Guest Post by Ayesha Asaf, who's interning at Eve for the summer


In 2015, the Ontario government introduced a revised “controversial” sex-ed curriculum, causing an uproar among some parents. They believed that the new curriculum, which addressed important issues such as same-sex relationships, gender identity and consent, were age-inappropriate and ignored “family values”, whatever that means.

Three years later, newly elected Premiere Doug Ford announced that elementary schools will be reverting back to the 1998 sex-ed curriculum. This was the first of many disappointing changes implemented by Ford targeting public health. This move also received public backlash, mostly from students, who organized protests in the form of classroom walk-outs. As such, in March, the ministry of education announced that they will bring back the modernized 2015 sex-ed curriculum, with minor shifts of particular lessons to different grades. 

This back and forth between sex-ed curriculums is a testament to the vast differences in opinions regarding what/when children should and should not learn about sex. The reality is that one way or another, kids will find these things out.

Take me for example. As someone who was taught by the 1998 curriculum and grew up in a conservative household, my sexual health knowledge as a pre-teen resembled that of a teaspoon. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when in grade 7, a classmate thought it would be funny to mislead me into believing that masturbating was another word for chewing. Of course, I now know the word he was actually referring to was masticating, but as you can imagine, middle school was a traumatic time for me. This was 10 years ago and with the increased access to technology and conflicting information available online, it is now much easier to be misinformed. So maybe talking about sex in a classroom is better than relying on Google, or worse, immature middle school boys. 

That being said, I feel like sex-ed didn’t really apply to my experiences growing up. This sentiment was echoed by my other colleagues and friends, who said that sex-ed seemed “lightyears away from being relevant to me”. Most of us had immigrated to Canada from countries where sex is a taboo topic and so learning about it was an uncomfortable experience, where we felt like we didn’t belong. It also didn’t help that these classes were dry and boring and largely consisted of learning the male and female anatomy, abstinence and watching a traumatizing video of a woman giving birth. Ontario prides itself on its diverse population, but clearly this diversity is not always reflected in the curriculums taught at schools.

What good is sex-ed if it isn’t representative of the students it was made for? For all of us, adolescence was a confusing time with many conflicting pressures and our experiences were not one and the same. The modernized curriculum does a great job addressing these differences. For example, it considers factors that may influence an individual’s decision to take part in sexual activities such as, gender identity, disabilities, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, cultural teachings and many more. Just with this addition to the curriculum, I personally would have felt included in the conversation on sexual health, and I know my colleagues and friends would feel the same way.

There is also a misconception that the new sex-ed curriculum is an instruction manual on how to engage in risky sexual behaviours. In fact, it does the exact opposite. The curriculum’s large focus on healthy relationships, understanding personal boundaries and communicating consent actually equips students to make informed decisions regarding their sexual activities. And these skills don’t just apply to sex, they can be used to navigate many other situations that come up in academic and professional settings.

As one colleague put it perfectly, “sex-ed is life education”. Understanding our own limitations and learning to communicate our needs, wants and comforts is fundamental to becoming independent and confident adults. 

Grade

1998

2015

1

-identify body parts, unclear on detail

 

-identify body parts, including genitalia

-personal hygiene/transmission of germs

2

-personal hygiene/transmission of germs -similarities and differences between themselves and others (i.e. gender)

-stages of human development (birth to adulthood) and related bodily changes

-oral health

3

-basic human/animal reproductive processes (union of egg and sperm)

-development stages (birth to childhood)

-characteristics of healthy relationships

-identify and respect visible and invisible differences that make each person unique

4

-stages of human development (birth to adulthood) and related bodily changes

-characteristics of healthy relationships

-physical changes that occur in males and females at puberty

-applying personal hygienic practices with the onset of puberty

5

-handling stress/pressures positively

-physical changes that occur at puberty

-applying personal hygienic practices with the onset of puberty

-menstruation and spermatogenesis

-identify the parts of the reproductive systems

-menstruation and spermatogenesis

-inappropriate behaviours (touching others without permission, sharing private sexual photos, posting sexual comments online is unacceptable/illegal)

6

-relate changes at puberty to the reproductive organs

-address issues related to friends, peers, and family relationships

-development of a person’s self-concept

-wet dreams, masturbating

-making informed decisions

-differences in relationships we see online and on media vs. in real life

-concept of consent

-address stereotypes, including homophobia, gender roles, gender expression, race, mental health etc.

7

-explain male and female reproductive systems as they relate to fertilization

-identify modes of transmission, symptoms and ways to prevent STIs

-abstinence

-identify sources of support with regard to issues related to healthy sexuality

-importance of having a shared understanding and clearly communicating with a partner about sexual activity

-how consent is communicated

-identify modes of transmission, symptoms (HPV, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea) and ways to prevent STIs

-types of tests and importance of getting tested if sexually active

-preventing STIs/unintended pregnancy by delaying first intercourse and other sexual activities or by using condoms

-identify sources of support with regard to issues related to healthy sexuality

References

https://www.oaith.ca/assets/files/2015%20Health%20and%20Physical%20Education%20Curriculum.pdf

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/healthcurr18.pdf

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44812833

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2019/03/15/doug-fords-government-wont-scrap-any-topics-from-liberal-sex-ed-curriculum_a_23693359/

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontario-students-to-walk-out-of-class-to-protest-sex-ed-curriculum-2/

 


Ayesha Asaf is an intern at Eve Medical, focused on Public Health Research. She is working towards her Master of Public Health degree at McMaster University,, specializing in epidemiology. Ayesha is particularly interested in how social determinants of health can be addressed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.