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tabatha southey

Back when I was in school, sex-education class was taught by a gym teacher in bizarrely loose cotton pants – a garment so alien to me that I took it to be part of the curriculum.

Sex ed was the final unit of Grade 9 gym. Near the end of the year, we were all hauled into a classroom where a few massive diagrams were pulled down over the chalkboard for us, just as maps had been before – a dark continent of a uterus, a peninsula of a penis – and we were off to the races.

The races part was accentuated by both the speed with which Mr. Gym Teacher anxiously rattled off the sexual technicalities the board of education felt it necessary to impart to us and by the fact that he never took off the stopwatch he wore for actual gym class. It dangled and bounced on a bright green string around his neck through the entire unit.

I observed the stopwatch with curiosity as the weeks went by – wondering when it would come into play. I had little understanding of what its actual use in the field might be, having got out of gym three times a week, every week, for almost seven months by telling the man the school saw fit to teach us the basic facts of reproduction that I couldn't possibly do gym because I had my period – and having him believe me.

I aced that sex unit, in part because they were desperate that we all pass – and never speak of this again. Failure was literally not an option: The test questions were multiple choice, with a very limited number of choices, a certain percentage of them too ridiculous even to consider.

This may have been the only way in which the course was an accurate guide to the sex lives that lay immediately before us.

Being the child of hippies didn't hurt my grade, of course. Telling your children all about sex was part of a hippie parent's identity – like giving your children dry fruit for snacks and not letting them watch TV.

"Hey," perfectly normal non-hippie-raised kid would say. "Did you see Happy Days last night?"

"No," poncho-wearing hippie kid would reply. "Umm, did you know that the lifespan of an unfertilized ovum is 12 to 24 hours?"

My parents had a book with drawings with which they explained reproduction to me from a young age. The information it contained was so thorough, so painstakingly detailed, that my only real misconception about sex was that I thought it took six days. This going here, then doing that, sperm swimming in what I imagined to be my own laboured crawl.

I remember when I was five, and my mother told me she was expecting another baby, thinking only: "When did you two find the time?"

But as a result of that book, sex ed class went all right for me.

Mr. Gym Teacher spent a great deal of time telling the girls not to let the boys pressure us into having sex – pressure from boys was presented as the only possible motivation for a girl ever wanting to have sex. And he taught us about birth control – at which point, ears did prick up.

I remember that there was a handout listing all the various types of contraception – their effectiveness and side effects. It told us about IUDs, diaphragms and sponges, and our eyes widened in "Seriously?" Then, when it got to the side effects of the birth-control pill, it basically said: "Your tits get bigger and it clears up your skin."

I swear it was like a gazelle stampede out of there – the girls couldn't get on that pill fast enough.

Well played, board of ed, well played, though this didn't seem to affect the number of us who were actually having sex.

I felt some nostalgia for the agonized Mr. Gym Teacher and those stampeding girls this week when Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ontario's updated sex-ed curriculum will soon be online. The new guidelines will teach students about sexually transmitted diseases in Grade 7, which should spook them good and proper, and about puberty and masturbation in Grade 6 – not a moment too soon.

They will broach the subject of same-sex marriage and homosexuality in Grade 3 – past the age when a child may have noticed that Callum has two dads.

Life introduces ideas to children, education should help organize them.

There will be hand-wringing over the curriculum in the next few weeks. There will be hype about how outrageous and sexy and depraved it is – questions about what it says about us as society and how it will make those who experience it behave, and I predict, it will arrive with a thud.

In the end, the new sex-ed curriculum will be thought of, when it is thought of, outside our unchangingly, unerotic sex-ed classrooms, as that thing that inspired far more think pieces than it did lustful thoughts – as 50 Shades of Grading.

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