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Margaret Wente

Sex ed in a sex-saturated culture Add to ...

The usual suspects are horrified that sex education in Ontario's schools is about to become a lot more explicit. Students in Grade 1, for example, will learn the proper names of body parts, and students in Grade 3 will be introduced to the concepts of homosexuality and gender identity. These people warn that our children will be indoctrinated into unwholesome lifestyles.

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"It is unconscionable to teach 8-year-old children about same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity," complains Charles McVety, a well-known conservative Christian. "It is even more absurd to subject sixth-graders to instruction on the pleasures of masturbation and vaginal lubrication, and 12-year-olds to lessons on oral sex and anal intercourse." By Grade 8, students are also expected to grasp the basic elements of contraception, and to understand the subtle differences between two-spirited, transgendered, transsexual, and intersex.

How times have changed. I'd never even heard of most of this stuff until long after high school. (Some of it is still a mystery to me.) I was halfway through my 20s before it dawned on me that several of my friends were probably gay. (To be fair, they weren't entirely sure themselves.) When a girlfriend first told me about oral sex, I thought she was kidding. Back in the '60s, sex ed was euphemistically known as "hygiene," and was crammed into an hour or two a year when the boys and girls were divided up. Not now. And now, you'd need an entire course to do justice to the subject.

In a way, I sympathize with the socially conservative crowd. "Our young children … should not have to think about sex at such a delicate age," says Ekron Malcolm, director of the Institute for Canadian Values. I, too, would like to roll back the clock to a time when boys were respectful, girls were virgins, and they only dated each other. Too bad those times never did exist. It's also too bad that we live in a sex-saturated culture where girls hit puberty at 9 and nearly every kid, however delicate, has been exposed to Internet porn by the age of 10. But there you are.

Of course it would be nice if parents did the sex-ed job themselves. But that, too, is a fantasy. If kids today are anything like I was, they'd rather poke their eyes out than discuss masturbation with their parents. Besides, the kids who need sex ed the most tend to have the sort of parents who can't, or won't, discuss it. And although it's impolite to say so, Christian conservatives are hardly the only segment of society with illiberal views on these matters. Certain immigrant groups aren't so easygoing either. No matter what lip service we may pay to multiculturalism, surely it is only humane to reassure adolescents who fear they might be gay, or different in some way, that they are not morally deformed, even if their parents think so.

I do have one objection to the way sex ed is taught in schools. It is so scrupulously gender-neutral that it ignores the fundamental differences between teenage boys and girls. Boys want sex, all the time. Girls want relationships. It's hardwired into their biology. The more that girls absorb this cruel fact of life, the better off they'll be. Teenage girls need to learn that having sex as freely as guys do is not necessarily empowering. In fact, it's a lot more empowering if they don't.

If you're a parent, it's not sex ed that deserves to drive you nuts. It's green ed. Today is Earth Day, as you have surely noticed - the holiest day in the school calendar. All across the land, millions of schoolchildren are being reminded that the glaciers are melting and the polar bears are drowning and the entire planet is in peril. The schools are there to teach them that they are stewards of the Earth (it says so, right in the Ontario curriculum), which can only be saved by turning out the lights and recycling the dryer lint. Time to make them watch An Inconvenient Truth again! Poor kids. Now that's indoctrination.

 

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