A new sex education program proposed by the Ontario government outraged parents so much that the Premier backed down and the program was scrapped. Among other things that had parents reaching for their pitch forks was that the curriculum, which would have begun at grade three, threatened to teach children the proper names for body parts. Knowing that one has a penis instead of a “pee-pee” was apparently not okay with the many Christian and Muslim parents who objected. I can only guess that the term “vagina” as opposed to “love hole”, which is the term my seven-year-old just learned from a nine-year-old neighbor boy, would not sit well with them either.
My daughter, thank goodness, has known the proper names for her body parts since she was three. And sure, it lead to many an awkward conversation in the middle of Target on Saturday morning, but now I don’t have to worry about her picking up horrifying euphemisms on the playground and having no real idea what they mean.
This latest uprising against arming our children with facts about their bodies and sex is disheartening because it falls back on the tired argument that children should learn about sex in the home from their parents– where they are clearly learning nothing of the sort.
A recent study revealed that the majority of pregnancies of women in their twenties result form the improper use, or even non-use, of birth control. Tampax’s new television ad campaign illustrates that grown men know nothing about menstruation beyond that it is icky. And teen pregnancy rates are on the rise.
It is adults who are uncomfortable with sex, and our discomfort is a big part of the reason why our children need sex education in schools. We, as adults, are failing in our job to inform our kids in a timely manner.
Timely meaning not right before your daughter is ready to have her first period. Girls are menstruating as early as ten or eleven these days. And it doesn’t mean assuming that your high schooler won’t be tempted to have sex before college, so you can put off the talk until you are dropping him off at his dorm.
Given the state of clothing, television, musics, video games and other social media, a wise parent would be on constant alert for opportunities to assess his/her child for signs that wisdom about anything sexual is in need of being dispensed and then he/she would dispense it.
But many aren’t and many don’t.
Our kids are sexual beings from the moment they are conceived. Pretending that they don’t need to know anything about even the most basic sexual issues before they are teens is willful foolishness. We might want them to wait until they are twenty-five, college educated, employed and legally married to an opposite sex partner before they experience sex for the first time, but that is a fantasy land expectation based on our own prejudices and unease. Kids have sex when, where and with whom they decide whether they are properly informed or not.
Another issue Ontario parents had with the new curriculum was that at grades six and seven issues like anal intercourse and vaginal lubrication would have been discussed. I am guessing, as a former middle school teacher myself, that they would have been discussed within strict parameters, but parents feel that is information best introduced by them.
I can’t imagine the circumstances under which a parent raises either topic. I have a hard time imagining myself having that conversation, and I am a parent whose grade two daughter knows about menstruation and has an age-appropriate knowledge of where babies come from.
I am pretty sure that it would be better for a student to learn about sex in a controlled classroom environment rather than from South Park for example. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are funny guys, but not my choices for sex ed instructors for my child though if you watch a few episodes – and many pre-teens do watch – you can learn a lot about issues sexual.
So is it the job of the state to teach our kids about sex or not?
If not, shouldn’t parents actually do that job they are insisting should be done at home?
As a high school teacher, I fielded numerous queries from boys and girls about pregnancy.
More than one pregnant student told me that she’d been surprised about ending up pregnant because “I didn’t think it would happen the first time” or “My friends said that if he pulled out it would be okay.”
Kids are still sharing misinformation like this, even with all their supposed sophistication.
Twice I had young men pulling me aside and ask, “If my girlfriend is late, does that mean she is pregnant?”
“How late?” I asked one youngster expecting him to say a couple of days or a week, which isn’t worrisome in teen girls as their cycles can still be erratic.
“Three weeks,” he said, “Almost four.”
I wrote him a pass to the nurse’s office with a note asking her to track down the girl in question.
I won’t argue with any parent’s right to be the arbiter of what her child learns and when. I would, however, question a parent’s right to substitute disinformation for fact or to not inform at all. The Ontario program allowed for opt outs as do most sexual education programs. Parents with objections could have removed their kids from the class. That’s their prerogative. It’s not their right to decide if my child attends the class or has access to sexl education however.
When I was twelve, my friends and I learned about vaginal intercourse by reading Judy Blume’s book, Forever. I would hate to think that girls are still getting their information that way, but I have a feeling that many of them are.