It’s back to school time in Waterloo Region and parents need to be aware of all aspects of their child’s school curriculum: from math to English to sexual health. The current sexual health curriculum in Ontario grade schools is outdated by 15 years. A new curriculum has been developed and was supposed to be implemented in 2010; however, Dalton McGuinty reneged on this decision. It is now up to current Premier Kathleen Wynne to bring Ontario’s sexual education up to date.
The “new” curriculum has been called controversial because it mentions masturbation, oral sex, anal sex and gender identity, even though they are discussed in an age-appropriate and healthy manner. Sexual health education is just as important as other subjects in school and yet it is never treated with much respect or importance.
Every human being is a sexual being; what people learn at a young age about relationships, sexuality and sexual health is information that can be used over the course of a lifetime. It is critical for parents to supplement their child’s sexual health education at home and create a comfortable and open environment where they feel encouraged to raise their questions and concerns.
Sexual health education is important because it increases a child’s overall health and sexual self-esteem. It helps protect children from sexual abuse and sexual assault, prepares them for healthy adult relationships, increases body awareness and helps them understand the emotions they are feeling as puberty begins. A lack of sexual health information could lead to unhealthy or abusive relationships, unplanned pregnancies, contraction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and feelings of guilt, shame and confusion.
With the increase of social media, children and adolescents have unlimited access to information. Unfortunately, the information regarding sex, sexuality and sexual health is often inaccurate, out-of-date and obscenely inappropriate. Video games, the Internet, television and movies are awash with sex and sexual messages. These messages are often sexist, racist and homophobic and can be confusing, embarrassing or frightening for children.
It is impossible to shield children from all the sexual imagery and language in society. If we want our children to grow into confident and sexually healthy adults, we must be willing to discuss sexuality openly and teach children how to think critically about what they see and hear.
1. Try to have an open and honest communication style.
2. Educate yourself.
3. Accept that it may be awkward and embarrassing.
4. Reflect on your own upbringing and sexual health education.
5. Talk about feelings and emotions, as well as the facts.
6. Stay informed with the music, television and social media your child listens to, watches and uses.
7. Look for everyday opportunities to have a discussion – one discussion is never enough.
8. It is never too late to start communicating with your child.
9. Use books – Contact Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region for a list of age appropriate books ppwr.on.ca.
10. Ask your child questions to find out what they know – you may be surprised.
11. Normalize sexuality – it should be a healthy part of your life.
12. Have a sense of humour.
Stacey Jacobs is the Community Sexual Health Educator at Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region (ppwr.on.ca) and has taught Sexuality classes at the University of Waterloo. She has a Master of Science from the University of Guelph and is thinking about completing a PhD.