Just two weeks before classes start, the Ontario provincial government has given elementary school teachers a new interim elementary health education curriculum, leaving many scrambling to figure out what they can and can’t teach.
The document stresses the importance of sexual abstinence, contains no references to consent and makes no mention of scientific names for genitalia – the words “penis” or “vagina” appear nowhere in the update. The parts of the interim plan that deal with sexual education are largely the same as the last health curriculum update, from 1998.
The following is a list of some of the differences between the sections related to sexual education in the interim and 2015 editions.
In the 2015 curriculum, students learn the names of different body parts, including genitalia, using scientific terminology (e.g., penis, vagina) as well as basic personal hygiene by the end of Grade 1.
In the interim version, by the end of grade one, students learn the names of “major” body parts, without using the names of any genitalia.
LGBT, gender identity and expression
The introduction of 2015 curriculum says teachers should always consider the needs of transgender and gender-non-conforming students.
In Grade 3, it teaches children that differences make people unique and to respect people with different skin colours, physical abilities, cultural values, gender identities, sexual orientations and so on.
In Grade 6, students learn to challenge stereotypes about gender roles, sexual orientation and gender expression, and how factors like gender identity, body image, mental health, and so on, can affect someone’s self-concept.
In Grade 7, students learn about physical and psychological factors related to decisions about sexual health, such as gender identity and sexual orientation.
In Grade 8, students learn about different gender identities such as two-spirit, transgender, transsexual and intersex, and how factors such as sexual orientation and gender identity can influence people’s decisions about sex, and that gay-straight student alliances can be sought out as support services.
In the interim version, students learn about similarities and differences between themselves and others, such as body size and gender, in Grade 2. This version does mention gender identity in its introduction but only to flag it as a potentially challenging topic to teach. The introduction also states that students of all gender identities should feel comfortable and free from harassment. This version does not specifically mention that the topic of gender identity be taught in any grades. The word “transgender” is mentioned once, in the glossary, using the non-preferred term “transgendered.”
First Nations, Métis, Inuit
In the 2015 curriculum, students learn the basic stages of human development in Grade 2, including a teacher prompt about “teachings from different cultures, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures, about the cycles of birth, life and death.”
In Grade 6, students learn how to build healthier relationships with others and themselves using skills based on First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultural teachings.
In Grade 8, students learn about the two-spirit gender identity, which is used by First Nations people to refer to someone with both feminine and masculine spirits.
In the interim version, students in Grade 4 learn about teachings of First Nations, Métis, or Inuit cultures to strengthen their relationships.
In the 2015 version, a teacher prompt urges Grade 7 students to be clear in their own minds about what they are comfortable doing, including delaying sexual activity. A prompt in Grade 8 notes that abstinence is the only way to be 100-per-cent certain about avoiding sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancy.
In the interim version, students learn in Grade 7 about abstinence as it relates to healthy sexuality, and in Grade 8 about “the importance of abstinence.” The curriculum’s introduction instructs teachers to portray abstinence as a “positive choice.”
In the 2015 version, students learn in Grade 6 that consent is defined as “a clear ‘yes’ ”, and that anything else, including silence or uncertainty, is not consent. In Grade 7, students learn the importance of clear communication with a romantic partner about all aspects of sex, including consent. Consent is taught again in Grade 8.
The interim version does not mention the concept of consent.
In the 2015 curriculum, sharing private sexual photos of others online is described in Grade 5 as “unacceptable” and "illegal.” Asking for sexual pictures or making sexual comments online is also discouraged.
In Grade 6, a teacher prompt describes relationships kids might see online as “not always accurate.” Ending a relationship online, it says, “may not be a sensitive approach.”
In the interim version, the potential of exposure to online sexual predators is introduced in a teacher prompt in Grade 4. In Grade 7, the risks of sexting, as outlined by a prompt, include messages becoming public, being “manipulated or misinterpreted,” or costing students future relationships or jobs. The 2015 version adds negative effects to the victim’s well-being to that list.
Both curriculae teach students about how negative actions can affect other people in Grade 5, but the 2015 version makes specific mention of online sexual harassment.
Both curriculae teach students about risks associated with using the internet in Grade 4, but in the 2015 version, “sexual predators” is changed to “people who ask you for sexual pictures."
In the 2015 curriculum, teachers are prompted in Grade 6 to explain wet dreams, vaginal lubrication and masturbation as normal, if asked. “Exploring one’s body by touching or masturbating is something that many people do and find pleasurable. It is common and is not harmful and is one way of learning about your body,” it reads.
The interim version does not mention masturbation.