Controversy over sex education

Our news & views

May 31, 2010

In the spring of 2010, after some complaints, the province decided to withdraw the sex education component of the new elementary H&PE curriculum.

In the spring of 2010, there was a lot of talk about the sex education component of the new elementary health and physical education (H&PE) curriculum.

Ontario elementary schools — French, English and Catholic — have had curriculum that includes sex education for many decades. The last time the H&PE curriculum was updated was about 12 years ago. The differences between the old and the new curriculum seem to lie mainly in the details, the examples used, and the length. The old curriculum was about 40 pages long; the new curriculum weighs in at over 200 pages. Many of the learning expectations are exactly the same, but the new curriculum uses more examples and provides more “prompts” for teachers.

Sexual health is taught along with things like healthy eating, personal safety,  and substance abuse. There are sometimes challenges teaching these topics because of their connection to family, religious and cultural values, but currently many schools have found ways to ensure that they take those factors into account when they teach kids about their bodies and relationships.

After hearing some complaints about the sex education section of the new curriculum, the province decided to keep it back for now. The Ministry says it will hold discussions about implementing it at a later date, although Ophea (Ontario Physical Health Association) collected signatories and parent organizations wrote letters asking for the curriculum to be fully implemented, including the sexual education section.

The new Heath and Physical Education Curriculum has three main components:

  • active living
  • movement competence
  • healthy living

The new curriculum by grade:

Grades 1-3:

Students learn how to take responsibility for their own safety, stand up for themselves, and get help in situations of abuse. They learn the names of body parts, begin to understand how their bodies work and develop, and learn factors that contribute to healthy physical and emotional development.

Grades 4-6:

Students learn how to assess risk, respond to dangerous situations, and protect themselves from a variety of social dangers, including bullying, abuse, and technology-related risks. Students at this age are entering puberty and they learn to understand the physical, emotional and social changes that they are experiencing.

Grades 7-8:

Students learn about physical, emotional, social and psychological factors to consider when making decisions about their emotional and sexual health. At this age, students may think some things “aren’t really sex,” and they’re dealing with a lot of social pressure. The curriculum teaches them about listening to their own feelings, and respecting others. They learn about sexually transmitted diseases, healthy attitudes, and that it’s okay to say no.

It’s important to remember that the curriculum documents for all subjects are only guidelines that teachers use to develop their own lessons.

People For Education Viewpoint:

The premier’s choice to back down in the face of what has been in part a manufactured controversy was very discouraging. Sex education has been part of the health curriculum in Ontario’s elementary schools for years, and individual schools have been easily able to manage situations where parents were not comfortable with it. But in fact those situations have been very, very rare.