Why Ontario’s New Sex Education Curriculum Is Important


Kathleen Wynne, leader of Ontario's Liberal Party and Premiere of Ontario.

Kathleen Wynne, leader of Ontario’s Liberal Party and Premiere of Ontario.

Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal party recently unveiled the details to the proposed updates to Ontario’s new sex education curriculum, and as expected, there are a number of parents who have expressed concern about the content.  Charles McVety, of Canada Christian College, has suggested that the curriculum is an ‘indoctrination’, by which he means it does not agree with the indoctrination that he would prefer being implemented in schools.  What opponents of the updated curriculum fail to understand, however, is that this update is sorely needed as the curriculum hasn’t been updated since 1998.  To put that in perspective, Barack Obama had never even been elected to public office at that time, people used pagers because cell phones looked like this, Lorde was only two years old, and the best use for the internet at the time e-mailing people through AOL, and neither Naspter nor the Hamster Dance had yet broken the internet.  At the time, children didn’t have smartphones that could access the internet, and streaming websites that offer free access adult films, such as RedTube, Tube8 and PornHub, were not readily available to an overwhelming majority children as they are now, and sexting had not yet entered the vernacular.  With such huge cultural shifts facilitated by the exponential growth in technology, an updated curriculum is sorely needed to address society’s changing needs.  Though teen pregnancies and abortions have been coming down in recent years, with notable drops since 1998, the last time an update was made in the sex education curriculum, sexually transmitted diseases have been on the rise.  Coupled with this, so too has there been an increase in cyber bullying relating to sexting and child pornography, as tragically demonstrated by the suicides of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd.  Linked with this, there is the continuing issue with rape and sexual assault that is unfortunately a persistent problem.  The goals of the sex education curriculum is to address and reduce all of these things.  It is through education that young people can be empowered, and rather than learning about sex on their own, these students can be equipped to deal with the changes happening in their bodies, and choices that they will be faced with as they get older.  If anybody wants to reduce unplanned teen pregnancies, abortions, the spread of STDs, cyber bullying and rape, then it is important to realize that this curriculum is working toward those goals.  To understand this, one must look at the content of the curriculum to see its impact, and weigh it against the opposition.



GradeOneOne of the elements of the new curriculum that upsets parents most is the fact that ‘sex education’ starts in grade one, meaning students will be as young as seven years old.  The problem with this is that many people are mistakenly believing that by ‘sex education’, the proposed curriculum will be talking about intercourse, condoms, pregnancy and sexual orientation.  The facts are quite different.  All the curriculum speaks of in grade one is the names of the body parts and how to respect and take care of them.  It gives them the ability to talk about their body parts respectfully, and let students know that they are a private part of their body.  In short, teachers will “identify body parts, including genitalia (e.g., penis, testicles, vagina, vulva), using correct terminology”.  It will also teach students how to communicate if they have been hurt, which will make it easy for them to understand when they are being abused, and how to respond and report it if they are being abused.  If parents don’t believe that their seven-year olds are already talking to teach other about their body parts, or aren’t curious, than parents are being naïve.  I was no older than four when I first remember another child of about the same age exposing herself to me and asking to see my ‘bits and pieces’.  Children are curious and they want to know. More important that satiating their curiosity, is giving them the tools to identify abuse.  If parents do not want children to be able to identify abuse, then there is an issue.  This is not pornographic, or excessive, but rather information that children at this age already have access to and are curiosity about.




Education Minister Liz Sandals, who ha d big hand in formulating the curriculum.

Education Minister Liz Sandals, who ha d big hand in formulating the curriculum.

In grade two, the sex education will focus on how one’s body changes.  This is important for any number of reasons, but primarily because boys and girls will be going through growth spurts, and it is not uncommon for other children to tease each other about the changes in their respective bodies.  Children in turn often feel self-conscious about these changes, and knowing why they are happening and understanding that they are not abnormal is central to maintaining their mental health. It also will explain why different people will have different body types, prepare them for some of the changes that they will be going through when puberty hits, and explain why adults look so different.  Some might suggest that teaching them about this at the age of eight is too early, but the problem is that if teachers wait until a student is in puberty, then it is too late.  Children need to be prepared before puberty starts happening.  Though most children don’t hit puberty until the age of ten or eleven, there are students who see changes as early as nine, so informing them about these changes before nature takes its course is key to ensuring that the children will be cognitively equipped to deal with said changes.  Those who oppose teaching and preparing children for such changes are only going to contribute to the negative body images these children might develop during this period of their lives.



Image borrowed from here.

There isn’t much ‘sex education’ in grade three. The focus instead outlining different kinds of relationship, and outlining “the characteristics of healthy relationships”, meaning “accepting difference and being inclusive”.  This is meant to teach children to listen, be honest, and show mutual respect. The goal of this is to combat “bullying, exclusion, peer pressure, [and] abuse”.  This will also be the year that children will be taught about the “different types of legal and illegal substance abuse”, ranging from cigarettes to caffeine to sugar and alcohol (which is included in each subsequent year).  The goal is to ensure that children know about these things before they are introduced to them so that when they are, they can make informed decisions.  This is important because in many instances, many of the adults they know and trust likely engage in any number of these activities and youths may assume that smoking and drinking are behaviours that are acceptable.  If there is something contrary to Christian doctrine in this portion of the sex education, I’d be interested to hear it, because the portion about inclusion and acceptance seems work perfectly in concert with the teachings of Christ (Matthew 7:12), whilst informing children about the dangers of substance abuse does likewise (Corinthians 6:19).



the current curriculum seek to prevent the illegal sexting and bullying that place such a huge part in Rehtaeh Parson's tragic suicide.

The current curriculum seek to prevent the illegal sexting and bullying that place such a huge part in Rehtaeh Parson’s tragic suicide.

The word ‘homosexuality’ might put off a lot of Christian groups who, for some reason, feel the need to really fall in line with Leviticus 20:13, though there are any number of Christians who don’t subscribe to this antiquated view.  For those folks who do subscribe, all I have to say is read the rest of Leviticus, and if you feel that your daughters and wives should be treated the way Leviticus prescribes when they have the ‘fountain of blood’ or give birth, then by all means, hold on to that.  If not, then consider that other elements of Leviticus might be equally inapplicable today.  That said, the curriculum does not prescribe experimentation, it merely discourages bullying based on sexual orientation, as well as bullying based on perceived race, gender, size, clothes and a host of other things. This is about stopping bullying, not recruiting homosexuals. Children will pick up homophobic slurs just as easily as they will pick up slurs based on perceived race, and just as adults will educate children as to why certain prejudicial words based on perceived race are inappropriate, adults must also teach them why it is inappropriate to use pejorative terms for homosexuals, which is hard to do without explaining what homosexuality is.  Don’t worry, just because Wynne happens to be lesbian doesn’t mean she is trying to recruit children into the LGBT community.  Such comments, which I have sadly heard, are asinine.  Other elements of the curriculum in grade four will include a refresher about the changes associated with puberty and the appropriate hygiene practices that are required, as well as a conversation about using technology to communicate, because unfortunately, a growing number of tweens have smartphones and aren’t taught what is appropriate and inappropriate.  If this is not something parents think is an issue, then I might refer them to the Steubenville rape case, or a host of child pornography cases that have resulted from youths texting (1.2 million results in Google for that subject).  Most of this will be taken up in grade four, with concepts of emotional stress related to puberty being discussed in grade five.  If one thinks it is alright for children to bully others based on orientation, then the truth of the matter is those children need teachers to instruct them otherwise, and if parents arm their tweens and youths with smartphones, then they need to realize that conversations about what is an appropriate use of this technology is vital.  Anything outside of this is willful naivety.



At the time the current curriculum was written, this was likely the 'smartest' phone on the market.

At the time the current curriculum was written, this was likely the ‘smartest’ phone on the market.

Masturbating.  Yup.  Some parents are up in arms about their children being taught about masturbation in grade six.  Let me assure you, by the age of 12, I did not need anybody to teach me about masturbation; I was capable of giving a master’s class in the subject by that age.  I did it not less than three times a day.  Any parent that gasps at the thought their child knowing this word and what is means, and god forbid practicing it, is not only willfully naïve, they have completely blocked out the memories of their own childhood.  Teaching them about masturbating and making sure they know that there is no shame in it is the best way to get them to hold off on sex, because otherwise they will explode.  The other key element of this portion of the curriculum is teaching children about how gender identities are socially constructed.  Now, I know what some will say, because I’ve already heard it: “I don’t want them teaching my son to put on women’s clothes!”  That is not what they are teaching.  They are teaching that society shapes certain things so that a girl who is interested in sports and fixing cars and is called a ‘Tom Boy’ as a result has no reason to be ashamed of her interests just because they aren’t in line the popular gender prescriptions.  Likewise, boys who like to bake and cook have no reason to be ashamed of this.  The problem is that in the professional world there are significant gender gaps in several fields: tech, engineering, nursing and teaching.  If we want to combat sexism as a society, we need to transcend gender prescriptions and make sure that girls don’t give up math for make-up, and that boys don’t give up baking for basketball, so long as that is where their interests rest.  This will help them foster respect for themselves, and respect for others and also reaffirm that they can explore any of their personal interests regardless of what other people of the same sex are interested in.  All on favour of respect?



Image borrowed from here.

Image borrowed from here.

“I don’t want my children learning about consent in grade school!”  This was an actual Facebook comment I read in the past week.  Consent will be discussed in grade seven, as will STDs, pregnancy and… intercourse!  Too early you say?  Well, it wasn’t too early for two of my classmates in grade seven, as I knew two such young women who were not only sexually active by this age, but would be pregnant by the end of the school year and give birth in grade eight.  When I was that age, the ‘sex education’ that most people associate with those two words (condoms, the pills, and intercourse), was not taught until grade nine, but girls and boys in my class were already into petting and, in at least two instances, sex.  I can still remember a friend going on about how he ‘tongued’ and ‘fingered’ his girlfriend, and a girl asking me if I would ever do an ‘angel kiss’ (word to the wise, don’t look that up).  And these conversations took place in grade six!  What does the curriculum aim to do?  Well, firstly, teaching about consent is huge.  Making sure that youths know about consent, and what sexual assault is, and what rape is, and not only what the legal consequences are, but also the emotional consequences, is key to combating rape culture.  Will people still rape?  Yes.  There will always be rapists.  This, however, is part of building a culture where rape is not acceptable and where people understand that and are considerate of other people’s feelings.  Aside from this, sex education at this age will give youths who are already engaged in sexual activity the tools to do so safely, avoiding the spread of STDs as well as unplanned pregnancies.  Does this promote sex? No. The curriculum’s goals are actually to talk students into “delaying sexual activity until they are older” so that they can make informed decisions.  If one is more interested in protecting their children’s ears from such conversations than they are from protecting them from STDs and rape, then the children of such parents need another adult guiding them on such issues.  Those in favour of reducing the spread of STDs, the rate of teen pregnancies, and the number of sexual assaults should all be on board with this. Those whose goals don’t work in concert with those don’t frankly deserve a say in the matter.




Teaching youths how to create a positive space for all will not turn them 'gay'.

Teaching youths how to create a positive space for all will not turn them ‘gay’.

Not much new is introduced in grade eight.  The pros and cons of a relationship are discussed, as well as violence.  The goals are to discourage people from engaging in violence, whilst simultaneously giving those who might be victims of violence the courage and awareness needed to report it, combat it, and understand the emotions associated with it.  As for relationships, delaying sexual activity is still part of the message, and the focus in terms of the benefits of a relationship is on the support and understanding related to it.  Alternately, the cons are linked with sexual exploitation, the risk of disease and pregnancy, the emotional damage that arises when trust is broken, and violence.  The “previous thinking about reasons to wait, including making a choice to delay sexual activity” is included, and different sexual identities are discussed.  Again, if parents are hung up on Leviticus 20:13, they just need to look at the way ISIS applies that rule and consider whether or not they want to be lumped in with that group of people.  If the answer is no, than I suggest such parents get over whatever reservations they have and realize that this is not a recruitment sessions, but rather something that is meant to educate youths about these different sexual identities so that when they meet people who identify as such, they know to respect the differences, and if they themselves identify as such, then they are to know that they should not feel ashamed of their identity.  If one one is parents who thinks a homosexual youth should be ashamed, then, frankly speaking, the children of those parents need somebody else to talk to them about this issue.  If parents approve of the idea of outlining the benefits of delaying sexual activity until they are older, and being accepting of others’ sexual identity, then such parents can trust that this curriculum is working toward those goals.



The only draw back to the curriculum is that it will likely reduces one's chances of landing a role on MYV's Teen Mom.

The only draw back to the curriculum is that it will likely reduces one’s chances of landing a role on MYV’s Teen Mom.

The opposition to this new curriculum is fierce, though it does have an overwhelming number of supporters, and its opponents have an underwhelming amount of evidence.  What is key to understand is that parents do have a choice.  If they do not want their children to learn about self-respect and the importance of respecting others, or they do not want their children to learn about the importance of consent, or delaying sexual activity until they are older, then they are welcome to pull their children out of those classes, or, if they prefer, homeschool their children.  There is choice.  Some parents will suggest that parents should be the ones teaching children about sex, and this is an approach I do agree with, but the fact of the matter is that this is the approach that schools used to take, and since they have changed their approach and have started teaching sex education, teen pregnancies and abortions have dropped dramatically.  In 1996, out of every 1000 girls between 15-19, 44.2 had got pregnant, with half of them opting for an abortions.  By 2006, eight years after the introduction of the most recent sex education curriculum, that number dropped to 27.9, with only 14.2 abortions.  That is almost a 38% decrease in pregnancies and nearly a 36% decrease in the number of abortions. You’d think that the Pro-Life camp would be happy with these numbers, but many are combatting the very curriculum that is fighting for the same goals.


Abstinence might be the best approach in theory, but the education system shouldn't fail those who choose another option.

Abstinence might be the best approach in theory, but the education system shouldn’t fail those who choose another option.

These are the only stats that support this.  Those who seek to promote an abstinence-only based sex education are only helping to raise the rate of unplanned teen pregnancy, as demonstrated by a number of studies.  Those who seek to reduce teen pregnancies need to realize that every major study done on the subject suggests that pregnancy rates among teens drops when education is increased.  Should parents be teaching youths instead of teachers? YES!  But the evidence shows that parents are collectively failing.  This is a harsh statement, but it is true, and as a result, the education system must step in.  If pregnancy rates were not impacted by the presence of sex education, then an argument could be made that parents are doing a sufficient job, but this is not the case.  The problem with leaving parents to their own devices is that firstly, not all parents know what their children need to know, and those that do don’t all know how to communicate it effectively.  Teachers are professionals trained to do exactly that.  The other problem is that parents want to maintain their children’s innocence, but this is done at the expense of their child’s health in some instances, as a conversation about condoms before sexual activity could have prevented a child from being exposed to an STD.  Parents are inherently biased and hold onto their children’s ‘innocence’ longer than they should. There is no Santa Clause, and children need to know this.  They also need to know how sex works, what the dangers are, and what they need to do to protect themselves.  Giving them this information will empower them.



The new sex education curriculum seeks to prevent future tragedies like the one that took the life of Amanda Todd.

The new sex education curriculum seeks to prevent future tragedies like the one that took the life of Amanda Todd.

This conversation reminds of a time when a co-worked told me that her son had just turned twelve and that her daughter was ten.  She then noted that they were growing up fast, at which point I asked her if it was awkward to talk to them about sex.  Offended that I had asked, she assured me that her children were too young to know about sex.  I asked her how old she was when her parents spoke to her about sex and she replied that they hadn’t.  I then asked when she first got pregnant.  She replied at fourteen.  I do not know when or if this woman ever spoke to her children about sex, but both were parents before they turned eighteen.  This is only one case study, but the research suggests that it is emblematic of what is going on.  Youths need to learn about these things when they are young, before they need it, so that when they do need it, they already have it.  Swiss Army knives are not sold in the forest; you buy them before you into the forest.  The exponential growth of technology has changed the way we access information.  If we don’t want BangBros educating our children about sex, we need to do it first.  By preparing students and educating them, we give them the power to make informed decisions, and in this way they can hopefully avoid an unplanned teen pregnancy, STDs, embarrassing or even criminal sexting mistakes, and will develop a respect for themselves and others that will hopefully serve to eradicate rape culture.  We do not need more tragedies like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd and the Steubenville rape case, and we don’t want abortion and teen pregnancy rates to spike back to their highest point in the last 25 years.  Sex education is empowering, and if parents out there are honestly willing keep their children ignorant to preserve their innocence naivety at the potential expense of their personal health, the such parents need to revaluate their priorities and accept that they are the reasons we this new sex education curriculum.  Otherwise, we are going to have to let our children be taught a curriculum that was written by somebody who couldn’t answer the question “What is a smartphone?” or tell you what sexting is.


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Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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