The slippery slope of sexual education
It was a moment of preschool impetuosity. At a birthday party recently, an acquaintance of my son’s suddenly took a notion to pull down his pants and address his member with a friendly, “Hi.” Embarrassed chuckles ensued all around, while the young exhibitionist was hustled off to the sidelines somewhere to rethink his party trick.
It’s ironic that, in the fall, this child could enter Grade 1 — precisely the demographic Ontario educators were targeting for explicit instruction on genital identification (“penis,” “testicles,” “vagina,” etc.) under a proposed sex-ed curriculum that thankfully appears to have been put on ice.
That’s not to say, however, that the pressure to move to such a curriculum — which also envisaged teaching Grade 3 students about sexual orientation and grades 6 and 7 students about auto-eroticism, vaginal lubrication and anal sex — is exclusive to Ontario.
In Saskatchewan, where health education is in the process of being reformed, Grade 5 students already learn the “correct terminology” for the reproductive system and in Grade 6, discuss “standard precautions and strategies to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases.”
Should they? “Sex education is always controversial,” said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical health officer. “But kids need clear, unbiased, age-appropriate information and parents need the support offered by a strong sexual health program in schools.”
Said another proponent: “We don’t have parents deciding whether or when to teach math, so why are we so apologetic about this topic?”
You can imagine, however, the potential for error at the Grade 1 level, for example.
If, say, one child — newly educated in sexual awareness — touched another’s private parts, what should the teacher do? If a student was unwilling to identify him or herself genitally, should the teacher assist them? If so, could he or she be criminally liable?
Sex-ed in high school is one thing. But before children reach adolescence, they simply aren’t very sexual. Sigmund Freud believed sexuality should remain latent until about 13. He called the pre-adolescent period (usually between 10 and 12) one of “relative psychosexual calm and unparalleled repression of sexual desires and erogenous impulses.”
I remember, around 11, confidently declaring to a friend that some shorts in a store were “definitely men’s” because they had (titter, titter) “that pocket.” Turned out that pocket was a change pocket and distinctly off to one side.
My friend still chuckles about it. But being a bit of a green “tween” hardly scarred me for life.
To date, there are apparently no extensive, peer-reviewed studies that have found instructing pre-teens in sexually explicit material and information has any notable benefits.
Nor do the sex-ed courses currently on offer appear to be doing much to improve teen self-esteem, lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, promote a greater sense of honour and respect in sexual relations or, for that matter, teach teenagers much about the exploitation of women in the porn industry.
Proponents of the new Ontario curriculum pointed out that in this age of Internet “misinformation” — and porn — students need a common-sense counterbalance. As Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty ingenuously put it: “We live in an information age, (so) why wouldn’t we try to present this information in a thoughtful, responsible and open way?”
But again, should that start at age six? And just because sex is so ubiquitous, is the solution to expose children to more sex-clinic lingo, right down to “vaginal lubrication?”
Come to think of it, why does everything have to be expressed in language that’s so blunt and banal?
Take this passage, for example, on “gender differences” in the updated Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, by Dr. Robert Needlman.
“A little girl needs extra reassurance because it’s natural for her to want to have something she can see (in this case, her brother’s penis). It will help her to know that her mother likes being made the way she is. This may also be a good time to explain that girls when they are older can grow babies of their own inside them and have breasts with which to nurse them. That’s a thrilling idea at three or four.” Hmm. I seriously doubt that. Why rush nature with such explicit information? As for sex, surely intelligence should be acquired gradually, with room for some innocence, loveliness and mystery built in. email@example.com