Ontario’s premier-elect, Doug Ford, is set to follow up on one of his more controversial campaign promises and repeal the province’s health and physical education curriculum. More commonly known as the “sex-ed curriculum,” this document was updated by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government in 2015. (The previous edition was written in 1998, well before the internet and social media era.) In addition to covering basics about puberty, sexual health, contraception, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), this curriculum teaches students about stereotypes and healthy relationships. As the CBC noted at the time the new curriculum was written, the changes also bring Ontario in line with four other provinces as far as teaching concepts of consent, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
During his run for the leadership, Mr. Ford wooed social conservatives to his side by promising to scrap the sex-ed curriculum, which they call “radical.” Their support secured him the leadership and he now intends to pay them back by getting rid of the curriculum.
For those unfamiliar with it, here is an overview of the curriculum. The full document can be found here. (Look soon because once he is sworn in on June 29, these links will likely be gone.) And here is a snapshot of what my son was taught in grade 6. I have to ask: where exactly is the problem?
I have done considerable research into the issue of sex education and can say, without reservation, that our kids need this curriculum. Herewith, a few facts Mr. Ford may want to consider before tearing up this valuable document. I have written these points in the form of a letter. Those of you who are so inclined may use this letter in your own communication with Mr. Ford or your MPP about the importance of maintaining the current sex-ed curriculum.
Dear Premier Ford,
I am writing today to express my concern about your government’s position on the sex education component of Ontario’s current health and physical education curriculum. You have indicated that your government will repeal this sex-ed curriculum. For the benefit of the children of this province and the estimated half of adults who support the curriculum, I hope you will consider the following points before making a final decision.
- Although opponents of the curriculum will argue otherwise, studies show that comprehensive sex education (CSE) delays sexual initiation in children (Lindberg and Kirby), while also increasing condom and contraceptive use and decreasing pregnancy rates. For the record, these same studies note that abstinence-only education shows a “lack of efficacy…in delaying sexual initiation, reducing sexual risk behaviors, or improving reproductive health outcomes.” (Hall) As noted by a UNESCO report from earlier this year, programs “that combine a focus on delaying sexual activity with other content are effective” in delaying sexual initiation, reducing the frequency of sex, and reducing the number of sexual partners. Ontario’s current curriculum follows the UNESCO model with its focus on teaching students to delay sexual activity, a message they receive in grade 7, before many of them become sexually active.
- Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum goes well beyond the birds and the bees. It discusses critical issues like consent and healthy relationships. From a young age, children will know what is acceptable and appropriate in their relationships with others and how to say “no” to unwanted physical contact. As the #MeToo movement has shown, such lessons are vital.
- The curriculum also talks about stereotypes–gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture, and abilities. It teaches kids to challenge these stereotypes and treat others with respect regardless of their “differences.” These lessons can help put an end to bullying and reduce stress and negative mental health outcomes for children who might otherwise be victims of other students’ prejudices.
- Some opponents of the curriculum argue that parents should be the only adults teaching their kids about sex. Fair enough. The problem here is that many do not. A 2013 US study by professor of pediatrics Abigail Donaldson showed that one-third to one-half of sexually active teens had received no information from parents on birth control, STIs, and condoms. (The numbers vary by topic and gender. The stats can be seen in Table 1 in Donaldson.) Numbers from Canada are very similar. (Smith, p. 3)
- Boys are especially in need of this curriculum. Recent research has shown that parents talk to boys far less than girls about consent, birth control, and STIs. (See Table 4 in Lindberg .) Medical health professionals are equally reticent, leaving boys with few places to find answers to their questions about sex. (Smith, p. 5)
Sex education is a public health issue. Kids who are not informed about the realities of sexual intercourse, contraception, and STI prevention are far more likely to experience negative outcomes like pregnancy and disease. Children who are not taught about consent and healthy relationships stand a greater chance of being violated or stuck in unhealthy or abusive relationships. Since a great number of parents fail to provide their children with even basic information about sexuality and sexual health, many children are left to learn about sex from unreliable sources like media and their peers. Public schools are the best option for reaching children across this province and providing them with the sexual health education they need. As was noted in an article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence:
“Schools offer a practical and efficient means to reach young people with health information and health services. Because they include students across the socioeconomic spectrum, public schools can educate and serve children and youth who may not have access to education and services elsewhere. Schools are also an opportunity to educate all young people about health and sexuality before they initiate health risk behaviors, and to provide health services that prevent disease and promote health. Thus schools can help young people establish healthy behaviors that endure into adulthood… In addition to promoting healthy behaviors, schools are important venues for the development of norms and values and for fostering positive self-concept and agency around sex, sexuality, and relationships.” (Schalet, 43, no. 10, 2014)
As this brief overview has shown, keeping kids in the dark about sex will hurt them, not help them. The more they know, the better equipped they will be to make smart decisions about sex. That is why I hope you will reconsider your decision to repeal the current sex education curriculum.
Thank you for your time. I would appreciate any response you could provide about your government’s stand on this important issue.
NOTE: Some MPPs and cabinet members do not list an email address but have only a contact form. I have prepared a Word document of the letter, with references listed at the bottom since the hyperlinks I have here will not work in an email form. Download the Word document here: SexEdCurriculum-Letter.
Because the new government had not been sworn in, their contact information was not available when I first wrote this post. It is now available on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Current Members page.