Is it the parents who need sex education?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 1, 2015


Was Dr. Benjamin Spock the father of us all? His ‘Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,’ published simultaneously with the birth of the first postwar baby boomers, set the path for child development for my generation and, at least, for the one that followed. Spock held that sex-education, including its spiritual aspects, should be part of a broad health and moral education, from kindergarten through the end of high school, ideally carried out harmoniously by parents and teachers.

Sex education pictureIsn’t that exactly what the updated provincial sex-ed curriculum is trying to do? Spock has his detractors but there have been scores of pedagogical disciples who mostly followed in his footsteps and adhered to his general principles. And after a couple of generations it is hard to criticize what we have grown to know and appreciate.

Of course the ‘spare-the-rod’ clan, and those newer-Canadians who were steeped in a traditional authoritarian family cult, object to what they see as the self-actualizing child. They consider sex-education, any of it, an insult and a case of the state interfering in their personal lives. Some hold, and others worry, that what they call ‘juvenile permissiveness’ will lead to a more violent and sexually perverted society, even if the numbers don’t support that linkage.

But the elephant-in-the-room is whether sex-education encourages sex? Spock and his disciples argue that the more children learn about sexuality from authoritative sources (parents, teachers, accurate literature), the less they will feel compelled to find out for themselves. We’re talking about where they get their facts (friends, violent movies, the internet, sexting or worse).

G. W. Bush ushered in an era in US education where sex-education became nothing more than preaching abstinence. A decade later, the results have been shown to be dismal, at best. In the US there are 750,000 teen pregnancies each year, 82% unintended, and almost 60% percent of these result in children bearing children. The rest of the teen pregnancies are either aborted or were miscarried. And then there are the sexually transmitted diseases.

Obama overturned Bush’s failed initiative, and now the US only funds programs which have been proven effective at reducing teen pregnancy, delaying sexual activity, or increasing contraceptive use. Abstinence, no doubt, remains a topic of discussion within these comprehensive sex-education programs, but their primary purpose is to prevent negative sexual health outcomes.

Ontario’s new sex-education curriculum is to be implemented starting this September, which will land it just in time for the expected federal election this autumn. Some pundits have speculated that this might be a factor among voters who are unable to distinguish between federal and provincial policies and responsibilities.

Birds and the bees

For many parents talking about sex is just not something they can do – a classroom can provide the information young people need – we cheat them if we fail to inform them.

I recall canvassing, when I ran provincially in Burlington, and being accosted by voters angry over the implementation of the federal long-gun registry at that time. So that should be a consideration for the Liberal leaders. Though, the push-back on the curriculum is coming mainly from the religious-right, who identify mainly with the Conservative party anyway. And then there are the new Canadians who often find common ground with the Tories on this issue.

Of course if the parents could all be trusted to objectively teach their kids the essentials about sex, this might not even be an issue. But they don’t, do they? How many parents take the time or have the courage to discuss sex in the context of a modern diverse society – and beyond the elementary birds and bees?

Parents have no prepared curriculum and generally no training. And even if they did, the topic is likely way too personal for most of them to handle it in an objective and balanced manner. Kids find their way through the internet, on the streets or in somebody’s recreation room when the parents are still at work.

As for those angry, complaining parents who think they know better than professional educators and psychologists, the apple usually falls near the tree. Tolerance and respect for others is as important in sexuality as the lessons on anatomy, I would think – but what do I know.

I’m an economist, went to a one-room school, was raised on a farm and I got my education out behind the barn.

Background links:

Notable Quotes Dr. Spock       How Dr. Spock Destroyed America      

Effectiveness of Sex-Ed Programs       Teen Sources of Sex Information      Anti-Sex Ed Coalition

Wynne and the Federal Election   Conservative Protests    Canadian Pregnancies


Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

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7 comments to Is it the parents who need sex education?

  • Zaffi

    I fully support the new content. I will be frank as to why since it seems some adults need a strong wake up call. Fortunately my, now young adult, sons were bluntly open with me from as early as elementary school. As a result on a few occasions I was aghast by what they brought forward. Some of the misconceptions and activities of children in more recent decades can be more dangerous to their health and emotional wellbeing than the those of my teenaged peers in the 70s. It is obvious that some parents today appear unaware of this newer era’s messages regarding sex. I have shocking news for them, children today are still educating each other about sex, however, the discussions are much more alarming than the conversations in our youth.

    My sons were in elementary and high schools starting in the earlier 2000s. A time when the internet was just starting to explode. At 13 years old, one stated that a way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy was to engage in, protected or not, anal sex. The horror of an elementary aged girl being introduced to this form of sexual activity led to a serious discussion about how inappropriate, disrespectful and harmful it is to subject a young girl to this. Let alone the risk of disease for both.

    The other son confided in me that the age old games of Truth or Dare and Spin the Bottle had evolved far past our days of kissing and fondling. One summer during a YMCA,adult supervised,summer day camp he and other elementary school aged peers were engaging in dares of a more advanced sexual nature in the pool’s change room. Including same sex activities regardless of the child’s own undeveloped perception of his/her sexual orientation.

    Long gone are the days of the one dimensional and non animated soft porn photographs and subscribers mundane and often fictional stories of our fathers’ girlie magazines. Now 10 or more years since my sons completion of elementary school and the virtual world is far worse. With the abundance of easily accessible graphically and sometimes violent hard core websites it is not difficult to see why distorted views of sex as well as the incidents of abuse and violence towards women and girls is on the rise.

    Yes, a concerned parent can place parental controls on the family computers in an attempt to protect our highly tech savvy children. Many of whom are adept at discovering your software and disabling it. In this era of laptops, tablets, smartphones, portable WiFi sticks and public WiFi access just how confident are we in our ability to adequately protect and shield our children against deplorable messages?

  • Robert Thoms

    I support the concept of school-provided sex education, but, speaking as one who had the American public school-provided experience, I decry the absence of any mention in our typical curriculum of the meaning and value that the way we express ourselves sexually has — or, at least, can have — in our lives. I didn’t find my happiness enhanced by going from near-prudery to limitless, essentially-meaningless self-indulgence. Sex ed classes need to at least mention the fact that, if we want to be as happy as we can be, the way we express ourselves, sexually, is not unimportant. It’s not always obvious to all of us… least when we’re young.

  • Withholding comment on his spelling errors, I think Mr. Thudogg misses the point of the article. My first 7 years with the Federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention were spent in STD Epidemiology, in direct clinical work with patients. Mr Rivers correctly points to the apparent dearth of informed communication between parents and their children. Of course, cultural resources such as academic discussions like Dr. Spock’s book must be enlarged and supported through developed discussion in classrooms. However, the impact of these discussions is in question when one examines the day to day realities in STD clinics (standing policy was to treat incoming patients as adults from the age of 12 upward, and we saw plenty of those). Furthermore, the misguided, intrusive and often dishonest messages from decidedly anti-academic sources such as the “faith community” and the “personal autonomy” community compound the problems of unintended pregnancy and/or STD much further.

    Somewhat in the parents’ defense, it may be said we are possibly still seeing the results of decades of suppression of information on this vital topic. The ignorant (as in “unknowing” parents) teaching the ignorant (as in unknowing children) is still a “pig in the python” movement. As children are better educated through factual and honest classroom discussion they will go on to become more effectively communicative parents. A major step toward that progress would be action to blunt the intrusion of “religious” interpretations of factual information and to engage the parents in discussion of how better to communicate as they themselves learn.

    • Theo Thudogg

      “curriculum” got it! Thanks.
      The article had several points. My point was that “many parents don’t agree with the age appropriateness of some of the content”. Political persuasion, religion or being newly immigrated notwithstanding. These can be just regular parents.

  • Fred Pritchard FCPA, FCGA

    Oh, and I watched Power and Politics about two weeks ago, they had homophobe McVetty on against right wing columnist Micheal Coren. Meaning both panel guests were very right wing.

    McVetty (still bitter over same sex marriage) made wild untrue statements and Coren tried to get him to show him in the book what part he objected to and why. Coren supported the new course.

    McVetty then slandered Coren and accused him of not being a family man because he supported this course.

    It was sad to watch as McVetty could not articulate his point and fell back to evil Lesbian in charge, and he knows best.

    Coren pushed him to explain why when Coren surveyed the crowd at the bussed in protest at Queens Park, not a single protester that Coren talked to had even read the document. They didn’t even know what it was about. Just that McVetty’s church asked them to come and hold signs.

    Again, if you want your children in the dark about the birds and the bees, you have the option to withdraw them from that lesson. Those of us who think our young peoples health is important, and that we should not waste health care dollars, and tax dollars supporting more single parents, are fine with educating the young folks.

  • Fred Pritchard FCPA, FCGA

    Ray – it is typically the same group of people who don’t want to have their kids get vaccinated. The problem with that is that their choice effects other people in a negative way.

    The same is true here. Keeping kids in the dark about getting pregnant, is harmful to their babies. Rarely single mothers can afford proper food and higher education. Further they are a drain on the tax base because of the government money they receive. Sexually transmitted things like HIV, cost the health care system millions because kids were not told the benefits of a small amount of plastic.

    Ontario is just catching up to the rest of Canada on this subject, statistics in other Provinces don’t show a huge rise in young kids having sex.

    Overall this lack of education costs Canadian society hundreds of millions of dollars annually. All of it preventable with some knowledge taught by a professional educator.

    If those religious folk don’t want to educate their children to keep them safe, then why not try home schooling if they know better. Or have them sit out that lesson if it is so offensive to them.

    I also think some of the anger is personal towards the Premier. Some are opposed to her because she is a women and shouldn’t be telling the man of the house what to do, and others are clearly worked up because she is an out Lesbian.

  • Theo Thudogg

    “parents who think they know better than professional educators and psycologists”. Hmm. How dare parents try to have an inflection on the cirriculum. They’re only mere parents!! Worse yet, they must be Conservatives or new Canadians!!
    A self-proclaimed barn-educated economist thinks that parents not liking the “new” cirriculum is synonymous with removing sex-ed from the cirriculum and teaching it themselves? That’s not what parents are saying. Rather they don’t agree with the age appropriateness of some of the content.
    Wynne, Mcguinty and Levin championed a similar cirriculum a few years ago. The Premier at that time actually listened to parents and had the good grace to halt it. Contrarily the former Deputy Minister of Education has fallen from grace and is on his way to the slammer. This leaves us with our selectively deaf Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has been granted the power of social engineering at her own discretion.