How do Ontario’s teachers navigate sex education?


York University professor to speak on sex-ed curriculum from teachers’ viewpoint

TORONTO, March 22, 2019 – While many parents support sexual health learning in Ontario schools, changes to the sex-ed curriculum have left health teachers balancing the need to be informative and inclusive with the need to be aware of students’ diverse experiences, backgrounds and perspectives.

Sarah Flicker, associate professor and associate dean for teaching and learning in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, will present “Teaching Sex Ed: A View from Ontario’s Teachers” on Tuesday, March 26 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Civic Centre Resource Library located at 2191 Major Mackenzie Dr. W., in Vaughan. The talk is part of a partnership between Vaughan Public Libraries and York University’s Division of Advancement to bring some of York’s top academics to Vaughan.

Flicker will share her research and possible implications for public policy and the community.

“Teenagers need to talk about sex. Discussions in the classroom about these topics can have real repercussions. They can mean the difference between an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection, reporting a sexual assault and negotiating consent,” she said.

“Shifts in public policies and government priorities have very real implications to what actually happens in a classroom. These policies are not abstract. They actually shape and change what gets taught and how it gets taught in a classroom,” she said.

Flicker’s talk will focus on her ongoing research, Enacting Sex Education: A view from Ontario’s Teachers, which is examining teachers’ perspectives on implementation and enactment of the changing sex education curriculums. For the study, which began two years ago, Flicker and a team of researchers from five universities interviewed teachers who had at least five years of experience teaching health and physical education.

They asked teachers about their experiences teaching the sex-ed curriculum before 2015, compared with teaching the more expansive sex-ed curriculum after it was updated in 2015 and then reverted in 2018. They also asked teachers about their success stories, concerns, supports offered to them and how the policy and controversy were impacting their classrooms.

Preliminary results found that teachers strongly supported the updated 2015 curriculum, especially updates about consent, sexting, cyber safety, sexual and gender diversity, and naming body parts using anatomically-correct terms.

Flicker has written and co-written more than 75 published journal articles and book chapters, including Teaching and learning about the relationships between land, violence and women's bodies: the possibilities of participatory visual methods as pedagogy, co-authored and published last year. Her research also includes Taking Action! Building Aboriginal Youth Leadership in HIV Prevention, a national project working with Indigenous communities across Canada to determine how Indigenous youth understand HIV in relation to their communities, cultures and colonization, using arts-based methods.

Her talk is part of York’s Scholars Hub Speaker Series which marks the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Environmental Studies. More information about upcoming talks in the “Environmental Changes” series can be found here.

NOTE: Space is limited for the event so members of the public are required to RSVP. Members of the media should contact Media Relations (see below).

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Media Contact: Vanessa Thompson, York University Media Relations, 647-654-9452,