So the topic of sex ed has been blowing up in the news again this week, as Ontario parents against the curriculum changes banded together to take their kids out of class for the week in a “strike” protest. I gather that they believe that the content and schedule of curriculum delivery is harmful to their children.
I get it. As parents, we all want the best for our children. We want them to grow up to be healthy, happy, connected and loved individuals, and to protect them from harm where we can. But these adjectives are pretty vague in terms of specific goals and ambitions, driving the IT delivery manager in me to distraction. I decided to take a step back to look at what specific goals I want for my daughters. (taking from Stephen Covey, “Begin with the goal in mind”)
- I want my daughters to understand their bodies and not be ashamed of them, especially as their bodies (and brains) change through puberty. I don’t want other people’s ignorance and discomfort to project onto my daughters and manipulate them into unhealthy behaviours, or influence how they feel about themselves. Arming them with knowledge and keeping the discussion active through the years is how I think is best to combat this.
- I want my daughters to be comfortable approaching me and their father with their questions, concerns, or just to talk. Again, the tactic here is to answer from a young age the questions they ask truthfully and frankly, but within the context of their maturity of understanding. In addition, this means my initiating conversation around uncomfortable subjects when the need arises. (e.g. viewing something happen in public, on the news, or in TV or movies). I’m hoping with practice, the discussions and explainations on my part will be less uncomfortable. We’re making the conscious decision to invest in having these small awkward conversations, that added up through the long term, maintains an environment where the girls are comfortable enough to talk to us frankly.
- I want my daughters to be able to identify when they are uncomfortable in a situation, and to have the vocabulary to explain to the other person. The concept of consent should be grounded in every interaction with others, whether it’s playing games, play wrestling, to giving/receiving hugs and kisses all the way to touching and sexual activity. This is why consent needs to be taught at an early age. I’ve stopped insisting that my kids give hugs to our friends or extended family that they don’t know as well. This was common before when they were younger, lest they be thought rude. Some thing I read a couple of years ago helped me realize that action then subtly reinforces that if the person is older/bigger/has more authority than them, they can make them do something they are uncomfortable with. Our girls can say they feel shy, and I’ll offer a high-five as a substitute greeting.
- I want my daughters to also make sure they are respecting others and be aware of non-verbal signs for those who don’t have the vocabulary or the courage to speak up. Essential anti-bullying education, right?
- I want my daughters to understand that sex is not just a physical act. It should be an emotional one too, and one where you are vulnerable with the other person, so two-way respect is critical. I think promiscuous sex is when those factors don’t come into the picture. Then there is the use of sex to sell, to titillate, to empower, to take away power, and to shame. These are complicated waters to navigate through, and ones they will have to start navigating once they and their peers are reaching puberty. The availability of mobile phones and internet compounds this even more.
- I want my daughters to understand what it means when they are saying “No to sex”. That means necessarily having terminology and defining the different types of sexual intercourse. Otherwise it’s akin to defining a rainbow with only red, yellow and blue as colours within it.
- I wish for my daughters to wait until they are adults and are in long-term, committed relationships before they have sex. And that the sex they have is enjoyable, pleasurable, loving, and emotionally connecting with their partner. I hope they will wait until they are adults to avoid making the decision while impaired, i.e. going through the social, emotional and psychological upheavals that occur through their adolescence. Taking from the previous point, I hope they realize that many high school relationships are fleeting and would be wary of sex at this age. When they do decide to have sex, they should be doing it because they want to and are finding pleasure in it, and not just to please their partner. Porn sex is not real sex, and they should insist to not mimic it.
- I want my daughters to understand if they do make bad choices, even in spite of the knowledge they have, that my husband and I will still unconditionally love them and support them. This means holding my tongue when others make mistakes and not be negatively critical.
- I want my daughters to understand that love is love, different people love in different ways, and that’s ok. It’s also the law in Canada.
When I take a look at these goals I have for my girls’ sexual education, I think the curriculum aligns very well with it, in content, timing, and context. For me, the partnership in education between school and home works.
If it doesn’t align with your goals for your children, I need to ask you what your ambitions are. Is your ambition for your daughter’s sexual education is merely to not have her get pregnant before marriage and to not be raped? Is your ambition for your son’s sexual education is just to not get a girl pregnant before marriage and to not obtain an STD? If so, I certainly invite you to reach for greater ambitions than that.