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Let's Talk About Sex: Ontario Unveils Modern Sex-Ed Curriculum

“Let’s talk about sex baby. Let’s talk about you and me.  Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.  Let’s talk aboooout sex.” This iconic song by Salt-N-Pepa is almost as old as the current sexual education curriculum in the Ontario school system, and probably many other sexual education curriculums throughout Canada and the world. But while this song never really gets old, the same cannot be said for the curriculum - it is way out of date.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, has recognized and addressed this issue and the province’s sexual education curriculum is FINALLY going to catch up with the times. A new, revised curriculum has been developed and will be introduced into the school system this coming September. You would think that everyone in the province would be ecstatically cheering about it like I am!  Well, most people are, but not everyone.   

This new curriculum spans from Grade 1 - Grade 12. Here are a couple of the key parts that are noteworthy. I dare you to find something to argue over!

Grade 1: Body parts and comfort

Rex Pe

This is one of the best parts of this revised curriculum.  Starting off sex-ed this young is a definite must! In Grade 1, teachers will teach the children how to identify body parts, including genitalia, using correct terminology. They will also help the children to recognize the difference between caring behaviours and exploitive behaviours.

Grade 3: Healthy Relationships

In this grade, teachers will teach students how to identify the characteristics of healthy relationships, including those with friends, siblings and parents. They will describe how visible differences, such as skin colour, and invisible differences, including gender identity and sexual orientation, make each person unique. They will also identify ways of showing respect for differences in others, as well as develop safety guidelines for Internet use.

Grade 6: “Self-Concept”

At this age, students will learn how to identify factors that affect a person's "self-concept," for example stereotypes, gender identity and body image.  The teachers will explore the effects of stereotypes on social inclusion and relationships will be assessed. Further, they will teach how to lay a foundation for healthy relationships by understanding changes that occur during adolescence will be taught.

Grade 7: Consent

Garry Knight - Slutwalk London 2011

This is when students will learn how to identify common sexually transmitted infections and describe their symptoms and identify ways of preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy. The course will assess the impact of different types of bullying or harassment, including sexting. They will also learn the importance of understanding, with a partner, about delaying sexual activity and the concept of consent. This was a specific point that a couple of students have fought to have included in the new curriculum.  Three Grade 8 girls started a petition on this issue and were able to get over 40,000 signatures.  They met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, presented her with this petition and here it is, on the new sex-ed curriculum! What a great example of youth making an impact.   

Grade 8:Sexual Orientation

Students will demonstrate an understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, and demonstrate an understanding of contraception and the concept of consent. They will also learn how to identify and explain factors that can affect decisions about sexual activity, demonstrate an understanding of contraception and the concept of consent. And finally, they will learn how to analyze the benefits and risks of relationships involving different degrees of sexual intimacy.

Grade 10: Mental Health

This grade shows how comprehensive this new curriculum really is.  In Grade 10, students learn factors that enhance mental health and factors that influence sexual decision making. They will learn some common misconceptions about sexuality in our culture, and explain how these may harm people. They will also learn how being in an exclusive relationship with another person affects them and their relations with others.

If you want to see the complete sexual education curriculum you can check it out here.

Despite widespread support for Ontario’s plan, not everyone accepts the changes. A petition launched by the Ontario Catholic parents group, Parents as First Educators, reads “We do not believe that prepubescent children should be overloaded with explicit information about sex,” and demands “an end to plans” to update the sex-ed curriculum.

These comments frustrate me. How can a parent argue that sexual education is a negative thing.  A recent meta-analysis of 174 studies on the impact of sexual-health promotion intervention on youth, found that consent-based education and sexual education in general from a young age does not lead to more frequent sex with more partners.  It’s actually the opposite.  Learning these things leads to youth and adolescents making wiser decisions when it comes to their sexual actions.

Ontario is leading the way on this reformed sex-ed curriculum and it is a model that should be adopted throughout Canada and all around the world.  Ontario’s premier, Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s first openly lesbian Premier, has been met with some opposition on this initiative at the government level. In a heated legislative session, Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton, was openly critical of the updated curriculum and said it's not the job of the premier – "especially Kathleen Wynne" – to tell parents what is age appropriate for their children.  

Wynne’s response was epic:

“What is it that ‘especially’ disqualifies me for the job that I’m doing? Is it that I’m a woman? Is it that I’m a mother? Is it that I have a master’s of education? Is it that I was a school council chair? Is it that I was the minister of education? What is it exactly that the member opposition thinks disqualifies me from doing the job that I’m doing? What is that?”

Kathleen Wynne deserves a standing ovation - for that response and for introducing this comprehensive, modern, detailed sex-ed curriculum.  As global citizens we should always be striving to ensure that the next generation is even more educated and prepared to thrive in this world - this sex-ed curriculum is a great example of making that happen.