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ont curriculum hpeBy Joseph Cassidy-Skoff

Prepare to get uncomfortable… we’re about to talk about sex. That is why such a fuss has been raised over the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum, isn’t it? As genuinely concerned as we are about our children’s safety and well-being, it’s ultimately our own discomfort of having to broach the subject of sex and sexuality that gets our knickers in a knot.

After all, our children are experimenting with their bodies and their friends’ bodies well before any health curriculum to-date would lead an interplanetary traveler to believe.And we know this not only from our own experiences but from watching our kids as they grow up. My one-year-old son spends a good portion of his bath time holding and flicking his penis. And why shouldn’t he? “What’s this thing,” I imagine him asking, “that shoots water out like the tap, grows and shrinks, and makes me 5 lbs heavier in the morning?” Not too long from now, he’ll be feeling new sensations from touching himself, which will lead to new abilities he had no idea he could perform. I, myself, was masturbating (not knowing the term or what I was really doing) well before Grade 2. My (male) friends were revealing their penises to each other at sleepovers before Grade 4 and who knew my female peers were doing the same with their breasts and vaginas? Before the end of Grade 8, I had friends who were engaging in all varieties of sexual activities: ‘blowjobs’, ‘hand-jobs’, playing with toys, and yes, sex. And this is just peers; it isn’t uncommon for siblings to ‘show and tell’ with each other as well.

So why is the 2015 health curriculum so terrible?

I don’t need any ideas put in my kid’s head. Well, we know (as I’ve demonstrated) our kids’ intuitions and imaginations are pretty potent on their own, let alone with the exposure of the internet (despite the best efforts of “parental controls”) and what Hollywood can get away with in a G rated film.

My kid’s going to get some girl ‘knocked up’. This has been happening anyway.

My kid’s going through enough changes, they don’t need to be confused about their sexual identity. First, some already are. Second, others, sadly, are self-conscious of not appearing different, sexually or otherwise, out of fear. And lastly, they are already exposed to these “confusing” possibilities in their tv shows, novels, and movies. Yes, the rest of the world is changing.

They’re my kids, I’ll explain sex and sexuality to them when and as I see fit. They may be your kids but they are also our fellow citizens, and we need communities that cultivate a safe and inclusive environment for all. Your idea of timing, or your neighbours’, may be too late for the boy or girl who are bullied for being gay, or having same-sex parents, or who are engaged in non-consensual sexual activity, or who are subjected to the grief and shame of hurting someone because they didn’t know how (or thought it was uncool) to obtain consent.

And if we think the high school health curriculum is satisfactory for teaching citizens about sexuality, it is the failure of the elementary curriculum that renders it less useful. In Grade 9 I was given my first genuine opportunity to ask questions about sex and sexuality freely but the problem was that I was worried about outing myself as uneducated or unexperienced amidst my peers, whom I had heard (and had every reason to believe) were engaging in sexual activities already or who acted (truthfully or not) as though the intricacies of sexuality were as common knowledge as simple addition and subtraction. Not only did I go on to spend the majority of my high school years in shame and fear, but I also eventually hurt others because I wasn’t informed, didn’t feel I could ask questions, and compensated for being timid with overconfidence and alcohol. There are a handful of women I have reached out and apologized to in my adulthood, for my actions in high school but despite my good intentions, they have already suffered the consequences of my actions. Must we continue to approach sexual misconduct and violence with a response-first-attitude or can we finally act like adults and accept that we can do far more to prevent such trauma?

I’m being an adult by letting my kid be a kid. What we really mean by ‘let kids be kids’ is that we want to preserve their innocence and playfulness. It’s this very nature, however, that leads them to discover and experiment with their sexuality at such an early age. So, without an open and honest dialogue, how are we to expect our kids to come forward about questions or concerns; to receive diverse information about sex and sexuality rather than solely what they garner from unrealistic representations in media; and most importantly, to receive the necessary information to keep them and their peers safe? If you actually compare the 2015 curriculum with the interim one implemented in 2018, (Jack Haun’s Globe and Mail article, “The differences between Ontario’s interim sex-ed curriculum and 2015′s” succinctly summarizes the differences), the 2015 curriculum isn’t the “Adolescent Sex Party Manual for Dummies” some would have us believe. Indeed, in the 2015 curriculum, abstinence is still heavily touted as the primary prescription to preventing STI’s and unintended pregnancies.

To me, the glaring difference between the two is the interim curriculum’s abstinence from using such vile and dangerous words as penis, vagina, and consent. Indeed, these words appear more times in this article than the interim curriculum, which isn’t such a grand feat as they don’t appear at all. The immaturity reflected in the interim health curriculum emboldens, italicizes and underlines the real question at the centre of our children’s health education: are we really going to let our own shyness, embarrassment, and discomfort of talking about sexuality, get in the way of protecting our children and our communities?

*The Ontario government is currently consulting the public on the province’s education system. The deadline to submit your input is December 15th 2018. For information on the consultation and how to participate, please visit: https://www.ontario.ca/page/for-the-parents

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