Barbara Kay: Going all the way on sex education
National Post - Friday January 30th, 2015
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced that, as part of its restructured sex education curriculum, schools across the province will start teaching students about the nature of sexual consent and what constitutes a healthy relationship. The aim is to create a “consent culture” in which everyone understands “what is a clear, enthusiastic, affirmative ‘yes’ and what consent looks and sounds like.”
My colleague Robyn Urback rightly points out that young people’s curiosity and wish to explore new sexual horizons under the influence of alcohol hasn’t changed much over the years, but the risk of being exposed via social media in the act of inebriated exploration has escalated dramatically. She cites the tragic 2013 case of Rehtaeh Parsons, which led to an anti-bullying campaign and her ultimate suicide. The boys who were eventually charged with distributing child pornography were unaware that what they had done was a crime. The new program will make sure all teenagers are better informed. Urback sees merit in such classroom discussions.
So do I. I am not one of those critics who oppose sex ed at school for older children. Like Urback, I am not confident that forewarning will radically diminish “sexting” or the irresponsible distribution of photos to which consent has not been given. Even if it only reduces the practice and creates an environment that dampens enthusiasm for it, that’s a good thing. But it does not go far enough.
I think it would make for a better classroom discussion if teenagers were taught that if they are in a position to take a picture of two peers having sex, or conversely in a situation where someone is taking a shot of them having sex, that is inappropriate in itself. I also agree it is good that young people understand that consent to sex cannot be given when one or both parties is inebriated (although criminal law requires more than inebriation, it requires incapacity). It would be even better if young people were told it is a bad idea to get inebriated when there is a likelihood of sexual activity in the offing. Yes, I know that won’t stop all of them, but they should be told anyway.
I’d go further. Getting drunk in order to feel comfortable about having sex with people you hardly know, they should be told, is for losers. Self-respecting people don’t need to get drunk to have sex, because self-respecting people see intimate relations as more than the satisfying of a transient hormone release. They see it as a special event in the context of a specific relationship. I might even tell them – in fact I would tell them, at the risk of being jeered and mocked – that there should be more to a relationship with peers to whom you are attracted than sex, and that restraining your desire until you are sure you like and trust the person who interests you won’t addle your brain or cause post-traumatic stress disorder.
Knowing legal boundaries will serve young people well. Consent is important. Self-respect is most important of all. You don’t get sexual self-respect without self-imposed standards of behaviour. “Standards” imply prudence, restraint, patience, the ability to defer gratification, consideration for one’s reputation, and the understanding that an intimate relationship is more than the satisfaction of a physical appetite. Or should be. Will the new curriculum teach these truths that transcend time and social “progress”? Probably not. But it should.