Ontario’s government unveiled a new sexual education curriculum this past week. It is a more comprehensive, updated program that encompasses topics ranging from anatomy to STIs to consent to masturbation. It is designed to provide the information the previous curriculum seriously ignored and recognizes that the pre-internet curriculum simply doesn’t fit anymore.
As with many things relating to education there is controversy surrounding the new program. People are bound to get a little uptight and, in some cases, scared when it comes to speaking to our children about anything relating to sex and puberty. Every child is different, they develop and mature at various ages especially when it comes to their sexuality. It isn’t easy to provide an all-encompassing timeline for when is the most appropriate and beneficial time to speak to a child about their bodies and the changes they will go through.
The thing about it, however, is that it must be talked about. And it should be talked about before they happen. Informed decisions are mostly good decisions and in situations where someone is going to be making a choice that can very seriously affect who they are and, at times, the rest of their life, we need to provide them with the tools to make that decision responsibly. Many parents and non-parents alike have spoken out against the curriculum, saying it’s too much too soon and completely inappropriate for the children to learn. They want their children to be safe and protected.
What they don’t seem to understand is that to make sure your child is safe and protected, they need to know how to make choices that allow that to happen. You will not always be there and they certainly won’t tell you everything, like it or not. They need to be allowed to make knowledgeable choices for themselves.
Completely bewildering to me is that the most hotly debated issue in the entire curriculum is the inclusion of consent in grade five, or at the age of eleven. Naysayers seem to believe that teaching consent means teaching a child to say “yes” and this is completely false. It is teaching children that it is okay to say yes, and it’s okay to say no, but what’s more important is how to recognize what a proper “yes” looks and sounds like. These children will be texting and messaging online without your knowledge, they will have boyfriends and girlfriends who want to experiment, they will have hormones that they themselves don’t understand yet. They need to know how to responsibly and appropriately approach new, possibly sexual situations, how to recognize when something has been done that they didn’t consent to, and what forms of “no” there are (hint: it’s more than just simply saying the word). This is not something we should be disagreeing on. Our children need to know it’s okay to say no and to believe that their peers will know that it must be respected. It seems fairly simple.
Children should be learning the names of their genitals just as they learn what their arms are called. To ignore that part of their body, the part that in just a few short years will start doing some pretty baffling things, and to make them feel from a young age that it’s for some reason dirtier and not to be talked about is selling them short. They need to be comfortable naming those parts of their body just like any other part because it’s very possible that one day they’ll need to tell someone that something is happening with those parts, just as they would tell them that they broke their leg.
We need to stop believing that kids don’t have sexual urges. We need to stop thinking that if we don’t talk about their hormones and their urges, they simply won’t exist anymore. We certainly need to stop pretending that not giving children and teenagers an understanding of sex, STIs, masturbation, mental health, and safe practices is the best way to get them to not have sex ever. We have a better chance of having safe, healthy, happy, and even abstinent children if we give them the resources to understand their bodies and minds. Speaking from experience, being shown what your body goes through when it’s pregnant, when it has an abortion, when it has genital warts is far more powerful of a deterrent than putting the blinders on.
If you don’t want to talk to your children about sex, fine, at least let the schools do their job and teach them what they need to know to be prepared for life.
But still please try to talk to them about sex. It’s incredibly important.