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Opinion: Sex, health, and everything in between

Breaking down barriers to sexual health services at U of T is more important than ever
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We often underestimate the true impact of sexual health services and don’t realize just how important it is to have access to them.CC Bryan Calabro via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; NATHAN CHAN/ THE VARSITY ; VURJEET MADAN/ THE VARSITY
We often underestimate the true impact of sexual health services and don’t realize just how important it is to have access to them.CC Bryan Calabro via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS; NATHAN CHAN/ THE VARSITY ; VURJEET MADAN/ THE VARSITY

On May 2, 2022, newsite Politico published a dreadful leak: the Supreme Court of the United States was planning to overturn the long contested landmark case, Roe v Wade. Nearly a month and a half later, on June 24, the case made headlines once more when Roe v Wade was officially overturned. This marked the end of an era in which reproductive rights were protected across the US. 

So, regardless of whether you live in the US or Canada, discussing sexual health has never been more important. The Canadian healthcare system and the Health and Wellness Centre at U of T need to ensure access to sexual health services such as sexual health education, contraceptives, and abortion services.

How accessible are sexual health services across Toronto?

We often underestimate the true impact of sexual health services and don’t realize just how important it is to have access to them. Having health clinics at the ready is a necessity that the healthcare system needs to work harder to ensure. 

Across Toronto, there are various sexual health services available. The Toronto Central Healthline’s Sexual Health and Reproductive Health Services alone contains a vast database of well known and reputable clinics around the GTA. The database contains comprehensive lists of clinics offering various sexual health services, including various types of contraceptives, abortions, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment. 

However, there are a fair share of holes in the system too. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights’ 2019 study found that no clinic in Canada offered abortion services for people more than 23 weeks and six days into their pregnancies, regardless of circumstance. 

It’s also incredibly difficult to access abortion past 20 weeks. In Canada, only three legitimate locations offer post-20 week gestation abortions. People often have to travel to the US for pregnancy termination beyond 23 weeks. Not only is this option extremely costly and time consuming, but it is also now in jeopardy due to Roe v Wade overturning. 

There are also physical and financial barriers to accessing these services. In a report published by Canadians for Choice in 2006, geography heavily matters in determining one’s ability to receive sexual health services. Canadians living in rural areas often must travel to great lengths to find help. This geographic inaccessibility disproportionately affects people who cannot take time off work and incurs extra costs of transportation on top of an already expensive bill. The city of Toronto must take into consideration that there needs to be safe, quality, and easily accessible clinics for people. After all, an ineffective service is no better than a nonexistent service. 

What about at U of T?

Here at U of T, things are a little bit more in reach. The U of T Health and Wellness Centre’s sexual health services cover most necessities; the centre offers a wide range of contraceptives like birth control pills and even IUD insertion. 

But the Health and Wellness Centre still lacks some necessities — most notably, abortion services. This gap means many students must trek outside of campus and into the city for these services, where all of the previously mentioned barriers come into play. 

Maintaining good sexual health helps each and every person also maintain good physical and mental health. Not having adequate and readily available sexual health services places a strain on people’s daily lives that may interfere with school and work. As such, advocating for improved sexual health services in Toronto is for the betterment of everyone’s lives — including U of T students.  

However, it should also be noted that sexual health isn’t just about abortion or pregnancy. It is also about maintaining one’s body, mind, and emotions. It is being educated on how bodies work. There is an inherent importance to respecting our own bodies, and ensuring others respect them too. Having these resources available to people in need at any time ensures that everyone has full autonomy over their bodies and their sexual health. That’s why these services are so important — not just in Toronto, but everywhere. 

Isabella Liu is a second-year student at Victoria College studying international relations, public policy and environmental studies. She is an associate comment editor at The Varsity