A ‘Wynne’ for Sexual Health Education

This week in Ontario, a new curriculum for Sexual Health Education in public and Catholic schools has been put forward. Compared to its 1998 predecessor, it is highly innovative. Touching on topics such as cyber safety tips, a discussion on consent, as well as a discussion of ‘alternative sexualities’ (namely homosexuality.) I have been asked a number of times what I think about it, given that I have taught many of the topics in public and Catholic school settings already. I personally think its a great step in the right direction.

Having taught many of these topics in high school, I honestly believe that tackling sexual health education for the first time in grade 9 is far too little too late. In Catholic schools when I taught the ‘warning signs of abuse’ in grade 12, I wasn’t dealing with children who were scared of the possibility of this, but with young adults who were having the horrifying revelation of ‘I was abused, I just didn’t know what to call it.” At this point, our education system is reactive, like putting a bandage on a life threatening wound. All the parents who believe it is their job to teach their children these things have clearly not been doing such a good job of educating them.

I went through the Ontario curriculum, I received the fear based education that we implemented before. As a girl, what this education taught me, is that if I had sex, I would either get pregnant, or get some awful sexually transmitted disease that would have horrifying and painful symptoms. I’ve had sex since, and neither of these things have happened. The desires I had already been experiencing for years were not touched upon, but instead shamed. That year I made it my New Years resolution never to masturbate, or think about sexual activities ever again. This proved to be incredibly difficult, especially given that I occupy a body which society has deemed stereotypically desirable.

When I started thinking about going to University, my parents enrolled me in a self defence class. While I am thankful for the sentiment, what I found is that these self defence tactics would do little to ever protect me. I still experienced unwanted advances and even sexual assault in my time at university. I remember telling my mother with bewilderment that in first year I was ‘beating off the boys with a stick’. The only way I knew how to deal with their unwanted advances was the way I had been taught. To cross my legs and be a good girl. If me and my peers had been discussing consent in grade 4, maybe this wouldn’t have been the case. Maybe I would have been better armed to deal with the situation, or maybe I wouldn’t have had to dealt with it at all.

The current curriculum we have teaches victim blaming, it teaches that boys are supposed to be uncontrollable, and as women, we are supposed to control them. This is an all to familiar theme with many of the posts on this blog. We have already unpacked that not all men have uncontrollable desires, and not all women want to push them away when they are presented to them. Not to mention, that the curriculum we are teaching completely ignores same sex attracted youth, and trans identities.

This curriculum, naturally is being met with shock and repulsion from the more conservative groups in the province. Some of the most common arguments surrounding the new curriculum include homophobic statements such as ‘it will turn them into homosexual minions’ and ‘what’s next, safe animal sex?” Many parents are loudly declaring that the age at which they hope to start education (grade 4, around age 9) is far too young.

To all of those arguments, I have a few things to say. First off, to the parents who think their children are too young for this information. We have proven time and time again (much to EVERYONE’S horror and dismay) that there is no such thing as ‘too young’ to be the victim of sexual assault. We have all heard about the creepy coach, the online pervert, and the overly friendly minister, just to name the stereotypic culprits. By saying your child is too young to be educated on things like consent, and cyber safety, you are saying your child is too young to be protected. A parents job is to protect their child, to teach them about values and morality that will give them tools against this often immoral world. By telling your child they are too young for this information, you are neglecting that duty as a parent. You are saying ‘my child has no agency, my child is incapable of making decisions to protect themselves.’ This is particularly problematic when we consider that until 18, they are still considered children. At this age many of them are no longer living at home, but instead in residences where their chance of being sexually assaulted sky rockets.

In grade 4 we are not going to be telling your child about BDSM and other fringe sexual activities. Instead we will be informing them that sex is natural, and in fact required to continue our existence on this planet. We will be teaching them things like ‘my body is nobodies body but mine’, a line similar to the ‘you can’t hit Sally, because Sally is a person, you wouldn’t want to get hit, would you, Sally is the same as you’ line that we already feed them as early as 2 or 3 years old. We need to teach children consent, and compassion towards others, because unfortunately, it is not common sense.

I understand that parents are not really worried about consent, but rather the fact that the curriculum will discuss homosexuality and possibly touch on transgender identities. This part is sheer transphobia and homophobia. Children who do not identify with their gender know this incredibly early. There are stories of little boys slamming their hands on the dinner table when called a boy correcting their parents by screaming ‘I am a girl’. These children need to be told that this is okay, and that it is not something to be ashamed of. Teaching children about different sexual orientations and about different gender identities is not a difficult thing to do. At such a young age they will accept it with no learned hatred (unless you have already instilled hatred in your innocent child that is.) It also is in no way going to indoctrinate them into becoming ‘homosexual minions’. Instead, what it will do is create a generation of more tolerant, compassionate humans. By teaching children that these identities exist, you will curb the depression and self-loathing that many same sex attracted youth and trans youth feel. This can be exemplified by the Leelah Alcorn suicide case, where the parents shamed their child for her trans identity. If that case alone isn’t enough to convince you then I suggest you peruse the Canadian Mental Health Report on LGBT Mental Health in Ontario. It paints a bleak picture of high suicide rates, alcohol and drug abuse and victimization by hate crimes.

The take home message is simple, this curriculum is good for your child. It will help them protect themselves from predators, both online and in person; it will help them to be more tolerant, and more mentally stable; and it will increase their confidence and self-esteem. I ask all the parents out there, which one of you doesn’t want a happier, more protected, more confident child. Saying you don’t want your child to learn these things is basically vowing to not protect your child to the best of your ability.

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