Sex education: Why some say a premier’s wrath over student presentation went overboard

Click to play video: 'N.B. premier bans non-profit sex-ed group from schools'
N.B. premier bans non-profit sex-ed group from schools
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has banned Montreal-based sexual education group Thirsty for the Talk, created by HPV Global Action, from the province's schools. Higgs is furious over what he calls "clearly inappropriate material" shown to high school students during a recent presentation. Heidi Petracek reports on the reaction from the group, students, educators, and the connection between premier's comments and his party's politics – May 27, 2024

The organization behind a high school sex education presentation that has drawn the ire of New Brunswick’s premier is defending its program, saying it has been misrepresented.

Teresa Norris, the president of the non-profit group HPV Global Action, said rather than promoting sexual activity, the program is trying to make sure young people are properly informed.

“I am also a parent, and I am very preoccupied about where our kids are getting their information because people may be embarrassed to ask … Then they usually do end up going on the web and then finding the wrong information,” said Norris.

“We are promoting and supporting parents in that role to make sure that our kids aren’t exposed to misinformation. I’m in line with the mindset of of parents, of wanting to protect their children. We have the same goal.”

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Just before the weekend, Premier Blaine Higgs wrote a lengthy post on X, detailing why he thought the presentation was inappropriate. He said he had been contacted by “a number of concerned parents.”

The post includes a photo of a single slide from a multi-media presentation from Montreal-based sexual education group, Thirsty for the Talk, an online resource created by HPV Global Action. The presentation was meant to discuss Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted infection.

On the screen, a pair of red lips and a lollipop are seen. Phrases such as “Do girls masturbate?”, “Is it good or bad do anal?” and “Does it hurt when you do it for the 1st time?” are in speech bubbles.

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Higgs wrote in his post that “to say I am furious would be a gross understatement.”

He also said that the presentation’s contents were not part of the New Brunswick school curriculum, and alleged it was either the result of “improper vetting” or perhaps “the group misrepresented the content they would share.”

Norris told Global News that an outline of the presentation was indeed submitted for approval with the schools beforehand.

The presentation was delivered to about a dozen New Brunswick high schools this year.

As for the photo in the premier’s X post? She pointed out that was not intended to encourage those actions, but rather to discuss the dangers of unsafe sex, including questions that young people often ask.

“The picture that was shared in that tweet is the very first slide even before the presentation starts. We put those questions on this slide because these are the kinds of questions that students are asking each other and looking up online. These are also questions that they have asked me and other educators,” said Norris.

“We are not promoting any of the sexual behaviour. It’s the exact opposite. In fact, we talk about abstinence in the presentation, and we’re empowering students to help them make decisions about their relationships so that they can be healthier.

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The premier mentioned in his post that “this group will not be allowed to present again at New Brunswick schools, effective immediately.”

Norris said the move would be “unfortunate” because youth need to have resources for information, rather than misinformation. She added that it’s a “collective” responsibility for everyone, which includes schools and parents.

“I’m very preoccupied by ensuring that our future generations are exposed to very important information that’s going to help guide them to make sure that they have healthy relationships,” she said.

“So I’m in support of protecting children. I’m very much in support of that. I think this is one of the best ways that we can actually support and have that shared experience and that that school’s doing their part and at home, they’re doing their part.”

Teens and researcher react

Reaction to the presentation and the photo shared by Higgs has been varied online and in the school yard.

While some are critical of Higgs’ reaction, others are praising him.

At Fredericton High School, which was not one of the schools that received the presentations, Grade 10 students told Global News they appreciate frank discussion and educational options.

“I think teens in general always have these types of questions so I feel like having those answers isn’t a bad thing because where else are going to get that type of information?” asked Judi Ileme.

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Others thought being armed with answers might prevent teen pregnancies.

“I think that he can be mad about it, but it might stop teen pregnancies a lot more,” said Savannah Thomas. “It’s better them learning it than finding out by themselves and making mistakes or messing up.”

A sexual education researcher agrees with the teens and said it’s clear youth are curious about the topics shown in that now infamous slide.

“We do know from the research our organization has done is that youth do have a wide range of questions,” said Alex McKay, the executive director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada.

McKay said young people will seek out answers to those questions — regardless if they’re discussed in school.

“In which case youth will go to the internet and they will consult with their peers to find answers, or we can provide credible sources of information,” he said.

Wedge issue?

The premier’s X post ends with a link to the PC Party’s website, where the visitor is encouraged to take part in an online poll and fill out a form for contact information.

A fundraising email from the party went out Friday evening, shortly after the social media post was made.

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Click to play video: 'N.B. premier bans non-profit sex-ed group from schools'
N.B. premier bans non-profit sex-ed group from schools

Political scientist Lori Turnbull from Dalhousie University said that Higgs is trying to create a wedge issue that can drive fundraising, as the province heads towards an election campaign in the fall.

“It can be an emotional issue, something that makes people feel something, not just a, ‘Hey, we’re trying to win the next election, throw us 30 bucks,'” she said. “It’s something that will really make people get concerned.”

The premier’s office did not respond to an interview request.

— with files from Global News’ Anna Mandin and Silas Brown 

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