Who's Afraid of Sex Ed?

Who's Afraid of Sex Ed?

I was extremely disappointed to read in The Globe & Mail last week that the impressive new sex ed curriculum the Ontario government had been preparing to roll out to students was shelved, in record time, due to a backlash by religious groups and a small minority of parents. If you'd like to check out the full proposed 2010 Ontario Physical education and health curriculum (the result of two years of consultation with 700 students, 70 organizations and 2,400 people) you can read it in its entirety on Scribd. You'll find it's been keenly misrepresented by its detractors who have been gnashing their teeth and acting as though this new curriculum's aim is to encourage young people to start humping each other ASAP. But no, this curriculum is about education and the alarm that's been raised over certain aspects of the curriculum, like info about anal sex, is a case of crying wolf. "The only references to anal sex, for example, are related to abstinence and preventing HIV." "Likewise oral sex is introduced in the discussion of safe sex, not because the curriculum is promoting it as an after-school activity. (Young people need to learn, for example, that new cases of genital herpes in Canada are largely caused by HSV-1, which comes from cold sores.)"

Whether we like it or not young people are growing up in a culture that is both sex-obsessed and incredibly sexually immature (Facebook bans pictures of breastfeeding while millions of folks obsess over the details of Tiger Wood's sex life and several senior U.S. financial regulators while away their hours at work by surfing porn). Children aren't growing up in a vacuum—they're exposed to sexual content (sometimes explicit) in music videos, TV, movies and videogames. According to Safe Families stats the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 and in 2007 the 12 - 17 year old group was the largest consumer of Internet pornography.
Lyba notes that World Health Organization research is very clear about the fact that, "When children get comprehensive sexual-health education from an early age, they are more likely to postpone the higher-risk activities."

And yet still we have people like the National Post's Barbara Kay using their personal values as an argument against this new curriculum and spouting absurdities like this, "Human beings are the only creatures for whom shame, guilt and modesty (especially in girls) are instinctive." She proceeds to cite an example of harassment author Wendy Shalit offers in her book A Return To Modesty. Apparently in Shalit's childhood fourth grade class boys would tease girls with the knowledge they'd just picked up in sex ed class, except Wendy herself who had been excused by her mother from these classes. Kay's interpretation of these events is that "the boys never teased Shalit because she was presumed to be ignorant. Mystery between the sexes at that age facilitates the protective modesty and privacy nature intended."

Could it be that the harassment Shalit wrote about was a product of a society that shames women about their sexuality (labels them either sluts or prudes, blames them if they're sexually attacked while drunk or acting in a 'provocative' manner) and therefore often excuses boys for what should be unacceptable behaviour? And could it perhaps be that this particular fourth grade's sex ed class wasn't handled with an open attitude which would have made the harassment that followed the classes less likely? Or does Kay believe that, for example, a seventh grade Vancouver Island girl who recently had a rape threat levelled against her by a male schoolmate (in this particular school such threats have apparently become commonplace), would have been spared that threat if the girl had an air of ignorance about her and the boy had a lack of formal sex education?

And do we want people with such illogical, toxic views dictating that our schools allow young people to wade in ignorance? Wouldn't we rather arm them with knowledge?

A recent New York City study revealed that straight women are much less likely to use condoms during anal sex than gay men. Only 23% of straight women use condoms during anal sex, according to the report, compared to 61% of gay men. Women 18 to 24 years old are nearly six times more likely than those aged 45 to 64 to report unprotected anal sex. Women who engage in unprotected anal sex also have lower HIV testing rates.

It sounds like there are some young New York City women out there who could use Ontario's proposed sex ed schooling. And if you think Ontario's young people could benefit too please join the I Support Sexual Health Education in Ontario Facebook group and email your MPP, Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Minister of Education to tell them you're in favour of knowledge. There's also an Ontario Supports Sex-Ed Curriculum petition you can sign.

Templates you can use for your letters are available here and on Facebook. You can locate your MPP's contact info here and below is the Ministry of Education's info (don't forget to CC Dalton McGuinty!):

Leona Dombrowsky
Ministry of Education
22nd Floor, Mowat Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto ON M7A 1L2
Tel : 416-325-2600
Fax : 416-325-2608
cc: dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

I adapted the Facebook group's email message as follows:

Dear [my MPP],

I was dismayed to learn last week that the proposed Physical Education and Health 2010 curriculum had been axed in response to a minority of ill-informed detractors. The proposed curriculum seemed inclusive, comprehensive and something that Ontarians could be proud of.

I personally feel no changes should be made to this document and believe that youth's right to education should include sexual health education. Our young people have to live in this society—closing our eyes to uncomfortable realities won't protect them from STDs or unwanted pregnancies or teach them how to have healthy, respectful relationships.

As a writer of young adult books I'm very aware of the sexual health complexities young people face in our society and concerned that Ontario's young people should be armed with all the knowledge we can offer them. Removing any of the sexual health components of this proposed curriculum would be a great disservice to them. I hope you will add your voice in support of the curriculum and urge the Premier to quickly resolve this crisis. Please do the right thing by our youth, who need this curriculum now.

[my details]

Let's get this curriculum back on the table in its entirety!
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