Our sex-ed curriculum was as unsexy as it gets

May 25, 2015


The principal shuffled in, looked at the floor, and sighed. Our teachers practically ran out of the room.

Whatever we were about to be taught, it must have been important. They had already segregated the girls and sent them off to another part of the school, and had corralled the boys in the library.

Sex-ed when I was in late elementary school in the 1980s was an exercise that no one really wanted to be a part of, kind of like getting a tooth pulled or a mole removed.

Back when I was a kid, the curriculum was about as unsexy as it gets. Our principal sprinted through the lessons as fast as he could, flashing a few diagrams on an overhead projector. We laughed at drawings of the human body, probably because we didn’t know what else to do.

We all came away knowing that sex, whatever it was, must have been some kind of thoroughly shameful medical issue for adults, much like the gout. Someone asked a question about bras.

Even though we didn’t know a vulva from a vertebrae, I’m pretty sure we all passed the course. In fact, I don’t think failing was even an option. There was no way the principal intended to have to repeat all that again, not for another year until he was contractually obligated to do it once more by the board of education.

He had done the absolute bare minimum, fulfilled his educational duty, and planned to never speak of it again. We all left the library kind of puzzled by it all, and spent the next few weeks passing around the illicit pamphlets with their weird cartoonish drawings he’d handed out.

A few years later, in high school, I managed to find a girlfriend. It was time for phase 2 of the curriculum, the home version.

My father shuffled into my bedroom, kept his eyes fixed on the floor, and said “Uh, well… whatever you’re doing, I just, uh… you know… hope you’re being, umm, safe.”

And that was it. He couldn’t even say the words. Then he just walked out. Apparently he and my elementary school principal had taken the same course in teaching sex-ed.

Today, not much has changed. Plenty of parents and teachers would just as soon not talk about this stuff at all. That’s why the uproar over changes to the province’s sex-ed curriculum is so predictable, and so unfortunate.

In September, Ontario’s schools will begin teaching a new version of sexual education, one that deals with consent, sexting, sharing explicit content online, sexual orientation and gender identity. The stuff kids are being taught now hadn’t been updated since 1998, way back when students still went to school without a phone in their hand, which might as well be a century ago.

For thousands of parents, the new curriculum gives too much information. So they’re pulling their kids out of school in protest, in an effort to protect their kids’ “innocence.” Because that approach usually works so well, right?

I’m now the father of a baby girl, who will eventually be learning Ontario’s new curriculum, too. As plugged in as I may like to think I am, I’m not qualified to give her all the education about sexual health she needs to grow up in this world.

I’d probably spend most of the time just mumbling and looking at the floor, anyway.

I’m from the last generation to grow up without the Internet or smart phones. No one really talked about consent or sexual orientation in a serious way, and social media didn’t exist. We learned what we knew about sexual health from other kids, who were just as ignorant as we were.

Things have changed a lot since 1998. It’s time to give kids some new information.

-Guelph Mercury, May 9, 2015

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