Niya’s links: The slowly changing face of sex ed

In February, the Ontario government released their revised health and physical education curriculum and outlined the changes that had been made at every grade level. The most notable changes to content include:

– the addition of ways to identify and respect the differences between people;
– the addition of ways to use digital communications technology safely;
– explanations of how a person’s actions, either in person or online, including making sexual comments and sharing sexual pictures, can affect people’s feelings and reputations;
– explanations of the importance of building understanding with a partner about delaying sexual activity and the concept of consent;
– understanding of how relationships develop and how to maintain a healthy relationship.
Over in Alberta, the Wiseguyz project is slowly spreading to schools and fostering conversations about “good” masculinity in a safe space – which seems to be making high schools safer places for LGBTQ teens.
While both provinces are making strides and shaping younger minds into better citizens, I am left wondering about two other demographic groups – the one that is just out of high school and beginning their post-secondary education where there is no formal sexual education, and the one that my peers and I fall into – out in the workforce. Perhaps because it impacts me most, I wonder where my cohort and the one just behind mine are going to get their safer sex education – and where the associated information about safer use of digital communications tools, sexualized violence and bullying will come from.
I genuinely hope that it doesn’t have to come from restorative justice programs after harm has already been done – as was the case for the Dalhousie University dentistry students. While I appreciate that restorative justice is a productive fix, it does not actively prevent what should be a preventable situation. I also hope it doesn’t have to come from punitive measures from an employer or institution – as was the case for a certain Hydro One employee – after harm was already done, both to the survivors and to people who should know better.
While organizations like White Ribbon are creating the space for conversations and awareness about issues like gender violence though public events like Walk A Mile in Her Shoes, these address a small part of a larger problem – that there are few useful adult sexual education resources available. I’m curious to see if the shift in materials available for younger generations prompts a demand for materials for everyone – especially as those better-educated and prepared young people start insisting on better behaviour from the rest of us.

One thought on “Niya’s links: The slowly changing face of sex ed

  1. I also like what has gone into the sex ed curriculum (even though I think that some topics, like gender identity may be taught too early). The idea of making more resources available to the college-level and post-college-level cohorts seems like a good one, but I am not sure how you could implement it (run by employers? the government? prisons? etc.) and how many in the larger public would actually seek out these services. I also wonder how effective any of these education programs are at preventing the worst behaviour, in other words, how likely potential perpetrators are to listen to such a seminar and change behaviour because of it. As Margaret Wente puts it, “[men] have a much higher idiot factor than women, especially when young”

    One other small point I wanted to make (hopefully not to add too much controversy and put the blog’s mission unnecessarily to the test), is that I question the appropriateness of the word “survivor” as it has been applied here, referring to Shauna Hunt and the Dalhousie dentistry women. I know it is common in certain feminist circles (not all) to greatly expand the use of the words “violence” and “survivor” to cover a much wider range of scenarios than just physical violence, to include things like heckling, sexual harassment and certain types of sexual coercion or persuasion (e.g. guilt-tripping). I get that the spirit behind these conscious decisions is to strengthen the point that these actions are also not acceptable. However, I do worry that equivocating these kind of situations with rape and domestic assault, where the survivors actually are fortunate to have survived, can backfire by having the effect of trivializing what rape and domestic assault victims go through (and maybe making their claims taken less seriously). One effect already being seen from this on college campuses is that it is making claims of false allegations become more common and acceptable grounds to sue universities and/or accusers. Secondly, from what I understand, the rationale behind adopting the word “survivor” in rape cases was that it was more empowering than “victim”. However, when greatly extended to include things like heckling, it starts to look more infantilizing. For example, Shauna Hunt did not just “survive” her heckling, she totally took control of the situation and owned the hecklers. At no time did she seem to fear for her life because of those idiots, she put them in their place. Ditto for the Dalhousie women. There are many stronger words that could be used to describe them (for as Matt and The Globe points out, they did rescue the men from themselves, when they had no obligation to do so), that don’t seem as infantilizing as “survivor”. I know others may disagree, but personally I think we would be better off reserving the word “survivor” for where it is actually empowering and appropriate for the situations, for situations where the person in question actually defied credible odds of not surviving.


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