Five days in grade nine gym class.
Author Shannon Boodram said that’s how most North Americans receive sex-education in school.
Her recent book ‘Laid’ offers a series of narratives from people describing some of their first sexual experiences. The anthology aims to provide youth with a realistic perspective of sex and sexuality – something she feels should have as much emphasis as one’s career choice.
“You spend so much time in life trying to figure out what kind of professional you want to be,” Boodram said to a group of Centennial College students on Tuesday. “Your sexuality is with you for just as long … and we don’t spend any more than five days on that? That doesn’t really make sense to me.”
According to Alex McKay, research coordinator at SIECCAN (The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada), sex-education in Ontario’s curriculum typically begins in elementary school. A more concentrated level of mandated sex-education occurs in the grade nine health curriculum, but the information that students receive varies.
“The quality of (sex-education) students receive is going to vary from province to province … from classroom to classroom,” he said. “It’s going to depend on how comfortable, trained, motivated the teacher is, what level of support the administration has given.”
And not all sex-ed is taught in the classroom. Notes Boodram, considering the increased accessibility of online pornography parents need to learn what their child already knows and tailor how they approach the sex-talk with their children.
“Porn is accessible. Make positive sex-ed accessible for them as well,” she said. “Even opening up scarleteen.com to your teen and saying: ‘This is a cool site about sex, read it, check it out, learn about the body parts, learn about people’s experiences, learn about different sexual choices in terms of sexual orientation.’”
As for when parents should have the discussion with their kids, Boodram advises: “Education has to come as young as 12, 13. You have to gauge based on your child.
“If you are a single mom and you’re not able to be there as much, you have to give it earlier because you know that they’re going to have opportunities to do things sooner than you maybe would like.”
Boodram thinks children would benefit best if parents made the talk more of a conversation, providing as much information as possible.
“If you’re doing it in a lecturing way, it’s very tough,” she said. “Parents have to find the balance of having the talk and then having the conversation and as well, giving them supplementary tools to help educate them by themselves. So it’s not as if it’s being crammed down their throat, they’re kind of learning it on their own terms.”
Of the larger social conversation on sex education, SIECCAN’s McKay cautioned that today’s media has tendency to put its own spin on the issue.
“The easy tack for people who are selling books or writing newspaper stories is to try to set up adolescent sexuality as being in some sort of state of crisis,” he said. “In terms of all the basic indicators of sexual health … today’s generation of youth is doing better than any previous generation in history.”
He outlined a few reasons for the improvement.
“Canadian society has gradually over time come to recognize the reality of adolescent sexuality, to not see it in a completely negative light,” McKay said. “Secondly, sex-education in the schools has gotten … step-by-step a little bit better.”