The Importance of Sex Education in Elementary Schools
One of the most fundamental things in our world is often forgotten or stigmatized, especially concerning children and teens: sex. Sex is the source of all human life on this earth -- it is something over 40% of teenagers will do before they turn 18, and it is a never ending source of confusion and entertainment. Despite all this, there is much controversy and stigma surrounding the subject.
In the United States of America, 37 states require abstinence based education, 26 of which stress abstinence as the best method concerning sexual activity. Abstinence is defined as the practice of restraining oneself from something, in this case, sex. Despite these policies, it has been found time and again that abstinence-only education not only fails to increase the practise of abstinence in adolescents, but these states also have the highest rates of teen STIs and pregnancies.
The neighbour to the north, Canada, has a different policy, requiring comprehensive sex education in elementary schools, covering matters such as contraceptives, healthy relationships, and anatomical and biological processes. But are these policies being enacted? I interviewed several students in my town located in the Greater Toronto Area. While this small sampling of experiences by no means is reflective of experiences shared by Canadian students country wide, it does shine light on problematic areas in the region.
In Canada, education decisions are decided and funded by the provinces instead of federal legislation. As such, each province will have a slightly different perspective and means of sex ed.
Ontario, my home province, publicly funds both Catholic and public schools. Through my own experiences and those of others, the quality and bias concerning sex ed is definitely different than that taught in public schools in this area.
Within Ontario, our curriculum has recently been updated, the first time since 1998. The new revision emphasizes the importance of teaching children proper biological terminology and processes. This begins in Grade 1, with explanations of changes during puberty beginning in Grade 4. Students are taught about sexual reproduction and safety measures from Grade 7 to 8. The new curriculum introduces LGBT issues and classifications, as well as more information concerning contraceptives, healthy relationships, and the uniqueness of all individuals. All of those I interviewed, including myself, were taught sex ed prior to the revision in 2015.
The difference in experiences between those who attended different schools within the same Catholic school board was astonishing. For some the level of education was quite high, yet attached to intense bias. One person reported that they were taught about contraceptives, but they were not to use them at all as it went against God’s will. Immediately following that, they were instructed to use condoms if they ever were to have premarital sex, which is prohibited by the Catholic church. These confusing and contradictory messages taught to 12, 13, and 14 year olds may give basic necessary education, but fail to deliver it in an accessible way. Of all those interviewed -- both Catholic and public school students -- a consensus was reached that regardless of the quality of the content of the education, the means of teaching and informing were subpar and ineffective.
I found both public and Catholic schools to neglect information on anything LGBT+ related. Many Catholic school attendees, including myself, recall being taught that while homosexuality itself was not immoral, acting upon these urges was a sin, much like premarital sex.
While one may assume sex ed would be superior in public schools, once again I found the quality of education in the same school board to wildly vary. While most reported being taught biological terms and processes, some reported the complete absence of any formal education by the teacher. Overall, the education taught in public schools seems to be more comprehensive and with less bias than that of Catholic schools, but the lack of uniformity and reliable education is still of grave importance.
I also interviewed a Grade 7 Catholic elementary school student who was recently taught under the new curriculum. Comparatively, it seems under the new curriculum, students are being taught more now than many other students or I ever learned in school concerning sex ed. Despite this improvement, the materials were the same as that which we were taught with, enforcing dated stigmas and bias. They stated that their teacher did the utmost to refute these ideas, but nevertheless it is still being used to teach young minds today.
Lastly, the education of consent and its importance also greatly varied across schools, regardless of boards. This most fundamental topic, the difference between intimacy and assault, was completely lacking or barely covered in the education of many young people. Even today, it was reported that despite its emphasis in the new curriculum, consent was briefly covered and given minimal attention. I believe all can agree, regardless of stance concerning sex ed, that consent is a fundamental concept that must be enforced and taught to all.
Sex and intimacy is something most people will face in their lives at one point or another. These heavy and intricate topics must be approached with educated decisions and actions, or else risks of pregnancy, STIs, or unhealthy relationships are much more likely to occur. Regardless of one’s personal belief concerning sex, the ability to make informed decisions must be awarded to every student. I am very glad this is reflected in the curriculum of my home province, but it is not enough. Everyone should have access to reliable information concerning their bodies and natural human processes. That is why it is important for all governments and education boards to ensure they are doing their duty to educate the people of tomorrow, to make safe, smart decisions.