Sex ed in schools

Let's get over our squeamishness and get real about sex education

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I just don’t know what to make of people who think that six-year-olds are too young to hear words like vagina and penis. I’m referring to Ontario’s sex education controversy last April, when Premier Dalton McGuinty caved, quite stunningly, on a new sexual education curriculum, apparently due to the objections of social and religious conservatives.

Most of the concerns centred around exposing kids to allegedly rude and dirty concepts at too tender an age. Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak was reported to have said six-year-olds were too young to be taught words like penis and vagina.

This is the dumbest and most objectively wrong statement attributed to a politician I’ve ever heard.

Changing sex education curriculum is always controversial, partly because mores and beliefs about sex and sex education are all over the place. So it’s hard to find consensus on topics, such as the age at which teachers should start talking about homosexuality.

I can sympathize with parents uneasy with lurid news reports which (misleadingly) imply that teachers will be making sure grade seven students know about the option of anal intercourse. The truth is that the only suggested (not required) mentions of anal sex in the Ontario curriculum would have been in the context of talking about delaying sexual activity and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted disease.

But this idea that six-year-olds are too young to be taught the word vagina is just foolish. Two-year-olds are not too young to learn vagina, labia, penis, testicle, scrotum and uterus. These are real words for real parts of their bodies.

Penis, penis, penis. Vagina, vagina, vagina. Get over it!

It’s a sexual world. Kids are exposed via TV commercials, rock videos and, of course, the Internet. It’s the job of parents and schools to help kids make sense of all this information and help them understand where love and sex connect.

During my boys’ obsession with professional wrestling, I was perturbed to watch a character make his entrance in his new persona as pimp, accompanied by a bunch of “hos,” and roar out with great glee, “Pimpin’ ain’t easy!”

I said, “Guys, I know this is supposed to be a joke but, in real life, prostitution is not funny. Pimps usually mistreat women, and prostitutes lead hard and dangerous lives.” An important conversation for a father to have with boys, even if the context was a bit odd.

That leads to my one point of agreement with the “Eek, vagina! crowd.” Kids should learn about these things from parents. Right! But well before age six. It’s actually much easier to talk about sex when kids are little and haven’t yet learned to feel awkward or titillated about it (and they will learn). You don’t need to give them every detail in one big kiddie PowerPoint presentation. Their questions and reactions will help you sense how much detail they want.

Further, while no single strategy can be guaranteed to protect kids from sexual abuse, knowing the proper names for sexual body parts and that it’s acceptable to talk about them is one way you can equip your kids to seek help, if anyone should try to use them sexually.

Bottom line: Talk about ovaries and testicles to your kids. It won’t hurt or scare them, and it won’t make them have sex sooner. But it will make them more likely to talk to you about, um, you-know-what, if they ever need to.

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