After being withdrawn in 2010, Ontario’s updated sex education curriculum will be released later this winter and students will begin learning it in September 2015. Some religious leaders and parents have objections, but many others support the new curriculum.
Education Minister Liz Sandals had the job of updating the health and physical education plan that was originally created in 2010. The new curriculum was created after consulting with 5,000 school council representatives across the province.
New topics include homosexuality, same-sex marriages, sexually transmitted diseases and masturbation. Critics argue that the topics aren’t age-appropriate and it is up to parents to teach their children this information when they deem appropriate.
However, proponents argue that an update is long overdue. It hasn’t been updated since 1998, long before Facebook, smartphones and various other cultural elements that have changed our lives in many ways, including how children interact with one another. The new curriculum will include modern updates like information on sexting, cyberbullying and the importance of consent.
In addition, children are starting puberty as early as age 7, making it even more important to start the discussion earlier than what has been considered appropriate in the past. Kids have more access to sexually explicit content than ever before, thanks to the internet. If schools don’t take the initiative to teach students about appropriate sexual behavior, they could be getting their education elsewhere and in much more inappropriate forms.
According to a study conducted at the University of Alberta, 90 percent of males aged 13-14 and 70 percent of females aged 13-14 admitted to accessing sexually explicit material online at least once. Another study, published in Pediatrics, found that children as young as 10 had been exposed to sexually explicit material online.
The new curriculum goes beyond anatomy and simply teaching kids how to avoid the bad things like unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections. The goal is to teach respect and the importance of healthy relationships. That’s why children as young as grade one will start learning about what consent means in an age-appropriate context.
In an interview with Ottawa Morning, Professor Joel Westheimer discussed the benefit of teaching children about sex at an early age. The earlier kids have access to sexual education — medically accurate sexuality education — the lower the teen pregnancy rate and the later they will engage in sexual activity, he said.
Overall, it seems like a step in the right direction. Children will learn about sex one way or the other, and learning about it in a healthy and safe environment may have long-term benefits beyond just preventing pregnancy. As teens continue to make headlines for rape, it’s never too early to learn about healthy relationships, the meaning of the word “no” and the importance of respecting another individual.