Ontario’s new sex education curriculum revamps the sexual health instruction from Grade 1 through Grade 8 for the first time since 1998. Some groups have already called foul about the new curriculum, while others have lauded the government for bringing it up to date. Here are the highlights of what’s included.

What’s in the new curriculum?

The curriculum gives teachers some latitude in terms of how they cover the expected concepts. Many terms and concepts are suggested, but are not required components of the instruction.

  • In Grade 1, students will learn the proper names for body parts. In Grade 2 students will learn about the general idea of consent and that ‘no means no.’
  • The curriculum suggests that teachers introduce the concept of gender identity in Grade 3 as part of a discussion about accepting differences. Students are encouraged to be respectful of visible or invisible differences in others. Having two parents of the same sex is mentioned as an example of a difference that should be respected. However teachers are not required to mention the concepts as part of the discussion.
  • Students will learn about puberty in Grade 4, a year earlier than they used to.
  • In Grade 5, teachers may include sex, gender identity and sexual orientation as part of a discussion about the stresses of puberty. (159)
  • In Grade 6 masturbation is suggested as a topic that might be included in a discussion about maintaining confidence through physical and emotional changes. Teachers are prompted to describe it as a common practice that many people find pleasurable. However teachers are not prompted to instruct students to masturbate or to discuss the mechanics of the practice. Personal and family values are mentioned as elements that could be included in the discussion as well.
  • Discussions about sex in Grades 7 and 8 largely focus on consent and why it might be a good idea to practice abstinence until you’re older. Anal sex is mentioned along with vaginal intercourse and oral sex as examples of sexual activities that could result in a sexually transmitted infection. The curriculum does not suggest that teachers encourage the activities or explain the mechanics.
  • By Grade 8, students are expected to have an understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as contraception and how to effectively prevent sexually transmitted infections. Students are also warned about digitally transmitting sexual images and online bullying.

Who is opposed to the new curriculum

A number of parent groups have held rallies to protest the new curriculum, claiming that it will indoctrinate their children with values and beliefs that are foreign to their own cultural and / or religious beliefs. Some parents have also complained that they weren’t adequately consulted about the new curriculum and have pulled their kids from classes to protest.

How did the government consult parents?

One parent in each publicly funded school in the province, usually a parent council chair, was provided a survey late last year. While the survey asked questions about educational priorities and what sources of information are trusted in forming curriculum, it did not ask parents specifically what they feel should be included in the sexual education curriculum or use many of the specific terms and concepts that have upset some parents.

The government says the survey was distributed to some 4,000 individual parents and that the Ministry of Education also consulted widely with various parent groups. The government also says the new curriculum has been designed by experts in order to equip students for the realities of modern society.

Is the revamped curriculum official?

The proposed curriculum will become official once it is implemented in classrooms in September. The Ministry of Education does not require approval in the legislature in order to introduce it.

Do all students have to participate in the lessons?

The government has said that parents will be able to withdraw their children from lessons that they are uncomfortable with, but must do so through the regular process in place at their child’s school.