No Blushing: Talking to Educators about Sexual Health

It’s an annual event in Manitoba that every October teachers across the Province come together at various venues to participate in professional development at Special Area Group Education (SAGE).

SAGE is a very important opportunity for educators to advance their skills and knowledge in areas that are relevant to them and will help them work with students over the upcoming year.  Unless you have participated in SAGE, it is hard to understand its breadth and size, and I can’t imagine what it takes to organize.  It is an honour that both the organizations I work with, SERC and Klinic, are annually invited to help these hardworking educators expand their knowledge, particularly in the area of teaching sexual health as part of the Manitoba Health Curriculum.  This year, I went out with Gina McKay, a Sexual and Reproductive Health Facilitator from SERC to sit in on her session with teachers.

The first thing I notice as I walk into today’s venue (Windsor Park Collegiate) is that there are teachers everywhere, and there are student leaders who are trying to help direct them in what appears to be a fascinating reverse experience of the first day of school.   The students are patient and helpful , and they direct me to the room Gina is already setting up in.  I am delighted to run into two of Klinic’s Teen Talk staff who are also giving a presentation entitled, Sex Ed without blushing, I wish I could be in both of these at once!


Gina with Helena and Hema from Teen Talk

As Gina describes the goals for the hour and a half session, I am both awed and concerned.  I can’t help but think of how much these teachers are expected to know. It seems to me an awesome responsibility that we put on teachers, to help our children and youth understand the world in a manner that hopefully keeps them, and others, safe and successful in so many critical areas of life.

Both Klinic’s Teen Talk program and SERC provide education for educators to support the health curriculum.  Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to be in every classroom, so it is critical that we work together with partners to support the folks who are in the classrooms every day.

Gina starts by saying that this is one part of a two-day teacher training that we do with school divisions.  The curriculum is from 2005 and forms a great basis but does need regular resource updating, given the rapidly changing world of sexual health– this is something we can assist with.  Gina talks about which divisions are currently scheduled to do sessions with and how they can participate; most of the Winnipeg divisions have upcoming trainings scheduled, some in partnership.  She notes that SERC is an approved educational resource for curriculum, and resources are peer-reviewed and regularly updated.

One of the things I really appreciate when I see SERC offer sessions, regardless of the audience, is the factual non-judgmental way materials are presented.  In this session I appreciate how Gina does this while acknowledging the challenges that can come from many places when teaching these topics.  For example, working with parents who are concerned about what the curriculum is teaching, or administrations that are possibly unsupportive to some of the messaging.  Gina is able to give good advice on managing these realities while being respectful of all involved. One of the ways she does this is by offering help. For example: maybe you have a youth who is transitioning and you are not sure what to do next– we can come meet with you and your school.  Teaching birth control? We can lend you a kit!  Worried about offering a parent group? We can do this for you.

If you have read some of my previous posts, you may have seen me talk about my experience with Fast Pitch Winnipeg.  My Fast Pitch was based on the work SERC does in the Facts of Life Program and it is great to see how much it fits with Gina’s session. She reminds teachers they can email questions anytime, and so can their students.  In addition, she spends lots of time talking about the magical, anonymous question box.  How can we make it feel safe? She gives tips about rewriting questions.  What if the question feels beyond what I can answer? She talks about finding resources and talking to their administration. Gina also talks about something I emphasize in fast pitch.  Our youth are savvy and online, we need to give them the right sources, like SERC’s website, to ensure they are not getting inaccurate advice.

Ultimately, Gina emphasizes, it is about creating the environment for those questions to be asked, which reminds me of SERC’s new intention statement ( I wrote about it in a recent blog entitled Palaces of Vulnerabilities).   How can we create safe spaces for people to talk about sexuality and sexual health?  They may not remember what chlamydia was, but they will remember if you are someone they can talk to about it.

Gina asks the teachers to participate in an activity we also use with youth. Each person is to identify common myths they have heard from their students. These are some examples:

  • I can’t get pregnant if had abortion
  • Porn is real sex
  • Homosexuality is a disease
  • Plan b is always effective

Gina also asks them to share some of their own concerns.  These include:

  • What I can and can’t answer
  • Male teacher talking to girls about sex
  • Parent expectations are unclear
  • Creating an open environment for all students
  • What if I have a values clash

In response, Gina emphasizes the importance of neutralizing discussions, sticking to facts and the legal framework in Canada. She highlights utilizing their school division consultant and outside organizations like SERC.  Gina also talks about the fundamental importance of what we call the third culture, which exists among youth and in school settings.  The third culture is a blend of all the students’ cultures, and we have some ability to model and influence that (e.g. by modelling healthy relationships). School space is the place where it all happens, it’s the place where they can express themselves, and hopefully we can ensure that it is a safe space, where they are supported to get the information they need.

Lately, I have also been speaking to a lot of schools lately as part of my role as a speaker for the United Way.   As a United Way organization, SERC benefits from core support and one of the ways we give back is going out to speak to organizations fundraising during campaign. Schools are often big participants in United Way and I have noticed one of the common places I am asked to speak- three in the last week!  Each of the schools (and other organizations) I have had the pleasure to speak to remind me of two things:

  • How lucky we are to live in Winnipeg where people are generous and believe in the importance of causes like the United Way to make a better society
  • How lucky SERC and other United Way organizations are that we get such amazing support from our community

If you have not yet had your opportunity to participate in this year’s United Way campaign- there is still time! To donate: or you can support your workplace campaign- help SERC and other organizations continue to make better lives for children, youth and families in our community.