Sexual health advocates from Saskatoon and Regina gathered in Saskatoon on Wednesday afternoon, calling on the provincial premiers meeting inside a downtown hotel for the Council for the Federation to improve sexual health education in Canada.

The event marked the launch of a national, multi-year campaign by Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights called Sex Ed Saves Lives.

The campaign was created because the issue of sex education is at a “crisis level,” said Sarah Kennell, director of government relations for Action Canada.

Savannah Holt draws on a banner at a rally outside of the premiers’ meeting by Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

“The research that we’ve done is telling us that across every province and territory students are receiving outdated, patchwork and often problematic approaches to comprehensive sexuality education,” Kennell said. “In Saskatchewan, the issue of consent isn’t meaningfully addressed and the ways in which issues are presented are really sex-negative and rooted in an abstinence-based approach.”

Action Canada has also sent letters to the 13 premiers outlining deficits in sex education and the work that could be done to alleviate them.

None of the sex education curriculums offered in Canada meet the recently-released 2019 Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education or international human rights standards set by the UN, according to the group.

Heather Hale, executive director of Saskatoon Sexual Health, said it’s important to have these conversations out in the open.

“I think it’s really important for people to be able to have that opportunity to share,” Hale said. “We hear a lot of those stories (at Saskatoon Sexual Health), but I think it’s also important for decision makers to be able to hear from the people that are most affected, and young people, about what they need. Their voices should be centred in this conversation.”

The advocates want a comprehensive, inclusive sex education curriculum with accountability measures to ensure it’s properly delivered, including additional support for teachers and sexual health educators.

This is especially important in Saskatchewan, which has high rates of teen pregnancy and rising HIV infection rates, Hale said.

In 2016, doctors in Saskatchewan called on the province to declare a state of emergency on HIV. The rate of new diagnosis of HIV in Saskatchewan is about two and a half times higher than the national average, and it continues to rise.

According to a Statistics Canada report on fertility rates, from 2012 to 2016, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of teen pregnancy across the provinces.

“We’re looking at young people not having the skills to navigate healthy relationships and the problem isn’t unique to Saskatchewan,” Kennell said. “We want to see something done about it and we feel that it’s the responsibility of every elected official in this country to take action.”

People were invited to add to a banner that read, “What do you wish you learned in Sex Ed?” Among the popular answers were consent, healthy relationships and gender identity and sexual diversity.

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