Ever since Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the updates for the new sex education curriculum many have been up in arms protesting about how harmful this will be to the children of this generation. Mostly based on misguided information and the over-exaggeration of what was implied, there have been large groups against the new curriculum because they felt that it was “promoting and encouraging sexual behaviour at an early age”. One Toronto Star article interviewed a man who claimed that the sex-ed program was trying to teach kids about anal sex and how to expose themselves at a young age (disclaimer: the level of ignorance contained in their article may induce vomiting).Many might be opposed to this curriculum because it is “too advanced” but we need to remember the world we live in is changing at an exponential rate every day so it is only right that the education system attempt to keep up. The internet is so easily accessible to children these days so this allows easy access to inappropriate content and false information about health topics, especially sexual health. (I believe today’s parents enable their kids through unmonitored/ unlimited use of personal devices) Discussions about online safety, sexting, and cyber-bullying can begin in classrooms once the sex-ed program launches since technology use is becoming more frequent among youth. The revised sex education program is more than just a tired conversation about “the birds and the bees”, it will include topics surrounding healthy living, healthy eating, personal safety & injury prevention, and substance abuse, addictions & related behaviour.
The Revised Ontario Curriculum for Health and Physical Education Grades 1-8 is posted on the Ministry of Education’s website and can be found here with details outlining learning expectations and outcomes. The high school sex-ed curriculum (Grades 9-12) is discussed in this article, and contains material on mental health, stigmas, and expanding on decision-making skills.
FYI: the sex education content is labelled as “Human Development and Sexual Health” within the document and has several points of discussion for both the teacher and the student. Here is the condensed version of the curriculum for each grade level:
- identifying body parts, including genitalia
- senses and functions (which I believe teaches kids about body awareness and expands their vocabulary)
- hygienic procedures, such as hand washing, using tissue, not sharing personal items, etc.
- stages of development and characteristics of each (infant, child, adolescent, adult, older adult)
- oral health (brushing, flossing, losing teeth, dentist visits, etc.)
- identifying characteristics of healthy relationships (friends, siblings, parents, other adults, etc.)
- physical development (genes, sleep habits, nutrition, etc.)
- emotional development (self-esteem, social skills, etc.)
- visible (physical features) and invisible differences (learning ability, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.)
- showing respect for differences in others
- physical changes of puberty and their emotional & social impact
- cultural traditions during puberty (e.g. bar/bat mitzvah- coming of age ceremony)
- personal hygiene and care during puberty
- reproductive system and how the body changes during puberty
- menstruation and spermatogenesis; conception
- the emotional and interpersonal stresses during puberty (intense feelings, changing relationships, managing stress & building resilience, enhancing mental & emotional well-being)
- development of self-concept
- understanding the changes of puberty
- building confidence and creating a foundation for a healthy relationship
- making informed decisions that demonstrate respect for themselves and others to build healthy relationships
- stereotypes and assumptions (homophobia, gender roles & expectations, social inclusion, race/culture, sexual orientation, mental ability, etc.)
- delaying sexual activity (abstinence within relationships, the concept of consent, etc.)
- identifying sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), symptoms, prevention, contraceptives, etc.
- pregnancy prevention
- making decisions about one’s sexual health through physical, emotional, psychological, and social factors (learning about the consequences of bad decisions, how to weigh pros and cons in tough situations, religious beliefs, moral/ ethical considerations, etc.)
- relationship changes at puberty (parent/child dynamics: pre-teens wanting more independence and friends interested in dating, etc.)
- factors that affect someone’s decisions about sexual activity (peer pressure, self-concept, risk of pregnancy and STI’s, curiosity, family values, media messages, etc.)
- identifying resources and professionals for information on sexual health (reputable websites, community leaders, family, teachers, doctors, etc.)
- understanding gender identities and sexual orientations and how everyone can develop a positive self-concept (representation in the media, family/community support, school clubs, etc.)
- sexual health and safety (contraceptive use, consent, personal boundaries, respecting others, etc.)
- benefits and risks of being in relationships (sexual harassment, dating violence, breakups, trust, support, levels of consent, etc.)
Supportive or not, I think parents in Ontario should try to find at least ONE theme within the new sex-ed curriculum that could provide helpful information for their children. Because in reality, is this new program really going to mess up the new generation and have them all contemplating a sex change? Some of the topics are sensitive and will bring up some uncomfortable conversation, but would parents rather their kids learn the hard way (through a negative experience such as contracting an STI or being sexually harassed) or have them learn in a controlled environment so they are prepared and informed?
I believe the themes and topics are more than age appropriate; it will build trust between students and teachers and creates an accepting environment within the classroom. Why would a parent be against such a positive approach to learning when our society is constantly encouraging negative behaviour and judgemental attitudes of others?