Ignore the Pearl-Clutching Conservatives; Ontario Kids Need a New Sex-Ed Curriculum

by | February 25, 2015
filed under Can-Con, Politics, Sex-Ed

Photo of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in a grey suit standing at a microphone

Premier Kathleen Wynne

If you were listening to AM640 on Monday morning, you would have certainly thought that Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals was suggesting that schools start passing out dildos to every child Grade 2 and older.

In fact, on Monday February 23, Kathleen Wynne’s team finally unveiled their new sex education curriculum. This Ministry document has been given a face-lift for Grades 1 through 12; the curriculum will update, reshuffle and enhance the existing content that educators are expected to touch on throughout each academic year.

@HisFeministMama I think it’s great. Including consent/”no means no” is HUGE

— Josh Grant (@joshin4colours) February 24, 2015

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the last time the Ontario Ministry of Education changed the sex education curriculum, that no one had an email address and Pluto was still a planet. We were ready for a reboot. In a curriculum that was drafted while Full House was in its early seasons, there was no inclusion of language that addresses consent, rape culture, trans gender identity, or anal sex.

Instead, there was a focus on STIs and basic anatomy. To be fair, the preexisting curriculum has been useful, but it no longer addresses the needs of students who are living in a world that has changed drastically from the social landscapes of 1988.

But, here we are, in 2015, with a Liberal government that has responded to the insistence of experts and parents with a revamped learning map and a new set expectations for students aged 6 to 17. The new curriculum will be taught in all public, private and Catholic schools across the province with teachers reporting on achievements and learning goals related to the new content. The template for delivery includes age-appropriate content on topics spanning from masturbation and condom use to enthusiastic consent and what healthy relationships look like. The curriculum has also made space for talking more openly about gender identity and sexual preferences, while also encouraging children to use the appropriate terminology for their sexual body parts at an earlier age.

@HisFeministMama@am640 it really needs to be covered as early as possible. Like kindergarten early.

— Erika, Ascending (@icequeenerika) February 24, 2015

Years of planning and consultation with experts from diverse fields, including educators, physicians, psychologists, sex experts and child development counsellors, have shaped this new learning journey for Ontario’s students. Additionally, the Ministry has released a number of documents to help parents and educators feel supported in delivering this new set of skills to the province’s children.

Surprisingly, hundreds of protesters gathered outside Queen’s Park to protest the government’s decision to expand the awareness of Ontario students. Flaming the anti-sex-ed citizens, Conservative MPP’s, including Monte McNaughton (Lambton-Kent-Essex) insinuated that the Premier’s sexuality disqualified her from spearheading this much needed improvement. In chambers on Tuesday, McNaughton attempted to derail Wynne, who was quick to highlight her numerous points of expertise including a Masters of Education.

It’s an odd issue to protest. Sex education has been a part of most provincial curricula since the 1950s, including these worried-over topics like masturbation and penetrative sex. Trying to parse out actual concern and critique from a mob mentality of pearl-clutching “think of the children” appeals, protesters and nay-sayers seem focused on the idea that imparting sexual information to our children serves only to “groom” them for teen pregnancy, pedophiles, abuse and “early sex.” In fact, students who take part in sex ed are much more likely to avoid the scenarios that most unaware parents present as their concerns. 

From my position as a feminist parent, raising a male ally who is preparing to enter the Grade 1 curriculum, I applaud the Ontario government for finally recognizing that without this shift in what we are teaching our children about their bodies, sex and relationships, we are willfully harming the next generation.

I do, in fact, want my son to be “groomed” by this sex education; I want him to hear from other role models that women menstruate, that oral sex needs to be done in a safe and secure situation, that consent is an ongoing conversation, and that sexting can be dangerous. To ignore the need for this curriculum, assuming that all children will be immersed in these subjects in the home environment is a dangerous.

Students in high school and post-secondary institutions have demonstrated that there is an absolute need for deeper and more meaningful conversations about sex, bodies and sexuality. Rape chants, revenge porn and instances of rape don’t occur in a vacuum; they are a part of an environment where stereotypes, myths and power dynamics are fostered when parents and educators don’t provide the background for students to be empowered and aware.

Teaching a child in Grade 1 about the correct terminology for her vulva is a part of the spectrum that will empower her to give and expect enthusiastic consent. Helping young boys in Grade 3 understand that bisexuality is a normal way to exist in a sexuality spectrum will curb online bullying of LGBTQ+ students in high school.

This curriculum is perhaps the best set of tools that we can collectively offer Ontario students. We can’t assure that all parents will foster these concepts in the home environment, but teachers are fundamental stakeholders in the health and happiness of our children, I feel comfortable asking them to talk about clitorises and intimate partner violence.

@HisFeministMama I’m thrilled. Real talk about Sex leads to healthy relationships. Happy my kid will experience it, hope it’s taught well.

— kristine collins (@longlegscollins) February 24, 2015

Of course, your kids aren’t forced to hear about chlamydia and teen pregnancy. Go ahead, pull them out; it’s your right after all. But, you are denying them the skills they need to navigate the world that has changed dramatically since their parents were giggling through their gym teacher’s attempt to put a condom on a banana.

We owe this to our kids.

Photo of Kathleen Wynne by Uiaeli (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons