There has been a lot of hullabeloo about Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum. So much debate and discussion about its value, relevance and appropriateness, even though, within Canada anyway, these sex ed changes merely make Ontario more in line with the other provinces. Brilliant things like this change.org petition, initiated by two young women, grew out of and gained momentum because of the brouhaha.
There was also this recent Globe and Mail article outlining reasons why people who are not ‘extreme religious fanatics’ or ‘motivated by hatred or intolerance’ are disappointed by the new curriculum.
I’m seeing three main drivers for these non-extreme and tolerant parents concerns:
1) This takes away the innocence of our children;
2) This won’t (necessarily) keep our children safe;
3) Special needs kids aren’t ready for this content, it might scare or confuse them.
I don’t buy it. I don’t assume these parents are religious fanatics or motivated by hate. I’m more likely to suppose they are afraid or ashamed of human sexuality. Most of us were taught sexual shame – explicitly or inadvertantly - in our earliest years. This makes us incredibly nervous about our kids learning about the topic and as a result we undermine new approaches to raising competent and knowledgable sexual decision-makers.
First, the notion that children are innocents. This is problematic because it requires there to be some time or moment when people cease to be innocent. We are constant learners about the realities of life – its beauty and harshness. The lessons ought to be constantly unfolding and not just in the ways that highlight everything that is good. Not even fairytales do that. If we wait until some future date, we may find that our child’s well meaning heart, curiosity, imagination and care free mind have already been influenced by mass media, their friends, and even us. It’s amazing what they learn when we think they aren’t paying attention…
Next, pursuing safety for our kids. Absolutely important. Between toxins in the water, speeding cars on residential streets, not to mention the fact that they can fall and bump their heads, safety concerns are all around us. But we can’t innoculate our children from all harm, as much as we might like. We can equip them with information about the world they live in, we can teach them how to interpret the messages they recieve, and we can love them unconditionally so that they survive adversity. We can even encourage them to thrive despite it (maybe even because of it).
But wait, I am especially troubled with this safety argument because it suggests that sexuality isn’t safe. Of course there are ways that people take advantage of and are reckless with others. People can be abusive and cause harm. And this is true where sex is concerned, of course. But if sex ed is primarily in place to keep our kids safe then I think we are failing them. Sex and sexuality are overwhelmingly forces of good in the world. We can communicate that it’s a wonderful part of the human experience AND that it requires care. To me, that is a messsage that is likely to serve a person well (and help keep them safe) their whole lives.
Finally, meeting the sex education needs of young people with learning challenges will undoubtably need to be accommodated. But this isn’t specific to sex ed. All of their learning needs have to be examined and planned so that each individual person is able to grow and develop in the best ways possible. Parents of young kids generally know their kids best and I’m a firm believer in advocating for your child as a learner. Still, I think it is relevant to point out that vulnerable children are also (sometimes particularly) vulnerable to sexual preditors. In part, we can equip these kids but giving them tools for managing themselves in situations that are confusing or dangerous.
Ontario’s sex education curriculum will offer young people great tools for living. Fundamentally, it will teach them to know and respect their bodies, to appreciate differences and will highlight communication and empathy as critical life skills. As parents, rather than fighting it, we can talk to our kids about the content. We can add our perspectives and values to support raising sex smart kids.
As parents we can talk to our kids early and often about sex and sexuality. Here’s what I wrote about talking to young kids about porn and the first conversation I had with my kid about sexual assault. Both were introduced after many conversations about how sex and sexuality are wonderful, life enhancing things.