At the recent curriculum night at Colin's school, I discovered, much to my dismay, that Sex Ed is practically non-existent. It's not part of the Phys Ed curriculum; it might be covered in Ethics, by the school nurse, in a single one-hour class. It turns out that this is true across the province, even in other places like our local high school - despite the perpetually high number of teenage mothers in places like our neighbourhood.
There's a petition to make sex ed an official part of the curriculum; I gladly signed this petition, and I encourage my fellow Quebecers to do the same.
We think that people figure sex out on their own, or learn what they need to from their peers, or from their parents, but the fact is that many people learn what they need the hard way - through unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sexual harrassment or assault - rather than knowing what to do before these things happen. Not all parents are comfortable talking about sex, or prefer to dictate behavior (i.e., "just don't have sex, junior," which I believe is the unrealistic head-in-the-sand approach that only creates more opportunities for mistakes). Not all peers are well-informed, either – one of my students recently said something that made it clear to me that she’d “learned” (or not asked and just assumed) incorrect information about using condoms. If she had not been corrected, chances are that when she eventually chose to have sex, she would not have insisted on a condom, and who knows what the consequences would have been?
The text of the petition is in French only, but the gist* of it is that sex ed is not really provided in our schools, and that the lack of an official mandate to teach about sex and sexuality means that most teachers don't teach such things, and/or are uncomfortable doing so. Sex ed classes offer more than biological facts; they teach teenagers to think critically about sex, orientation, and sexual or gender stereotypes, and to develop consciously a well-considered set of attitudes and behaviours when it comes to sex. Sex ed classes provide a safe and well-informed venue for questions and frank discussions.
The petition text ends with a request for the Province to mandate courses in sexuality in a democratic, non-sexist and non-hetero-sexist context.
I'm trying to decide if it's fair to say that sex ed is like drivers' ed... I suspect that some people believe that if we teach teens about sex, they will go off and have sex, just as teaching them to drive means they're always borrowing the car. I think that the analogy works if we remember that drivers' ed is about teaching our kids to drive well, and responsibly. Teaching our kids about sex doesn't mean that we're hiring hookers for them - it means that we're teaching them what they need to know to stay safe and healthy, no matter what.
*any one who wants to provide a more accurate/full-length/more poetic translation is welcome to include it in the comments on this post!