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Why I'm Not Afraid of My Kid Learning About Penises and Vaginas

02/24/2015 05:27 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT
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This week, the Ontario government released a new health and physical education curriculum for Grades 1 through 8 to replace the last one, formalized in 1998. This update is meant to address the many changes that have occurred over the past 17 years, most importantly, as related to sex. Cue the histrionics.

Whenever the topic of sex education and children comes up, there's an inevitable outcry from parents, politicians, and religious figures, who either think that (a) this should be taught at home, (b) the topics being taught are "inappropriate," or (c) teachers will do it wrong. All of which, frankly, don't speak to the realities of what's happening with kids right now.

My theory is that this opposition comes from a misremembering of their own childhoods or simply wanting their kids to remain "innocent" (whatever that means) for as long as possible.

Newsflash: interest in sex doesn't suddenly start at the age of 18, but instead, happens pretty much from the time you discover you have genitalia. And unfortunately, a lot of parents aren't addressing that.

There's a reason people joke about kids playing "doctor" -- it's because kids are curious about their bodies, and the feelings they get from them, as much as adults are. They just don't have the knowledge to help them along the way. So hey, wouldn't it be great if they could get that someplace safe and educational, like say, school?

While the new curriculum has many, many elements (244 pages of them, to be exact), the ones in the spotlight (a.k.a. hot seat) for this update include starting sex ed in Grade 1, discussing puberty before kids start going through it, and talking about same-sex relationships, including what that means for sexual relations.

But you know what they're teaching those first graders (something Education Minister Liz Sandals says is already in place, by the way)? The proper names of their body parts, like penis and vagina and testicles and vulva. And to be honest, I can't think of one reason why kids shouldn't know what they're called -- or understand why anyone else would have a problem with using the real words for them.

I'm well aware parents use different terms for their kids' private parts from birth -- possibly to make it easier for the kids to say, possibly to spare themselves the embarrassment of using the word -- but whatever the reason, by the time your kid is six years old, he or she should probably know what these things are really called. Using cutesy nicknames for genitalia only serves to infantilize kids' questions about the areas, and keep them distinct from the rest of the body.

And that's really what's at the heart of the matter with this new curriculum. What people who oppose everything from the use of the word "vagina" to discussing sex in the classroom seem to be missing is that putting these subjects into the same context that teaches long division and the capitals of Canada normalizes the topic of sex, in all its aspects.

It's not encouraging kids in any of these age groups to have sex, as some people seem to think, and it's not turning them into sexual deviants (again, whatever that means). It's setting up foundations to help these children become the adults who have healthy relationships with their bodies, have respectful relationships with their peers' bodies, and know that the feelings they're having are completely normal.

And yes, to know exactly what to call the penis or vagina between their legs.

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