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Sex Ed Saves Lives: Addressing Concerns in the Ontario Sex Ed Curriculum

Before we dive into the facts regarding Ontario’s new sexual education curriculum and a discussion about whether it is good or bad for children- I need to make one fact abundantly clear:

You can opt your child out of sex education classes in Ontario.

Let me say it again, with slightly different wording:

NOBODY in a position of authority in Ontario can force your child to attend sexual education classes or lessons, except one of their parents.

Nobody.

No teacher, no politician, no judge, no principal, no parent- other than the child’s own parent.
Nobody.  Not a single body.  I can hold all the people who can do this above my head while knitting you a scarf.

Why is that so important?  It’s important because it means that if you are against the Ontario government imposing the new sex ed curriculum, you are not telling schools what your kids get to learn- you are telling other parents what their kids get to learn.  You are telling me what my kids get to learn.
The overriding issue for many of you is that your rights as a parent are being infringed upon by the government, when in point-of-fact, not only are your rights as a parent NOT being undermined by the government- you are quite literally attempting to take away other parent’s rights to offer their child a factual education.

This issue is decidedly not about parents worrying about their kids education.  This is about some parents in Ontario worrying about how my kids– and other people’s kids– are educated in Ontario.

So why would they be motivated to be so concerned about how the province chooses to educate somebody else’s kids?  One can only wonder.
Perhaps they think that I don’t have a right to decide if the curriculum is right for my children.  Perhaps they think that they know what’s better for other people’s kids than the parents of those kids.  Perhaps they worry that my children might disprove the sincerely held belief they have that birth control is a scourge upon the earth and the teaching of it’s existence and proper use will lead to giant teen orgies fueled by Red Bull and Deadmau5.
Who knows for sure?  Certainly they can’t believe that teaching Grade 3 students that LGBT people exist- and that those students might have friends whose parents are same-sex, or have an uncle who is transgender- might somehow turn these children into sexually confused beings, demanding gender reassignment because it “sounds cool”.
Certainly they can’t, right?  Right?

If you were reading this blog because you wanted to post a eulogy to parental rights in Ontario, you are welcome to stop reading at this point.  I hope I have assured you that your kids won’t be indoctrinated by facts, science, and the progressive march of our society.  Neither will any other kids of parents who would rather their kids be confused about why their Peepee is getting hard at inconvenient times or why their Hoohoo (also known as a Patutie) feels funny when that cute girl in gym class brushes up against her chests.  Those kids can continue to bask in parent-mandated ignorance.
So to you parents, I say “Adios”.  It’s been a slice.  You can feel some cold comfort that my son or daughter won’t be giving your son or daughter HPV when they do decide to be sexually active, because I got them the Gardasil vaccine.  Also, because of our wonderful education system and new sex ed curriculum, my kids will be all about using protection and enthusiastic consent.  They’ll help get your kids up to speed, I promise.

Addressing concerns in the curriculum

To those parents who are concerned about the new curriculum, but most of the information they have is recycled from church and mosque newsletters or Campaign Life Coalition, I’d like to offer a frank and factual conversation about Ontario’s new Sex Education Curriculum that comes into effect in the 2015 school year.

First of all, not everything you have been told is a lie.  Some of it is half-truths.  Some of it is lies of omission. Sex Ed Saves  Lives Some of it is factually-adjacent.  The people leading the charge against the new curriculum aren’t liars- they are more like people who want to distort facts and hide the truth in order to get you to agree with them.
There is a big difference.

There are several concerns they keep repeating in their attempt to prey on your unwillingness to wade through 240 pages of truly boring curriculum. I’d like to address as many of them as I can, giving you a gauge of how truthful the claim is on a scale of “true” to “Maybe they think there are 9 Commandments”.  So let’s begin with the one that makes the least amount of sense first:

Concern #1: The new curriculum was written by a radical lesbian and a convicted pedophile, so it reflects their Gay/NAMBLA agenda.

Accuracy meter:  Contains about as much truth as your kids school contains peanut butter.

There are four distinct claims in this statement, and one and a half of them are based in fact.  In order, they are

  1. The legislation was written by the Minister and Deputy Minister.  This is decidedly false.  Curricula are developed and authored by people who work under a Minister and Deputy Minister.  In the case of the Ontario Sex Education Curriculum, it was authored by taking parts from other province’s curricula and consulting with experts. The Minister/Deputy Minister have as much input into the curriculum as your boss does whether you bring egg salad or roast beef in your lunch.
  2. The Minister at the time was a radical lesbian.  This is half true. The minister at the time was Kathleen Wynne, who is a lesbian.  She is not a radical lesbian, unless you believe that having a different orientation makes you part of a Rainbow Illuminati.  She has not done anything “radically lesbian” other than exist as a lesbian in public. I’m sure that is good enough for some people.
  3. The Deputy Minister at the time was a convicted pedophile.  This is true, and entirely meaningless.  I’m aware of another organization that had not just one pedophile, but was run by pedophiles and pedophile enablers.  This organization had pedophiles who were more involved with the day to day operation of the organization, and leaders who knew about their pedophilia and worked hard to make sure they could continue unabated.  I wouldn’t ask Catholics to dismiss the Church or doctrine because people involved in the Church were raping children.  It isn’t reflective of the values of the Church or the bible, any more than the actions of the Deputy Minister are reflective of the Ministry or their policies. If you are Catholic, your Sunday School curriculum had more input from pedophiles than the sex education curriculum, that is indisputable fact.
    I would ask people equally not to judge Islam’s veracity or right to exist because it was founded by a man who consummated his marriage to a nine  year old girl  The argument that the curriculum should be suspect because of the actions of the Deputy Minister would be deliciously ironic coming out of the mouth of a group made up predominantly of Catholics, or the Catholic Church, or Islam if it wasn’t equal parts sickening and hypocritical.
  4. The curriculum forwards a pedophile and gay agenda.  Entirely false.  Every study available has shown that teaching children about their body, consent, and making those things less taboo leads to less instance and better reporting of sexual exploitation.  Lack of knowledge, experience, and vocabulary are a recipe for exploitation. Predators thrive where children don’t understand what is happening, don’t have the tools to stop what is happening, and don’t feel they can express their fear.  Knowledge and empowerment are tools against exploitation- the alter boy who was raped in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s,70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s was not helped by a system that shamed his body, hid the realities of sexuality, and dared not discuss abuse.  As far as the gay agenda is concerned- acknowledging LGBT* people, and acknowledging their right to exist is far from an unreasonable agenda.  I’d go so far as to say it is perfectly reasonable, like saying that Catholics do and have a right to exist- even though I might choose to not be Catholic; Muslims do and have a right to exist-even though I choose not to be a Muslim. There really is no “gay agenda”, but if there was, I’m sure they would aim higher than “right to be discussed in polite conversation”.

Concern #2: The Curriculum will teach children in Grade 1 what a “penis” and “vagina” are.

Truth meter: Still true, almost twenty years after it became the curriculum.

In 1998, the Ontario government released a sexual education curriculum that included the proper name of genitalia to be taught at the Grade 1 level.  The new curriculum decided not to change the age at which kids learn anatomically accurate names for genitalia.  Some Grade 1 students will therefor be subject to the same curriculum their parents learned in Grade 1.  The horrors!
As for my five children, not one of them made it past age 3 without learning correct terminology for body parts. I don’t want my kids thinking that we don’t discuss some body parts but do discuss others.  That idea is confusing.  If my child has a sore penis or vagina, that is as easy for them to communicate as a sore elbow- and it ought to be.  My three year old routinely points out that Daddy has a penis, and so does her brothers- and that is part of what makes them boys. Mommy and her and her sisters have a vagina, and that is part of being a girl.  In three years she will be extremely bored during the sex education lesson.
There is an appropriate time to teach kids the right word for body parts, and that time is when they can speak and notice body parts.

Concern #3: Kids will learn about consent starting in Grade 1.

Truth meter: Thankfully true.

Starting in Grade 1, children will begin to understand respect for boundaries and consent.  They will begin to learn that “no means no”.  This starts out as instruction that if someone asks you not to touch them, or continue to do something, that you do not have their consent to continue- and you should respect their boundaries.  This lesson will be expanded upon every year in the curriculum, gradually evolving from respect for boundaries and consent involving simple interactions in Grade 1 into respect for boundaries and consent involving sexual interaction by Grade 7.

I honestly question what kind of parent lets their child get to Grade 1 without discussing boundaries and consent.  I suppose that some parents hoping to nurture sociopathic and antisocial tendencies in their kids might want to avoid these topics.  I mean, how is your kid supposed to continue to touch people inappropriately or make everyone uncomfortable if they learn to respect boundaries, amirite?
The appropriate time to talk to children about boundaries and consent is when they start interacting with other human beings- I assume by Grade 1 your child is doing that.
The radical agenda of properly socializing children continues.

Concern #4: Kids learn about homosexuality and gender identity by Grade 3.

Truth meter: Not impossible, but not guaranteed.

The curriculum for Grade 3 only states that teachers discuss differences between individuals and respect for those differences.  Examples include eye colour, ability, family structure, personal values and beliefs, talents, body size and shape, hair colour, skin colour, sexual orientation and gender identity.  The examples listed are guidelines and are not mandatory discussion topics, so not all teachers will choose to broach those subjects.  Children are expected to understand homosexuality and gender identity by Grade 7, but the topics are open for discussion starting in Grade 3 if a teacher feels it is appropriate or a student asks specific questions. The root of the idea that kids learn about gender identity in Grade 3 is that it offered as a “prompt”, meaning that it suggests ways for teachers to broach optional topics.  If it was part of the curriculum then opponents could provide a lesson plan instead of a prompt, something they cannot and will not do.
The claim that kids will know these things by Grade 3 is possibly true, but they are more likely to know about these things because of existing in our society- not because it was sprung on them in health class.

By Grade 3, many students will have had some exposure to the concept of homosexuality or other gender identities.  Some might have a classmate who has homosexual parents, or have homosexual parents themselves.  Some might have a gay aunt or uncle, or have a family friend or acquaintance who is transgender.  Teaching children that those differences are normal is part of creating well-functioning adults.  Imagine how confused and alienated your child will be if they reach adulthood thinking that gay and transgender people are frightening, abnormal, and contemptible.  Imagine their embarrassment when they bully, lie, or vilify them only to realize that their ignorance is frightening, abnormal, and contemptible.

The right time to teach children about sexual orientation and gender identity is when they notice same-sex couples and transgendered people.
This happens for some kids earlier than Grade 3, but we decide the subject can begin to be introduced to them well after they are ready.

Concern #5: Children will learn how to masturbate by Grade 6.

Truth meter:  It’s a prompt, if children have questions. It is not required curriculum in Grade 6.

The main complaint about teaching children that masturbation exists is that masturbation is contrary to Catholic doctrine, and therefor should not be taught in Catholic schools.  I don’t believe that this is an indictment of teaching that some people masturbate as much as an indictment of a religion that makes a natural part of sexuality seem immoral and unnatural.  Masturbation is something that people do.  It isn’t shameful, it isn’t wrong, and it isn’t unhealthy or damaging to people who do it.  Masturbation is an acceptable and healthy way for young adults to explore sexuality in a low risk environment.  Opponents of the curriculum present an optional prompt to talk about masturbation in Grade 6 as “too early”- hoping that you agree that it might be “too early”.  In reality, they think that talking about masturbation to members at a Legion Hall is “too early”.  They are hoping that the somewhat more reasonable “age 12 is too early to discuss masturbation” allows them to advocate the ridiculous argument that “nobody should masturbate ever, ever, ever. Not at 12, not at 32, and not at 62”.  Ask them when is the right time to talk to humans about masturbation being a healthy expression of sexuality, and ask yourself if you agree.

The right time to talk to kids about masturbation is when they are entering or about to enter puberty. They need to know that it is a low risk, enjoyable way to explore their sexual desires- and that there is nothing shameful or wrong with choosing it as an option.

Concern #6: Kids learn about anal and oral sex in Grade 7

Truth meter: As with the last two complaints, this is factually adjacent.

Anal sex and oral sex are mentioned in the Grade 7 portion of the curriculum as an optional topic, and is clearly and unambiguously mentioned as being risky sexual behaviours that people need to be careful when doing and be apprised of the risks.  No part of the curriculum requires talking about oral or anal sex in Grade 7, and beyond that it is never presented as something that is glorified or without risk.  Children in Grade 7 are only a few years away from becoming sexually active, and telling them about the real risks of sexual behaviours is going to make them capable of making informed decisions before they are confronted with that decision.  There are multiple studies that show that children who receive sexual education are less likely to take sexual risks.  These children have statistically lost their virginity a little later than children with no sex education or abstinence only education.  Parents who want to take away information from kids are content to have children have sex earlier and do it riskier as long as we don’t tell them facts that challenge moralistic ideologies.

For many teens, oral sex will happen before traditional sex.  Children need to understand that this comes with risks that may not be obvious at the time.  Anal intercourse, contrary to puritans protestations, is not an issue that only affects gay males.  Many heterosexual couples, and even lesbian couples- will experiment with anal sex or anal play during their relationships.  There are unique risks that accompany anal intercourse and anal play, and these risks ought to be discussed in factual and open conversations.  As with traditional intercourse, misinformation abounds and disseminating that information is harmful to sexual health and the ability to make smart, intelligent choices.

The best time to talk to kids about oral and anal sex is before they are faced with decisions about engaging in oral or anal sex.

Concern #7: Children will learn that homosexuality is normal, there are valid gender identities outside of cisgender (“normal” gender identity) and that there are no moral considerations regarding sex and sexuality.

Truth meter: No, yes, and decidedly no.

Children will not be learning that homosexuality is normal- they will be learning that homosexuality is a sexual orientation that exists  and that people who are homosexual are different but no less valued or moral than other people.  There isn’t an argument that homosexuals have a normal sexual identity- they identify differently than the overwhelming majority of people. Homosexuals have a real sexual identity- one that exists and one that involves no moral difference than identifying as heterosexual.  “Normal”, in this case, is a misnomer- one that perpetuates dangerous ideas about sexual conformity and uniformity.

Children will be learning that transgender is a valid gender identity. They will be learning this because, as difficult as it may be for cisgendered people to relate to what it feels like to have a gender identity that contradicts your birth gender, it is a phenomena that is real- and we need to talk about it.  Avoiding the fact that transgender people exist does nothing but perpetuate ignorance and misinformation.

The idea that the new sex education curriculum completely takes morality out of sexual choices and sexual behaviours is entirely false.  The fact that we are talking about consent in Grade 1, and incorporating lessons about consent into sexual expectations in later grades shows that the new curriculum very much has a moral underpinning.  We will be teaching children that sex without consent is wrong, and that enthusiastic and ongoing consent are the right conditions for sex.  I can’t think of a more important or necessary moral imperative.  What some parents oppose is that their religiously informed morals are not taught as fact. In a publicly funded school system there is no place for any moral considerations that exist only because of religious proscription.  We have good logical reasons why murder is immoral.  We have good reasons why rape is immoral.  We have good reasons why pedophilia is immoral.  No such logical justifications exist for homosexuality, gender identity, condom use, or premarital sex.  They are moral considerations based on Bronze Age ideas about how people might anger their God, not how people ought to relate to each other- they are arguments that rest on supernatural as opposed to interpersonal reasoning.

There is a place for religiously grounded morality, and that is in your head, your home, or your house of worship.

Conclusion

I hope that you can see that the opposition to the new sexual education curriculum rests on a series of misunderstandings and obfuscations, that whether purposeful or unintentional, lead parents to make choices about their child’s education that are not informed by facts.  The decision that opponents are asking parents to make mirrors closely the choices they want to make available to children and young adults regarding their sexual health- decisions that are ignorant of the truth, decisions that are impossibly under informed, decisions that replace information with unquestioned ideology.  This is no way to create healthy adults and it is no way to empower parents.

The new sex education curriculum has an agenda- I can’t disagree with that assessment.  The agenda of the curriculum is to reduce healthcare costs by preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancies. The agenda is to make sure LGBT youth see themselves in the curriculum and not feel marginalized and confused.  The agenda is to create adults who understand what consent is; we want to create adults who understand how to ask for consent and how to understand when it is given.  The agenda is to save lives.

We can’t fool ourselves- sex education saves lives.  If one Ontario youth doesn’t die of AIDS because she insisted on using a condom, if one abortion is prevented because a teen knew how to properly use birth control, if one gay or transgendered teen doesn’t commit suicide because he has been marginalized and attacked, if one girl isn’t faced with the hopelessness and worthlessness they feel from being raped- if one Ontarian is saved by the new curriculum, it will have been a success.  It will be a success over and over and over again, because sex ed has been proven to achieve all these things.  There is study piled upon study that shows the efficacy of comprehensive sex education- but it’s not ultimately about studies, it’s about people.  It’s about making lives better for people. Sex Ed saves lives and this is about saving the lives of people.

Read the whole new curriculum here.

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