Yesterday Paddy and I were driving along Hurontario (near Steeles Avenue) through Brampton and noticed a cavalcade of cars sporting red flags and stickers. They seemed to be protesting something and I was straining to read the text on the flags when we cruised by a car with a large sticker plastered across one of the back doors. “SAY NO TO IRRESPONSIBLE SEX ED,” it commanded, not understanding the irony it was presenting. You see, irresponsible sex ed is what we had in Ontario for years. Until this coming fall, in fact, this province had the oldest sex ed curriculum in Canada, one from way back in 1998. We were originally supposed to get a new curriculum in 2010, but the Ontario government got spooked by a backlash from religious groups and a small minority of parents.
Meanwhile, according to Safe Families stats, the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 with the 12 - 17 year old group being the largest consumer of Internet porn. And meanwhile a survey of Ontario high schools revealed “29% of Ontario Grade 9 girls ... felt unsafe at school partly due to sexual comments and unwanted looks or touches; 27% of the girls in Grade 11 admitted to being pressured into doing something sexual that they did not want to do; 14% of the females reported being harassed over the Internet.” And meanwhile more than 50% of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. And meanwhile a New York City study revealed only 23% of straight women use condoms during anal sex as opposed to 61% of gay men, and women 18 to 24 years old are nearly six times more likely than those aged 45 to 64 to report unprotected anal sex.
And meanwhile seventeen-year-old Nova Scotia girl Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide because of sexual bullying aimed at her after she was the victim of sexual assault. So did 15 year old Audrie Potts of California and fifteen year old Amanda Todd from B.C. And meanwhile eighteen year old Tyler Clementi threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after being bullied because of his sexual orientation. And meanwhile we let the world break fifteen-year-old Jamie Hubley’s heart as he was relentlessly tormented by his peers to the degree that not living another day seemed like a better option. We let that happen because this is the world—the society—that we have constructed, a society some people would like to look away from and pretend doesn’t exist. But young people don’t have that choice. They’re right smack in the middle of it.
And meanwhile two awesome thirteen year old activists, Lia Valente and Tessa Hill, started a petition requesting that the issue of consent be covered in the new Ontario sex ed, a petition which garnered more than 40,000 signatures.
“We hear stories from our friends about cat-calling and slut shaming in the hallways and in the classroom,” the girls wrote in their online petition. “We also notice the lack of awareness about safe sex and consent. … Our society is scared to teach teens and young people about safe sex, and most important, consent.”
Yes, parts of society are scared. I’m scared too. I don’t want young people to be sexually bullied or harassed or have unsafe sex. I want them to know how to keep themselves safe and understand the importance of consent. I want them to respect their peers no matter what their peers’ gender, sexual orientation or experiences are. I want rape victims not to be re-victimized by people who should know better than to blame them for a crime committed against them but apparently don’t because the society we’re raising young people in is full of shame and double standards and early exposure to hardcore pornography which up until this point has not been balanced by good, comprehensive sex ed.
Yes, we used to have irresponsible sex ed in Ontario, but that’s over with, and we should all be very glad of it. The true irresponsibility resides in the fact that it took too long to make the change, an irresponsibility which still hangs on the shoulders of the folks flying those red flags from their cars, embracing ignorance like it’s a shield when it won’t protect their child or anyone else's from a thing. Only knowledge will do that.
"Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time."