The controversy over sex education in elementary schools

Sex education in elementary schools has been a controversial topic for parents and students. Although the curriculum has been updated, some experts still aren’t sure we’re doing enough to make kids comfortable talking about sex.

Gala Cockovska is a former Western University student who studied political science and communications. She is now an advocate for sexual education and talks about her experience learning about sex when she was younger:

“I remember learning how to put a condom on a banana. I also remember them (teachers) pushing abstinence on us (students), rather than safe sex. I don’t think that my sexual education was extensive or healthy enough for me to have a healthy sex life.” 

Cockovska points out that if we eliminate shame behind the topics of masturbating, puberty, and bodyweight and open the conversation more for students, then people would be more comfortable with themselves and realize that everything happening to you is a part of life. “I think everyone in the world can be happy if they just remove the shame and give themselves a break,” she said.

Nadine Thornhill, a sex educator host from Sex ed School says that there are some positive changes to the new provincial curriculum. However, there are still some changes that need to be made. She says that gender diversity isn’t taught until the senior years of elementary school and that it should be introduced sooner.

Thornhill also believes that when we don’t teach about gender diversity in the earlier stages of elementary school, we are saying to those individuals who live the reality of being transgender or non-binary that their experience is “dangerous” and so “unacceptable” that we can’t even mention it until they are 12 or 13 years old, which she believes is ridiculous. “I think that when you render an entire group of people in our culture and in our society invisible that is deeply problematic,” she says.

Recently, the Catholic school board decided to adopt four new terms into the curriculum in order to make a more inclusive environment for various students. Terms such as gender identity, gender expression, family and marital status. Some parents argued that adding these terms would taint the tradition of the Church’s teachings. However, the Archdiocese of Ontario agreed that these topics should be taught as long as it is done through a Catholic lens. 

Concetta Zivkovic Abitrante, a Catholic elementary school teacher in Mississauga says that all teachings in Catholic schools must be approved first by the Archdiocese of Ontario; then, letters are sent home to parents allowing children to opt-in or out of class. She says that by grade four the teachings about sex are more graphic and in-depth, following along with the fully alive text that students are provided with.

“I feel that the Catholic board does God’s job since we cover a large range of topics including sex texting and sending nudes. We also are very cautious when addressing sexual questions by using biblical references,” she says. 

Thornhill says that teachers and parents who want to have more open conversations about sex with their students or children should visit her web talk on Youtube, where she discusses topics that can be covered with children in grades one to grade eight. She also provides advice when deciding whether to opt your children in or out of sex education: 

“If you are a parent or caregiver taking your kid out of school because you don’t want them to attend sex education, I would encourage you to question why that is and what your issues are as to what they are learning in the classroom. I would say it’s a good idea to get in touch with the teacher to understand what they will be learning because if you are basing your decision on things you have heard outside of the classroom, it may not be accurate.”