Reversal of sex-ed curriculum a threat to public safety

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When partisan politics threaten health institutions, they threaten the wellbeing and safety of young people. 

Earlier this month, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government announced the interim replacement of the province’s 2015 modernized sex-ed curriculum with its outdated 1998 counterpart. The older curriculum does not mention gender identity, consent, or cyber safety, among other subjects. 

Most students who grew up in Ontario trade anecdotes about antiquated videos and condoms on bananas, but those stories stop being funny when they become the basis of a young person’s sexual knowledge. 

Young people need a balanced education regardless of how they identify. Removing LGBTQ+ content from the curriculum means these students won’t learn to have safe sex or feel validated the same way heterosexual and cisgender students do. Similarly, a lack of consent education from a young age denies students an understanding of their bodily autonomy.  

Politicizing a necessary education perpetuates disrespect and discrimination for every young student in the province, and an obsolete sexual education denies students their personhood.  

From a young age, discussions about cyber safety and consent protect students. If a child doesn’t want their hair pulled in the schoolyard, they have a right to say so without guilt. Every person is affected by consent and the repercussions of an environment that lacks this education.

The importance of sexual health education extends to other arenas. The 2015 curriculum teaches first-graders the difference between caring and exploitative behaviours, while third-graders learn the characteristics of a healthy relationship. 

These early conversations are critical. 

If children grow up with a sense of what a healthy, consensual relationship is, they bring that with them into adulthood. Our current culture of gender imbalance and sexual violence can’t change if young people aren’t taught what to do and what not to do. 

The Ontario government justifies the outdated curriculum by suggesting parents can privately supplement the curriculum’s teachings.  

This is precarious even beyond the standard discomfort of having “the talk” with your parents. Some parents have different ideas of healthy sexual relationships, largely because they were raised in a less progressive era. 

The disconnect between public and private teaching ignores the fact that sexual health is public health—and therefore must be publicly taught. 

Avoiding a difficult classroom conversation to please a specific demographic endangers youth. Dismantling the previous government’s health and safety legacy is more than a political problem—it impacts marginalized people and puts everyone at risk. 

The 2015 sex-ed curriculum made previously invisible issues accessible to youth, and taught that every person is valid and worthy of respect and education. 

If a government cannot acknowledge that, they fail to do their job as government. 

—Journal Editorial Board

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