Ontario’s New Sex-Ed Curriculum, the Pros and the Cons

*Update: Feb 23 – 1:20PM – I’ve finally found the link to the actual document and am reviewing it now. Please check out the link below for the full curriculum.

Today, the Province of Ontario revealed a controversial new Sexual Education program that has parents (mainly Christians) up in arms across the province. The issue? A vast change in both the content that is involved and the curriculum, as well as the age that it is starting.

I’m pretty sure we can all at least agree that the current curriculum needs to be updated, drastically. I also understand that parents want the capability to discuss these things with their children, but the problem comes into play when they’re not, or they’re not addressing it right.

We live in a sex-saturated society. One where even gum is being sold as if it is a condom. Music, television, movies. In the past five years I have seen more boobs and male-bits in PG movies than I can recall growing up. When I was a kid, I knew a number of girls who were sleeping around by the age of 11. If it was already that bad in the 90s, I’m terrified to learn how many younger children are starting to experiment now.

I’ve seen parents who are concerned about this ‘putting ideas’ in their kids heads. I get that, but the problem is, those ideas are already being put there. If not by television, commercials and music in your own home, then by friends and classmates who are already being exposed to it. We like to believe in our children’s innocence, but often we forget that children pick up on more than we could ever expect.

So far, we know that the outline suggests the following educational structure:
Grade 1 – Consent (Including understanding facial cues and body language), Potential of Internet Dangers/Safe-searching, Difference Between Real and Fictional Violence
Grade 3 – Homosexuality and Same-sex marriages
Grade 4 – Dangers of Sexting
Grade 6 – Discussions about Puberty, Masturbation
Grade 7 – Preventing STD’s, Oral and Anal Sex

So let’s break each of these down.

Grade 1

Consent – I’ve seen parents freaking out that this will mean teaching their kids to say yes to sex, yes to being touched, and in a court of law, allow pedophile’s and rapists to get away with it. Let’s address that first. Firstly – a child under the legal age, regardless of saying yes, is still under age. That means it is still statutory rape. We still see this all the time now – in fact, there have been cases of older boyfriends being charged for sleeping with their younger girlfriend because of this.

Photo: We Give Consent Campaign via change.org

Consent is an important thing that needs to be taught – not just for saying yes, but as the curriculum outlines, for saying no as well. It’s a topic that is severely lacking – for both parties involved. Look at how many boys believe that if a girl doesn’t explicitly say no, she’s consenting? This isn’t something that should be taught after they’ve started ‘sexual exploration’ either, because by then, it’s too late. Consent is as much about teaching someone that it’s okay to say NO as it is on the fact that they can say yes. If anything, consent is more about teaching the NO and teaching that you must respect the NO. It’s also about learning that unless someone actually says yes, it’s not a yes.

According to several articles that have been released today about the curriculum, a large focus in the area of consent will be on facial expressions and body language. That means learning how to interpret that while someone may say ‘yes’, they might not actually mean it or be comfortable with it.

Here’s where I hold issue with this subject. While teaching consent at a young age is important, do we need to address it as sexual consent this young? Why not simply teach them about yes and no’s regarding things they do and don’t want to do, and wait until they’re a little older to start connecting it to sex? Can we not allow our children to retain their innocence just a little while longer, instead of forcing them into adult-style discussions?

Also, as my BFF pointed out, do they really count on being able to hold a six year old’s attention for long enough to really drive the point home? We’ve all been around six year olds. I’m pretty sure we can all figure out what they’re going to take away from this – TEACHER TOLD ME I HAVE A PENIS! And potentially, an increased drive to play ‘doctor’.

Internet/Safe-Searching – This is an insanely important issue that should be taught as early as kids are being allowed on the computer. However, much like the consent issue, at the age of six, does this need to be addressed in the context of sexual issues? But this issue is also something that should be pressed heavily on parents to address. Should a six year old really be allowed unmonitored access to the internet?

Grade 3

Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriages – I haven’t seen enough information on what exactly this topic will include to say yay or nay for it. There are debates that some believe this will be used to broach what has been labelled the ‘pro-gay’ agenda, which encourages the experimentation of sexual preference to discover what your sexual preference is. If that’s what this topic broaches, then there are two reasons I am against it.

  1. Kids are only eight years old in the third grade. Encouraging any sort of experimentation at that age is seriously wrong.
  2. Most people tend to figure out without that whether they like boys or girls. If there’s confusion as to their preference, chances are they are going to figure it out as they get older anyways.

However, if the issue is simply about the fact that there are people who prefer members of the same-sex, and that some kids have a mommy and daddy, some have two mommy’s and some have two daddy’s, I’m fine with that. Regardless of your stance on homosexuality, the fact remains that it exists. Whether you choose to teach your kids that it is right or wrong is your own prerogative. But they still need to know how to act, how to behave appropriately, and how to accept people regardless of how different they are.

This is not an issue at the age of eight that should go in depth. Much like the six year olds aren’t going to comprehend the depth and complexities of sexual consent, neither are these grade 3s going to understand the depth and complexities surrounding gay-marriage. And for those who are toting the ‘Homosexuality is wrong and this is going to corrupt my kids’ spiel, trust me, it’s not. I was quite young when my parents had to explain a bit of it to myself and my siblings, as one of our relatives is gay. It didn’t make us start to question our own preferences, and it certainly didn’t confuse us. We simply accepted it, and to us, having two uncles was a normal thing. (I should also add, they are two insanely amazing uncles, who would have made incredible parents).

Again, like the previous two issues – this isn’t necessarily an issue that should be addressed in a sexual context with children of that age. As an anti-bullying curriculum? Definitely. But as a sexuality issue to eight year olds? Probably not.

Grade 4

Photo: Cornelia Schauermann/Corbis via macleans.ca

Dangers of Sexting – HEAR HEAR! Like it or not, kids of that age are already becoming exposed to this kind of danger. With the large amount of parents that seem to think a nine year old needs a cell phone (uhm, WHY?!), this danger increases. Especially for parents who don’t feel the need to monitor what their kids are doing.This is also a subject however that expands beyond simply texting, and into bullying, harassment and other issues. Which is why I was quite happy to see in a couple of articles that the notes on this issue suggest that teachers will also be discussing the fact that things sent in text messages CAN be used legally against the sender. So, bravo here!

Grade 6

Discussions about Puberty – This is already started in most schools at Grade 6, so it’s not anything new. I do hope that there will be more in depth discussions about it though, because what we were taught didn’t really prepare us for a lot of things. (The most in depth about the changing hormones was that we might start ‘feeling things’ we didn’t feel before).

I DO really like that it apparently notes that discussions towards abstaining at this age will also be broached, and that students will be encouraged to wait until they are older.

Masturbation – Varied debate on this one. According to a few of the articles/columns I’ve seen, with this issue it’s actually up to the teacher as to whether to delve further into it than simply telling kids that it’s okay to do. I’ve seen many parents upset that this is an issue they feel should be theirs to deal with concerning their kids, but how many parents, especially religious parents, actually do broach this topic?

I’m not sure on current numbers, as I can’t seem to find any current research, but it seems to be pretty common that most tweens (specifically boys) tend to start masturbating with the discovery of porn. While most parents would like to believe that their child’s innocence can continue at least until the teen years, most don’t. By this age (11), parents should have already broached the topic with their kids. Does having this as part of the curriculum take away the parent’s right to choose when they talk about it? Maybe. But look at it this way. There will always be the kids in class, who by the fifth grade have discovered mommy or daddy’s porn stash, and they do share it with classmates and friends. Waiting to have this talk until later is not going to help your kid, who may have already made this discovery and started down the path of masturbation. And because of the Christian stance on porn, sex before marriage, etc, kids who come from religious households are more likely to beat themselves up, become ashamed and turn it into shameful, but addictive behaviour. I once had a pastor share with me that the most common thing that he has had to counsel newly-weds on is that their sexual lives were suffering because of that pornography addiction, the masturbation, and the feelings that came from the way they were taught about it.

Grade 7

Preventing STDs – Again, this issue is already spoken about, and I believe part of the Grade 7 curriculum. And it’s another important one. Kids are having sex at this age, no matter how much they’re encouraged not to, and they need to know these things.

Oral and Anal Sex – This was also somewhat addressed when I had sex ed. I haven’t seen the curriculum, so I don’t know the details, but it’s my understanding that the talks around this are NOT going to be about teaching kids a how-to, but rather focusing on the issue of STI’s, and how both of these acts have actually led to an increased number of STI’s spreading around.

I get that parents don’t like the idea of this discussion being broached. I don’t know a single parent who would like the thought of their 12 year old giving some guy a blow-job. But it happens. Ever heard of Lipstick parties? These are happening at boy/girl parties for kids in Middle School/Jr. High, where girls each get a colour of lipstick, and the boy who has the most colours on him at the end of the night is deemed a champion.

This discussion needs to happen, regardless of how uncomfortable it may make parents feel, because these are happening. And the more TV shows that are highlighting these kinds of behaviours, the more likely kids are to try it. Kids need to know about the dangers this carries regarding STI’s. And if you’re uncomfortable with your kid first learning about this through school, it’s definitely something you should be sitting down and talking with them about first.

The biggest issue I hold with this new curriculum is how secretive it was kept up until it was set to be implemented. While the curriculum needs to be updated and there are certainly some good timelines and issues, there are also some not-so-great ones that perhaps could have been adapted better had there been more public input.

A lot of this does take away the parent’s right to broach the topics with their kids, which is a definite issue with the younger ages. However, by the older grades (4+), as parents these specific issues should already be addressed with their kids. There’s nothing stopping parents from sitting down and talking first, then having a discussion after school with their kids. In fact, that’s probably the best way to go about it. If parents were more open with their kids about sexual issues, I have to wonder if we would have as many issues as we already do.

There are still a lot of issues with this curriculum, and I could only hope that the Wynne listens and accepts input on those issues. This curriculum has the potential to be a great one, but as it sits right now, it’s one that would be hard to support in its entirety.

**Update March 1, 2015 – After reading through the 225 page curriculum and chatting with some friends who are Ontario teachers, here are some of the points of the actual curriculum.

Grade 1 – Teaching of names of body parts (penis, vagina, etc
– Discussions on consent (not specifically in a sexual context) such as saying no to things that make you uncomfortable, bad touch good touch, etc.

Grade 3 – Discussions on awareness about the different types of relationships. There will not be any encouragement to explore sexuality. This is part of an initiative against bullying and harassment.

Grade 4 – I didn’t catch this part in the document (forgive me, it was a LOT of information), but apparently there will not be talk about sexting in Grade 4. This doesn’t come in until Grade 7.).

Grade 6 – Puberty and development (which they already discuss)
– Masturbation. This will not be a discussion on how to, or promoting it – it will be addressed as something that happens, and is natural, and teachers will have guidelines to answer questions about it.

Grade 7 – Sexting and the dangers of it.
– Oral and Anal sex, the dangers surrounding it and STI’s. Again, this will not be an instructional class on how to pursue having oral and anal.

Overall, the curriculum will also focus on abstinence and promoting the idea that they should be waiting until they are older. There is nothing ‘graphic’ in this new curriculum, despite what multiple conservative publications and petitions would have people believe.

Comments

  1. AbsentElemental

    I really like this curriculum and wish it would be implemented in the USA. I think that a major reason there are so many underage pregnancies in the US is because of the prevalence of abstinence only education that occurs at my schools and is taught by many families. I’m perfectly okay with people teaching their kids religion, so long as that religion does not cause them harm. Teaching just abstinence only education — while acting as if sex doesn’t exist — is extremely harmful and dangerous.

  2. Brittany Pines

    I almost feel like this curriculum is backwards…I would definitely start with puberty & what kids should expect from their own bodies just to provide background and context for some of the other discussions.

    For consent, I think that’s a really interesting to start young. Depending on how they go about it, it could be useful. I have heard of parents not forcing little kids to hug grandparents or other relatives who live far away and they aren’t comfortable with, to help promote this idea that no one has the right to touch you without your consent. As someone with estranged family, I do appreciate that idea because I remember being little and placed in situations where I felt like I knew or trusted almost no one. So in a way, I think it’s definitely something that COULD be taught at a young age…but I agree it doesn’t necessarily have to be applied to sex.

  3. baffledbaboon

    “I’ve seen parents who are concerned about this ‘putting ideas’ in their kids heads. I get that, but the problem is, those ideas are already being put there.” <– Exactly! We can't prevent the ideas being put there anymore, we can only change the way children view these ideas through education. if it is taught properly, I believe this curriculum could help reduce issues such as bullying regarding sexual orientation and teen pregnancy.

  4. Daniel (@zotwot)

    OK as someone with a degree in primary education I feel I kind of know a fair bit about this stuff. I only looked at your summary of the document but it looked pretty reasonable to me. Whenever a change in a sex education curriculum happens the media immediately start saying that young children will be taught to have sex and masturbate etc etc. I’ve never ever heard of a curriculum that in reality does that. A good sex education curriculum, and from what I can see this appears to be one, is always “age-appropriate” which means exactly what it sounds like. Sex education always starts at a young age but it’s a broad subject which usually starts with relationships and moves on to the actual sex stuff at the right age. There’s always some debate about what age is appropriate and in reality that is different for every single child. The best a curriculum can do is put it at the age when it is appropriate for the most number of children. At no point does a good sex ed curriculum ever encourage masturbation or sex, it simply teaches what they are. And in most places parents have the choice to opt their children out of most of the sex education, so I’d assume that is the same there (usually only the basic biology bits are 100% compulsory).

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