Let’s talk about sex, baby

June 17 2013 copy


By Ljudmila Petrovic
Photos by Ben-Buckley

I was recently out shopping when Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” came on the radio. Now, one of the lines of this song is, “your sex takes me to paradise,” except in the “radio-friendly” version, it was, “your ____ takes me to paradise.” The word “sex” was omitted as if it were offensive profanity.

Our society is notoriously over-sexualized and, while we do have sexual education and resources in schools, clearly we are not as collectively comfortable with the topic as we may think up here in our ivory towers of post-secondary.

In 2011, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey jumped to the top of bestsellers’ lists. The series has a weak plot, a shaky premise, little to no character development, and writing quality that makes The Berenstain Bears look like a Dostoyevsky novel. Why did its success soar to such ridiculous heights? Because the topics of sexuality and alternative forms of sex were suddenly open for discussion. It is only in the past few years these topics have been more or less accepted outside of Dan Savage’s fan base.

Sex education is theoretically taught in Canadian public schools throughout elementary and secondary schools. But that doesn’t mean this always plays out in practice; I, for example, didn’t get my sexual education in school until mid to late high school.

In grade five, my teacher misplaced the Why Is This Happening To Me? booklets and, through a twist of events, we had a substitute teacher and were never taught what was happening to our bodies. Luckily for me, my parents had always been meticulous in answering my questions from a young age, so I wasn’t left embarrassed and confused by my changing body. But what if — when my four year old self had asked about babies — my mother had told me about storks instead of drawing out the sperm and egg?

In 2010, then Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty, launched a new sex education program. Students in Grade 1 were to be taught the correct terminology for genitalia (in part as sexual abuse prevention), and in Grade three, they were to be taught about homosexuality. In Grade six, they would learn about masturbation and in Grade seven, the topics of oral and anal sex would be explored. Students would also be taught from a young age that gender is not dichotomous.

It was withdrawn almost immediately after Stop Corrupting Children (on the Canadian Values website) and other conservative and religious groups started an uproar, including a petition. Now Kathleen Wynne, who was elected as Ontario’s premier in January, is trying to bring it back. On the other hand, a 2001 National Post / Global Poll found that more than 85 per cent of parents agreed that sexual health education should be provided in schools. We’re on the right track.

Sex is present in one form or another in all animals, and it is also a factor in healthy relationships. So why is the topic still broached? It is taught in schools and there are a plethora of resources out there, but it is harder to undo the idea of a bird bringing a baby than it is to teach the truth right off the bat.

Deeming this natural act as “inappropriate” for children is short-sighted and insults children’s ability to comprehend and accept information. In fact, the taboo that is often attached to the topic of sex is a social constraint, not a natural reaction to it; instead of starting a child’s sex education in grades four or five, it should simply be a topic open for discussion.