By Michael Lashley
There can be no valid reason for delaying the important task of updating our school curriculum in the field of sex education.
While there will always be strong disagreement on what the content should be and on what subjects are appropriate for what age-group, we have to face up to the stark realities.
Let us start with the most fundamental of those realities. The physical, psychological and social wellbeing of our children demands that they learn to manage their attitude towards the sexuality of others as well as towards their own sexuality
Sex education involves three main areas: issues of biological gender / sex, including anatomy and physiology; sexual health; and sexuality and sexual behavior. These need to be broached and explained in a positive atmosphere that is non-judgmental and that nurtures the twin principles of respect for self and respect for others.
In the context of that reality, we need to address a second reality with a direct question: To what extent do parents have the willingness and ability to fulfill their substantive role in their children’s sex education?
No one challenges the basic principle that parents and guardians have primary responsibility for their children’s education on sexuality, while the school system provides support, resource materials and expertise. However, the inadequacy of parental input is so very common that most analysts consider that the majority of family situations fall into two categories: parents who provide sex education basically limited to the principle of abstinence; and parents whose role is significantly limited by their lack of skills in sex education and by their personal sensitivities. Their input may even be limited to the basic hygiene of body care.
Those circumstances represent a significant threat to the physical health, the mental health, the social development and the social education of children. These four areas of concern are not the exclusive responsibility of parents. The school system also has a share in this responsibility, on the basis of its mandatory function to contribute to the wellbeing of children.
Its mandate comes from the fact it provides a social service on behalf of the governmental authorities and that those same four areas are directly related to children’s rights guaranteed under our constitution.
The most forceful threat to those rights of the child does not come from the sex education in any school curriculum. It comes from the daily bombardment of “hyper-sexuality” foisted on society through and by the mass media, ranging from the sexual tease in product advertisements to the most sexually explicit and sordid images, films and pornographic websites; from the dating and relationship websites to the advertisements for escorts, prostitutes and sexual services of all kinds, provided for and by persons of all sexual orientations.
To counter the poisonous impact of that bombardment of unhealthy values, distorted information, sexual abasement and sexuality that is devoid of both self-respect and affective attachment to one’s sexual partner, there is an urgent and critical need for sex education that is balanced and evidence-based, that is supported by resource materials and information that are vetted by specialists qualified in the natural sciences, the educational sciences and the social sciences.
And yet, many parents and faith-based communities are extremely uncomfortable with the principle of including sex education in the school system and are especially opposed to the updated sex education curriculum presented by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government for implementation throughout Ontario’s school system in the academic year beginning in September. For these concerned parents and communities, sex education is the exclusive purview of parents and, in any case, it is harmful over-exposure to hyper-sexuality.
In response to that negative viewpoint, it is necessary to highlight yet another harsh reality that is unavoidable and is already staring us straight in our faces.
Today’s children need to understand and learn to treat respectfully and responsibly with the most sensitive and controversial subjects that are entering the mainstream of life in the twenty-first century: same sex couples with the full range of rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples; same sex couples with children in school; same sex couples adopting children; trans-gendered and non-gendered persons; the presence of non-heterosexual persons in leadership and professional positions in all facets of life as politicians, CEO’s in the private sector, teachers, Boy Scout / Girl Guide leaders, priests, nuns, pastors and bishops.
That new reality is in itself adequate justification for our children to have professionally delivered sex education in schools .Without the physiological, psychological and social aspects of sex education, children of all sexual orientations will not be able to feel comfortable and to function successfully in today’s world.