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Ontario’s New Sex Education Curriculum

Ontario’s proposed new sex education curriculum is casuing quite a stir. The Toronto Star reported yesterday that “Children in Grade 1 will be taught to identify male and female genitalia….In Grade 3, students will learn about visible differences and invisible differences between people, such as learning abilities, gender identity and sexual orientation“. The uproar is that some parents believe Grade 1 is too early to begin talking to children about sex.

The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada released a timely report (March 2010) on “sexual health education in the schools: questions and answers”. The report outlines many conclusions, some of which are key to the issue of sex education in schools. Among the report’s conclusions are:
– For a majority of Canadians, first sexual intercourse occurs during the teenage years
– The prevalence of STD infection among youth and young adult Canadians is unacceptably high
– Rates of teenage pregnancy have declined steadily
– The percentage of teens who have had intercourse has also declined in recent years
– The rates of condom use among sexually active young people have increased

Mostly good news right? So why the push to expand sex education to younger children?

This debate flared up south of the border during the 2008 Presidential Debate, with President Obama stating that “If [kindergarteners] ask a teacher ‘where do babies come from’… providing information that…it’s not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing.”; while republican candidate Mitt Romney stating that “that the amount of sex education appropriate for a five-year-old is none”.

To argue that no level of sex education is appropriate for a five year old, or someone in Grade 1, misses the point. That view is informed by a belief that children should be sheltered from sexual exploits with the hope that they would abstain from sex as long as possible. The point is the betterment of society. In the end, does this help children make better choices? Or does it actually encourage youth to go out an experiment? (see Rolleri, 2005)

To answer this, some considerations should be kept in mind: the prevelance of the internet in the lives of today’s youth is enourmous, and indirectly teaches children about sex (which is often a distorted/perverted view). Advertising doesnt help either, which often promotes distorted images of male and female sexuality. A large portion of parents today feel uncomfortable speaking to their children about sex, even though many youth consider their parents as a valuable source of sexuality information.

With these circumstances in mind, it appears more appropriate to focus the debate on what is considered “age-appropriate” education, rather than how young is too young.

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