Updated: Jul 7, 2022
As both a mom and a menstruator [in Ontario], I’ve noticed that there are still gaps to fill in today’s sex ed curriculum. Teaching children the proper terminology for their anatomy, the correct information about their body’s functions, and the importance of physical and emotional boundaries are all key components in our kids’ development. As parents, we carry a large portion of the emotional labour involved in guiding our children through reproductive health, but as educational institutions’ primary responsibility is to educate and inform they have a real opportunity to better support kids with information that is inclusive, fact-driven and empowering—for all. Here are three ways sex ed in schools can better support kids:
1. Create an inclusive sex education curriculum
Full-spectrum education/care refers to all identities in the queer spectrum. This applies to the individual, romantic relationships, and family dynamics. To achieve an accepting and inclusive society, we must move away from the idea that heterosexuality is the only valid form of family structure. Because the reality is, queer children and full-spectrum families exist within our school systems—leaving them out of sexual education conversation excludes entire identities from the social and academic benefits of inclusive sex ed.
For schools: An inclusive curriculum tailored to each age group supports the mental and physical reproductive health of students, as well as breaks the cyclical patterns of shame associated with reproductive health seen in many households.
For parents: As parents, we are only human. We come into our roles in parenting with our sexual history and even limited knowledge about reproductive health. Personal biases and limited sexual education can make it even more difficult to talk “birds and bees” with our children. Instead of tackling “The Talk” as a healthy, natural process, it can often come across as wrong or dirty. Breaking this cycle of shame within families can be supported by using inclusive language, comprehensive and fact-driven education, and incorporating discussions about consent and boundaries within the sexual health dialog and outside of it.
2. Fact Driven Education and Care
Fact-driven education/care refers to non-religion-based sex ed. The human body deserves to be taught in a way that is scientific, visual, comprehensive, holistic, and fact-based. Layering religion—which is subjective and open to interpretation—into discussions about biological functions are where children grasp for answers that are logical to them.
For schools: In anatomy and reproductive health specifically, the moral discourses in religion are generally shame-based and highly gendered. Teaching children the proper terminology for their reproductive parts, the correct information about their body’s functions, and the importance of physical and emotional boundaries are all key components in our kids’ development.
For parents: Consider a fact-driven approach to sex ed as a harm reduction approach as well. Harm reduction is the practice of mitigating harm by meeting people where they’re at, and ensuring each person is equipped with the knowledge and resources to make the decision that suits them at that time. Humans are naturally curious and unique—and have access to the internet! It is not a matter of if your child thinks about/wonders about/engages in sex, but when. Everyone deserves to be equipped with the right tools to make informed decisions.
3. Empowering our Youth
Empowered youth is the result of giving factually accurate information that is honest, positive, and free from unbiased language. The words that we use to speak about sexual relations, human anatomy, and boundaries are loaded with subconscious weight that can either add shame to a conversation or empower the student as they learn. Gender-inclusive language matters. Think students instead of boys or girls. People who menstruate instead of girls. Unlearning social discourses and relying on fact-driven education promotes equality in reproductive health and normalizes the changes that every human experiences throughout their teen years.
For schools: Love, consent, and sex as an act of pleasure or reproduction are core elements to our identities, yet many institutions continue to label these experiences as taboo. We
underestimate the technological capacity of the younger generation, who can ask a question online and get inundated with answers from strangers all over the world.
For parents: Many children have access to the internet on family electronics before reaching school age. Would we not all prefer our children to express their curiosity in a safe, honest, and empowering space that recognizes their rights to safety, pleasure, and a sense of belonging?
Teaching consent is essential in empowering youth. In all social interactions, there are inter and intra personal boundaries that are exchanged in both verbal and non-verbal social cues. For young children, normalizing these cues is necessary for teaching body autonomy, a right to say no, and a healthy mental health baseline capacity.
A sex-ed curriculum that includes course content on anatomy, types of consent, and spheres of boundaries sets young children up with a healthy foundation for all types of relationships in the future, not just romantic ones. When our children are taught that they are allowed—and encouraged—to say no concerning their feelings of (dis)comfort, they are nurturing the same sense of self-agency and confidence that will secure their personal safety as sexually active individuals. This autonomy is also important to someone’s gender/sexual identity, to their self-worth, and in specific areas such as sex for pleasure being as valid as sex for pregnancy.
More Action Steps We Can Take
For individuals who recognize the importance of a more progressive sex-ed curriculum, here are a few ways to get involved and advocate for change:
Familiarize yourself with the details of your child’s current curriculum. While criterion may not differ much on a federal level, be sure to read the documents from your province.
Visit your province’s Ministry of Education’s website and see what (if any) changes are currently being motioned. Ministries update monthly bulletins on their government websites.
Write down the specific changes you believe should be brought to the current curriculum if not already being actioned. Being able to sum them up in one concise sentence will create the foundation for a motion.
Create a digital petition (either solo or with a group of like-minded guardians) and use social media in your favour. Your petition should be clear and concise with your goals in line.
Reach out to school board trustees, student trustees, and even school employees. This can help with navigating the institutional red tape and allow you to feel out the undertones in response to proposed changes.
Motion your petition at a provincial level. This process will vary by province. Contacting your provincial members of parliament for support is your best bet!
Before jumping in with both feet, do your research on a provincial level. Many provinces already have updated health curricula that—due to ongoing pushback from guardians—are not being taught in all districts. It may very well be a matter of the material already being created and a focus needed on implementation.
Approaching the topic of reproductive health and reform has been my paid and unpaid work for years, but I am by no means a professional on the topic. The concepts laid out in this article are to raise collective awareness, spark some critical thinking, and create an opinion piece centred on full-spectrum health and equality. As with any type of socio-emotional labour, be sure to respect your own boundaries, and know that it is more than enough to do what you can when you can, and however you can.