Sex Ed in North America: What Ontario is Doing Right
Sexual Education in North America – What Ontario Is Doing Right
By Haley of Canada
Written in Support of Queer Sense Book on Indiegogo
It’s often referred to in hushed tones as “the talk” or “the birds and the bees”. But why should it be such a secret? Whatever name you call it, sexual education has been a much-discussed topic in the media lately. Thanks to Premier Kathleen Wynne, the Canadian province of Ontario has recently passed a new curriculum for comprehensive sexual education from elementary to high school. Some conservative parents and religious authorities have shown concern over this decision – aren’t kids too young to be learning about these things? Shouldn’t they just find out on their own?
The answer is a resounding no. Children and teens are going to learn about sex whether we want them to or not, and it is our job as adults, whether parents or educators, to provide them with the proper resources to make informed decisions.
Teaching children about gender and sex at appropriate age levels throughout their school careers is a big step toward combating homophobia, transphobia and rape culture.
Here’s how it will all play out: in grade 1 (age 6), children will learn the proper terminology for body parts, including genitalia like vulva, vagina, testicles, and penis. The emphasis here is to move away from silly nicknames and to use accurate terms so that kids understand their bodies. This demystifies the human body, and will also help children learn about different secondary characteristics between the sexes.
Grade 2 (age 7) is when children will learn about the different stages of the body’s growth, such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and later adulthood. The emphasis is on healthy growing and development.
By grade 3 (age 8), children will start learning about uniqueness and individuality. This is a key step in the process of the Ontario Sex Ed curriculum. Differences from facial features, body sized, and physical ability to cultural values, gender identity, and sexual orientation will be discussed and appreciated. This is a crucial step in overcoming racism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia. Instead of ignoring different and sweeping it under the rug with a neoliberal “we’re all the same inside!”, this curriculum offers kids the opportunity to actively engage in difference and to understand that different does not mean bad.
In grade 4 (age 9), the focus changes to issues of puberty. Body hair, changes in voice, breast development, and body odour will be addressed, and so will the important emotional and social effects of puberty. This is essential in normalising body changes and teaching kids not to be ashamed or embarrassed of their bodies. Learning this kind of body positivity from a young age is a great way to establish confidence as teenagers and adults!
Grade 5 (age 10) focuses on the reproductive system, and grade 6 (age 11) moves on to social stigmas. Here is where the curriculum does a real service to the LGBT+ community: Ontario students are going to learn about anti-gay and anti-trans bullying and be taught how to address stereotypes and harassment. This is so, so important. In most of the United States and Canada, and even in Ontario up until the curriculum changes, LGBT+ students have no idea that who they are is normal.
Because they are only given examples of heterosexual relationships and cisgender identity as healthy and okay, they automatically assume that who they are and what they feel is wrong. With a strong foundation established for understanding body parts and difference, kids will be able to embrace their own identities and that of others.
There have been so many recent news stories about tragic instances of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth committing suicide. Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl from Kings Mills, Ohio, took her own life on December 28th, 2014 due to the discrimination she faced from her parents, her school, and her community. Leelah’s parents even refused to call her by her proper gender and name at her funeral. If the family had been educated and accepting of LGBT+ issues, this would not have happened. If the school system were properly teaching and integrating gender identity into their curriculum, Leelah would have been free to live her life happily and grown up to be a positive transfeminine role model.
Her death is a tragedy of North America’s refusal to include gender and sexuality in school conversations.
There is absolutely no need for more tragedies of queer and trans youth ending their lives too soon. The fact of the matter is that the isolation faced by so many LGBT+ children and teens in Canada and the United States is totally preventable. By following in Ontario’s footsteps, Canada and the rest of North America can implement a comprehensive and age-appropriate way of dealing with gender and sexuality. We owe it to our youth to keep them safe and teach them that they are not alone. Take notes, America. This is one thing that Canada is doing right.
CLICK HERE: QUEER SENSE is authored by Bryce B. Summers, Ph.D. who is a psychologist and author. Please help change attitudes to acceptance whether it is domestic, or abroad, by contributing to a crowd funding campaign. Help make this book happen!
Queer Sense is a theory that fosters awareness on how culture shapes attitude development through social models, emotional connections to social models, aka attachment, and use of language with one’s models.