Content warning: graphic discussion of sexuality and discussion of sexual dysfunction disorder
2015 was an exciting year: we found liquid water on Mars, I started at McMaster, we had a federal election, and Ontario unveiled its new sexual education and health curriculum.
The new Ontario government is reverting to the previous version which debuted in 1998. I was living my best life back then, but little did I know that I would suffer greatly at the hands of the 1998 sex ed curriculum.
Not to spoil my story but to give some context, I have to actively tell myself that I am worthy of love.
Words like consent, clitoris, sexual dysfunction and gay never came up in my sex ed classes. Instead, I was told to be afraid, to fear and be ashamed of my body and the consequences that my actions can have on it. The only way to truly love yourself is to be modest, chaste or to be fearful and in awe of the power of God.
The 1998 sex ed curriculum was bad but together, with traditional Catholic views and easily impressionable youth, you’ve got quite the unholy trinity.
It took me too long to acknowledge how harmful and false my formal sex education was. In elementary school, I was told over and over that sex and sexuality are only for straight, married couples. In grade 4, I asked my teacher how babies are made. My class yelled at me, “oh my god why would you ask that?”, or “you just want attention!” My teacher sent us away to collect her thoughts.
After recess she sat us down, took a deep breath, and said that babies are made “through sexual intercourse”. We giggled, while relief washed over her face. In hindsight, I am certain that she consulted other teachers on how to handle such an inappropriate and controversial question.
The rest of elementary school was filled with poorly labelled drawings and insistence of fear. It worked. If you fear God and follow His teachings, you won’t hurt yourself or others. This seemed reasonable; I do try to avoid pain where I can.
One such instance of this is my refusal to wear tampons. When I finally found my vagina, with the assistance of my mom at the ripe age of 13, I found it too painful to insert the tampon. Skipping 5 weekly practices once a month really sets you back as an athlete.
Another question my classmates and I had was that if sex before marriage is so bad, then why isn’t it one of the Ten Commandments? How foolish we were to think adultery was only possible in current relationships. By having sex before marriage, you are robbing your future spouse of the chance to share that with you and only you.
In high school, we watched a video of a woman repenting for her premarital sex. She was so ashamed and so sorry, but her darling fiancé forgave her. He was still excited to share their marriage, but he is so glad that he doesn’t feel the shame she feels. An ashamed woman and her righteous man, I bet you’ve heard that before.
Masturbation is a sin, birth control causes cancer and you can get pregnant if you’re fooling around in your underwear. I was educated enough to know how false the birth control claim was but the same can’t be said for the pregnancy claim.
I was 13 when I heard that and about two years later, those were the thoughts on my mind as the cute boy in his underwear laid beside me. My first and only condom demonstration would come years later, courtesy of my neighbour in my first year of university.
Now, back to my discussion of pain.
I am so sorry that you received such poor health education. We deserve so much better. I am healing but it will take time. The years of fear mongering from my schooling left me with a sexual dysfunction disorder that currently prevents me from penetrative sex.
A male-identifying friend I made at McMaster once told me that sex was such a vital part of a relationship and that he likely wouldn’t stay in a relationship if, after three weeks, they weren’t having sex. I have hidden from romance and relationships for so long because these experiences, from elementary school to now, have made me feel as though I don’t deserve romantic love.
I’m lucky to have so much love in my life, from family and friends and from myself, but my inability to relate to the media I consume and the “normal experiences” of young women is unsurprisingly difficult.
I have always been grateful for teachers, I still am, but they need the necessary tools to allow us to succeed. We need an updated curriciulum. I needed it 15 years ago and we all need it today.