Co-written by Sandeep Prasad and Julie Duncan*
The last time Ontario changed its sex ed curriculum was seventeen years ago. As with anything, most would agree that the update is long overdue.
As an elementary school teacher, I have to tell you that this new curriculum is necessary and welcomed by teachers. We've been having to have these conversations and answering these questions for years without any formal guidance or structure.
As executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, I'm joining in the chorus of parents and teachers celebrating a refreshed curriculum that adds tools to the toolbox for healthy communities.
Sex education that provides students with the skills to navigate their way in this diverse, digital world has to go beyond biology. It needs to include information on gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, relationships, gender-based violence and sexual violence, sexual and gender diversity, consent and human rights. It has to recognize and speak to the reality we live in.
Talking about consent from a very early age is about giving children and youth choices and reminding them every day that their body belongs to them; that they are in charge of what happens with/to their own bodies.
Consent on top of issues like sexual harassment, cyber bullying and discrimination are among the headlines that keep landing on the front page and the 11 o'clock news. With the tools needed to promote empowerment and respect, our teachers can help address these issues head on. If we don't teach kids these basic life skills when they are young, we are dreaming if we expect every one of them to be able to all of a sudden implement them into their lives when they do start to become intimate.
It's absolutely critical that our education system addresses these issues at an early age in ways that are age appropriate -- just as we do with any subject. And that it works to eliminate stereotypes, discrimination and stigma, with the understanding that our classrooms, like society, are diverse. Let's not forget that this is one of the internationally recognized basic human rights of our children and youth.
Sexual health doesn't happen in a vacuum and it's about more than the birds and the bees. The well-researched and evidence-based curriculum that is being introduced broadens a narrow definition of health and to us it's a positive step forward.
As parents, we are teaching important skills to our children like to trust their guts, that feeling in your tummy when you just know that something is or isn't right. Or to love themselves and others for who they are. We are imparting them with important values to help them understand, explore and navigate their lives, including their sexuality. That said, I know that while I do my best to discuss important topics in my home and make sure my children have been introduced to concepts like consent, sexual pleasure and how to use anatomically correct names for body parts, children and adolescents can be more receptive to having these conversations with their teachers or a Public Health Nurse. I also know that parents may not always have all of the nitty-gritty information or tools needed to field every question. It's complimentary. In my experience as a teacher, when the spaces in which we have these discussions are free from judgment, students feel empowered with the information they walk away with. As a parent, this is something that I know I want for my kids.
As Action Canada's executive director, I work with our partners, parents, adolescents, youth, teachers, community leaders, and physicians just to name a few -- to ensure they have the tools they need to build healthy communities, increase access to information, promote life skills and healthy choices.
We host a website with reliable, comprehensive sexual health information that ranges from basic anatomy and STI prevention to post-natal care and healthy sexuality. Our most viewed topics? Consent and Healthy Relationships. Clearly there is a gap in what we have been teaching students: they are seeking out the information for themselves. Yes, our website does provide well-researched material, but there is so much misinformation out there, we need to ensure they are getting accurate information first hand from the teachers they trust.
Together, as a parent and a teacher and as executive director of Action Canada, we support this new curriculum and its contribution to a growing understanding of human sexuality as a positive, healthy part of life, an important message that can be taught in age appropriate ways. Now let's ensure that the teachers delivering this important content have the proper resources, tools and support, as well as the appropriate working conditions, they need to do their work.
Julie Duncan is a grade 3 and 4 teacher based in Ottawa and parent of two children aged 3 and 4.
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