Samantha McCready
Samantha McCready
March 19, 2020

The History of Sexual Health in Canada

Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Canadian laws surrounding birth control and a woman’s right to control her own body have undoubtedly evolved over the last century. Many women across the country cling to this right as some states south of border challenge abortion laws.

But, just how far have we come?

While methods of preventing pregnancy have been around for thousands of years—actual education on planned parenthood did not exist until very recently. 

In 3000 BCE in Egypt, around the same time that early condoms were being fabricated, many women were practicing birth control. These women would aim to prevent pregnancy using relatively ineffective and often unsafe methods such as sponges with soap suds and douches made from honey and crocodile dung.

In 1932, the first official Canadian birth control clinic opened in Hamilton, Ontario, despite it being illegal to do so. 

The end of the Second World War saw public acceptance of birth control increase rapidly. 

By 1960, the birth control pill was available in Canada, however doctors only prescribed it for therapeutic and not for pregnancy prevention purposes. 

Contraception was legalized in 1969 with one big exception: abortion. A woman could ask for an abortion, but it wasn’t up to her to have the final say. 

The general use of birth control was made legal in 1972.

In 1988, laws prohibiting abortion were abolished. Abortion is now considered a medically necessary service.

By the mid 2000s, abortion rates and teen pregnancy rates were in steady decline.

Today, there are a variety of options for birth control: pills, injections, inserted devices, condoms, and natural methods. 

A survey from 2015 conducted by the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada found that the most commonly used methods of birth control in Canada were condoms at 54 percent, oral contraceptives, patch, and ring at 44 percent, and the withdrawal method at 12 percent. 

Despite advances in sexual health, stigmatization around sexual topics still persists. 

In particular, sexually transmitted diseases continue to carry a significant social stigma. 

“People are embarrassed to talk about sexual health if they think they have an STI, sexual dysfunction or if they are questioning their sexuality or gender,” said Stacey Taylor, a nurse practitioner working with Student Health Services. “These are all difficult topics for people to open up about and seek help in dealing with.”

As public knowledge of HIV/AIDS has increased and society has become more accepting of homosexuality and the LGBTQ+ community in general, a lot of the stigma attached to HIV and other STIs has decreased. 

“While it is difficult to generalize what the knowledge of the general public is with respect to sexual health, I think people are more open to discussing sexual health now than they were 50 years ago, which I see as a positive thing,” said Taylor.

Although she sees sexual health education increasing, Taylor maintains that there is room for improvement. 

“I do think we need to continue to push for more sexual health education in schools so that we can ensure that younger people a) become better informed earlier and b) receive information that is accurate,” said Taylor. 

The gradual increase of acceptance of various sexual topics has certainly led to a society more open about sexuality and knowledgeable on sexual health, and that, arguably, makes for a society that’s sexually healthier than the one a few hundred years ago. 

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