In defence of sex ed
All kinds of people are freaking out about the proposed changes to sex education in Ontario.
While I don't yet have the kind of detail on the curriculum that I'd like, I do want to point out where I think some individuals and organization are making inflammatory and incorrect assumptions about the spirit, tone and intention of this sort of education.
We've learned that kids will be discussing homosexuality in Grade 3.
It's 2010. Don't a lot of our kids already have someone in their class who has two moms or two dads? That certainly applies for my son, Cameron. He's in Grade 1. He's known a lovely two-mom family since he was in daycare, and happily accepted an explanation that some people pick as their special person a member of the opposite sex and some people pick someone of their own gender.
For the sake not just of combating homophobia but of normalizing the experiences of school children who have same-sex parents, it's very worthwhile to discuss sexual orientation at an early age. Equally important: Getting the message to kids who may already be sensing some sort of "difference" in themselves compared to others, that they are OK no matter who they have a crush on.
What troubles me is the assumption that talking about sexual orientation is tantamount to recruitment to the gay cause. That's just backward.
Certainly one's religious and cultural values give shape to views on this and other aspects of sexual education. Critics say it is up to families to address sexuality with their children in a way that's in line with the their values.
But here's the thing. They don't.
Or if they do, they're not terribly successful at arming kids with the information they need to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Or to delay sexual activities for which that they don't yet have the maturity to cope.
And that brings me to one of the other contentious points in Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty's proposed new sex ed program: discussion of oral sex as early as Grade 7.
There's a reason why oral sex is being called "the new goodnight kiss." Star reporter Trish Crawford explained how normalized it's become in a story called "Oral sex no longer a big deal, teen girls say."
By Grade 9 one third of Canadian teenagers are having oral sex. That's a fact and remains so whether or not we're too squeamish or scandalized to discuss it. If we want kids to delay this activity instead of engage in it, um, willy nilly, maybe we'd be better off explaining that you can get yucky sores in your mouth - and much worse - if you're not taking proper precautions. Or if you're trading sexual favours with schoolmates like they were Pizza Pockets.
It's important to look at the context in which kids will be hearing about oral sex. According to a story we had last night, Grade 7 kids will be learning about "delaying sexual activity, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and STI prevention."
Did you see the first thing? "Delaying sexual activity." The intent here is not to provide some sort of instructional how-to for kids who would otherwise know nothing about sex. It's about getting kids who are already engaged in risky behaviour - or will be soon enough - to be smarter about it.
This subject has prompted some discussion around the office. One colleague mentioned that when she was going to school in Nova Scotia, sex ed didn't start until junior high. "Two of my classmates had babies that year."
A little late, maybe?
More on this subject:Oral sex no longer a big deal