students was 14.1 years among boys and 14.5 years among girls. Only 47 per cent of the boys and 34 per cent of the girls reported using a condom the last time they had intercourse.
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