A Facebook group is calling for Ontario parents and caregivers to keep their kids out of school for a week, starting May 4th, as a form of protest against the sex education changes in the update Health and Physical Education curriculum.
A lot of families feel that the province is denying their right to teach children about sexuality at home. There’s concern that sex ed components of the new curriculum will force children to consider certain aspects of sexuality before they’re ready and that being presented with this knowledge will disturb children or confuse them with alternative perspectives from those they learn at home.
I get that these concerns almost always come from a place of love and concern. But I think there’s also a lot of misinformation based on incorrect assumptions floating around. I think some folks see sexuality as only being about adult sexual behaviour, rather than a fundamental part of humanity that’s with us from birth. I know - because I’ve spoken to them - that some people don’t see how it’s possible to talk about body parts, or consent or gender diversity in terms that second grader can understand.
I get it...but it’s frustrating. Because I know comprehensive sexuality education that starts early can do great things. It’s linked to more positive sexual health outcomes, higher relationship satisfaction, lower incidences of sexual violence and more positive body image in adolescence and young adulthood. I also know that youth have unprecedented exposure to sensationalized images of sexuality in the media. I know that kids in North America today are starting puberty early than any previous generation. I know that providing young people with accurate information about sexuality is critical to their well-being.
I applaud the families who insist being their kids’ primary sex educator. My career is about encouraging folks to do just that. But school sex-education is important too. Not every child has parents who are alive, present, willing, and capable of taking on their sex education. Plus, sex ed isn’t just about my kid or your kid. It isn’t just about sharing our individual beliefs in a vacuum. Sexual attitudes and behaviour ripple out and have a broad social effect on issues like homophobia, transphobia, sexual health and sexual violence.
Pulling children out of school may send a message that parents are unhappy and folks certainly have a right to protest the curriculum if they want to. If you’re an Ontario parent/caregiver who’s nervous about the updates, but want you want to different course of action, here are three things you can do:
Seriously. News pieces, reports and blog posts (mine included) are biased and only provide a small glimpse into what’s being taught in the classroom.
This curriculum actually involved greater public consultation that most others; however, there are many parents who feel they were kept in the dark. The updates don’t come into effect for four more months.* The curriculum is publicly available for all to see. If you’re concerned about what your child is going to be learning, spend some time reading the updated curriculum. It covers the learning goals, explains why they’ve been put in place and give suggestions for teacher prompts. You might find you feel better about about the proposed changes. And if you don’t, at least you’ll be able to advocate for your child from a place of knowledge, rather than hearsay.
Just a heads up, it’s a big document. If you don’t have time to read it all, you could start by checking out the guidelines for your kid’s specific grade.
*Probably longer. Most teachers don’t dive into the sex ed portion of HPE first thing in September.
Talk to your kids’ teacher. Check in with the principal. Find out when they plan to teach the sex education units. If you’re feeling iffy about certain topics regarding sexuality ask how the teacher plans to approach them. If you know what’s coming up, you can start preparing your child at home, by starting some early, easy conversations about those same topics. Share a few simple facts or debunk some myths. Talk about some of your personal and/or family values.
You can also contact your local school trustee and district school board to find out what type of training and support teachers are getting to help them implement these changes.
Youth benefit tremendously when they receive sex education at home AND at school, so don’t be shy about getting a heads up on what’s happening in your kid’s classroom.
Gender diversity. Sexual orientation. Consent. I didn’t learn about these things growing up. Neither did a lot of people. Because no one taught us about these things as children (in fact, folks probably went out of their way NOT to teach us these things), a lot of us feel these topics can’t be taught in a way that’s suitable for children.
Here I will reiterate - sexuality is NOT just about having sex! It is totally possible to teach subjects related to sexuality to younger kids without using graphic imagery or launching into explicit descriptions of sexual acts.
It’s worth taking a look at books for kids and teens about sexuality. These are some books I like in particular, but there so many great titles out there. Yes, these books are aimed at youth, but they’re also amazing resources for us adults because we get to see what type of information is suitable for young learners and provides examples of how to talk about sexuality in a kid appropriate way.
And there’s always Google...or your search engine of choice. Just type “How to talk to [your child’s age] year-olds about [aspect of sex education that’s freaking you out]”. There are a wealth of articles available on how to have these conversations with your kids.
Sex education does not need to be about parents vs. public education. A robust, comprehensive sex ed curriculum is something we can all use to our advantage and more importantly...to benefit our children.
Let's forgo the foreplay and jump right in, shall we? Here are 12 confessions (some dark, some deep) of a professional Sex Educator:
1. I have a really hard time with violence - even watching it on TV and in movies upsets me. The first time I saw people engaging in S&M I was surprised to discover that I felt happy. I realized it was because everyone involved was enjoying themselves. Witnessing S&M taught me that inflicting pain is not the same as violence.
2. I really, really like food for eating. I’m oddly squeamish about using it for sex stuff.
3. I seem to be drawn to voyeuristic cats. I’ve had three, all of whom enjoyed intruding on me during sexy times.
4. I’m good at putting on condoms. Like, really good. I can put on a condom one-handed, no-handed, with my feet, and blindfolded.
5. I really want to be supportive when my son starts dating. I want to trust him and respect his right to make his own choices. But if he winds up dating someone with a uterus, I’m worried that in a moment of weakness I’ll scream “DON’T GET PREGNANT!” during dinner.
6. I always have to look up the spelling of “epididymis.” Including just now.
7. The first time I saw porn, I was shocked to discover that intercourse involved thrusting. I’d always imagined that a person put their penis inside someone’s vagina and the people just sort of sat there until they came.
8. In my opinion the sexiest word ever is: cock.
9. In my opinion the least sexy word ever is: chafe.
10. I’ve had one simultaneous orgasm with one partner. I liked the part where it was an orgasm, but I wasn’t wild about the synchronization. I’m a bit of an attention seeker. I like having my own climactic moments.
11. I’m always excited when my work takes me to the sexual health clinic. I’m oddly fascinated by STI testing and the array of birth control that’s available.
12. My parents gave me the full lowdown on what to expect when I got my period. Even so, my first time, part of me was surprised to see blood instead of a tidy pool of blue liquid.
Care to share any of yours?
There’s more to talking about sex than telling children about their body parts and where babies come from. Throughout their childhood and adolescence, our kids deal with all manner of things including dating, gender, sexting, consent, sexual orientation, puberty, safer sex, pregnancy, Internet porn, social media, abstinence, peer pressure, and more.
Part of our job as grown-ups is helping youth navigate their sexual development. There are lots of important sex-related conversations to be had and if your experience has been like mine, some talks are great, while others leave you feeling awkward, anxious, and unreasonably sweaty.
I don’t have all the secrets for the perfect sex talk, but I do have three simple guidelines that can help ensure the conversations we do have with our children are honest, informative, and reliable.
A value is a principle or standard of behaviour that we feel is important. Sexual values are usually influenced by a combination of social norms, our personal morality, and our individual desires, identities, and interests. As children grow up, they develop their own set of sexual values. They may not be exactly the same, but families usually have a lot of influence on how kid’s values take shape.
Having sexual values is very useful, because the options for expressing and experiencing sexuality are virtually endless, and while sex can be a very good thing, not everything is good for everyone. Sharing our sexual values with our kids encourages them develop their own, which in turn helps them make choices about what type of sexual experiences they do and don’t want.
As caregivers, we also use values to create household rules for our children about what kind of sexual behaviour is or isn’t allowed in our homes.
Where talking about values can get tricky is when we frame them as Things That Are Universally True About Sex instead of Things We Feel Personally About Sex. Let’s say for example, I notice my young child is masturbating while watching cartoons and I say, “Sweetie, that’s not nice. Don’t do that.” Or I say to my your tween, “No one is going to respect you dressed like that,” as they try leave the house in an outfit I don’t like.
As a parent I might have certain values about masturbation or dressing in a certain way. But I can say that in a slightly different way. I can say “Sweetie, if you’re going to touch yourself like that, I would like you to do it privately,” or “I don’t approve of what you’re wearing. I’d like you change, please.” I’m still being clear about the type of behaviour I expect. But I’m not telling my child that they are wrong or bad for feeling differently.
By owning our sexual values, we’re can establish boundaries honestly, while still respecting our children’s right to have their own feelings and eventually develop their own set of values.
A fact is a consistently true piece of information based on evidence. Examples of sexual facts include:
Facts can be a great way to support your sexual values. For example:
PARENT: By the way, I left some practice condoms in your room.
PARENT: Condoms. You can practice putting them on now, so when you’re ready to have sex, you’ll know how to do it. I got you some gloves and a dental dam too.
KID: Ugh! What is WRONG with you?
PARENT: Nothing. I just think if someone’s going to be sexually active that it’s important to take care of their health.
KID: Wow. You’re just...wow.
PARENT: I’m trying to help you reduce your risk of getting an STI.
KID: *Pretends not to hear. Checks phone*
PARENT: *Grabs own phone and text* I <3 U AND WANT U TO BE HEALTHY. SOMEDAY U WILL THANK ME!
You can also state the “fact” of your own experience when you think it’s relevant to the sex-talk you’re having with your kid:
PARENT: I think being able to talk to your partner about what you want is an important part of being ready for sex. When I had sex for the first time, I was too scared to give my boyfriend any direction. It wasn’t at all what I’d hoped and I’ve always regretted not speaking up.
Providing youth with sexual facts not only supports your values, it shows them that you’re a reliable source of information and someone they can trust when they have questions.
A myth is a widely held belief that is NOT true.
There are a few issues related to sex that I feel very strongly about. I know for me, if something related to one of those issues comes up - especially if it’s related to the well-being of my kid - I really need to watch what I say, because it can be tempting to slip into myths and/or generalizations.
Ours is a historically sex-negative culture. We’ve built quite the collection of sexual myths to justify the fear and intolerance that’s been bred around certain sexual behaviour. Once upon a time we told tall tales about masturbation turning people blind and female sexual desire being a mental illness.
Our modern myths may be more subtle but they still exist. Promiscuous girls don’t respect themselves. Women who are raped can’t get pregnant. Trans kids are just confused or following a fad.
Sexual myths are often stated as sexual facts because doing that - at least in the moment - provides seemingly sound support for our values.
But myths don’t support our values. In fact, relying on myths or false generalizations can undermine our credibility. Kids are resourceful. They can find information for themselves. They have experiences beyond the ones we provide for them. And when they find out we’ve told them something that turns out not to be true, they may not open up to us the next time they have a sexual question or problem.
By communicating our beliefs, without relying on myths, we preserve our integrity as reliable sources of both information and role models for our children.