By: Eva Clark-Lepard
The Ontario sexual education (sex-ed) curriculum has not been updated since 1998. At that point in time, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion topped the charts and butterfly clips were actually fashionable. This was six years before Facebook, eight years before Twitter and 13 years before Snapchat. This was two years before current ninth graders were even born. This curriculum included information on body parts, STDs and puberty. It advised teachers to mention abstinence and decision-making skills.
This September, a new health and physical education curriculum document has been introduced to classrooms all around Ontario. This curriculum includes new additions, such as the mention of gender identity, sexual orientation and a focus on diversity. The curriculum consists of required material complemented by various teacher prompts, so as to assist teachers in answering any questions the class may have.
Despite the similarities between the two curriculums, the 2015 sex-ed curriculum has certainly caused a stir. While there are a large variety of complaints with regards to the curriculum, the recurring complaints are the following: that the curriculum’s inclusion of the topic of consent will allow children to consent to sex, that the topic of gender identity will cause children to question their own gender and become confused, that the curriculum will encourage LGBTQA+ identities rather than regarding them as “sinful” and that the inclusion of the words “oral sex” and “anal sex” in regards to STD/STI transmission will cause rampant promiscuity.
These grievances and many others have been the driving force behind many public acts of protest. These include various rallies at Queen’s Park with signs emblazoned with the phrases “Kathleen Loser” and “Let kids be kids—just say no!” More recently, only half of the students at Thorncliffe Park Elementary School in Toronto attended class on Sept. 8, while graffiti bearing the phrase “Shame On You” appeared on the school days later.
The resistance to the new sex-ed curriculum is multifaceted. Many are simply misinformed, believing some of the statements described above. Others believe that sex and homosexuality should not be discussed at all. Furthermore, some believe that the values represented in the curriculum do not represent those of their family. As an individual who wants to teach sex education and research reproduction for a living, I’ll try and address these three areas of complaints.
Firstly, to those parents who believe that their children will be learning how to perform oral sex in grade eight, I beg of you to please look closer than what your friend told you or what you read in a catchy 140-character tweet. The entire curriculum is online, please read it and realize that this curriculum is only going to help keep people safe and healthy. Just to clarify, this is what Health and Physical Education Curriculum does say about oral sex: “engaging in sexual activities like oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal intercourse means that you can be infected with an STI. If you do not have sex, you do not need to worry about getting an STI.” It goes on to say that students thinking about having sex should seek out healthcare professionals who can provide important information about protection.
Secondly, to the Ontarians who are sex-negative (the belief that sex is harmful or shameful) or homophobic, I’m sorry that the government of Ontario is trying to help raise your kids to have more meaningful relationships, less shame about their bodies and less hate for the members of their communities. Hopefully the kids that don’t skip those lessons will still create a community that celebrates diversity and body positivity for your child to grow up in.
Lastly, to those who believe that the sex-ed curriculum goes against their beliefs and values. I respect that Ontario is a diverse province with different religious and cultural belief systems. I respect that these systems may classify homosexuality as a sin and condemn various types of relationships and sexualities.
However, the values infused into the sex-ed curriculum are not random; they are the values of Canada. It has been legal for LGBTQ+ individuals to get married in Ontario since 2002 and there are Gay-Straight Alliances in middle schools. This curriculum is founded on the basis of kindness to our neighbours and the celebration of diversity—diversity of sexual orientation, of hair colour, of religious affiliation. In the words of Edward Keenan, “those values remain worth teaching.”
Photo Credit: CBC