Let me tell you ’bout the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees, and the moon up above…
And a thing called regression.
Like many people, I was pretty stunned when the newly-elected Ontario government decided to scrap the new sex-ed curriculum in favour of keeping the 1998 model. I started the 1990s in elementary school, and finished high school at the turn of the millennium, and learned far more about sex and sexuality from older kids and well-worn copies of Swank or Playboy than I did in the classroom.
But, it was the 90s, and attitudes were changing, right?
My sex education in grade school was a whole period long in Grades 6-8, consisting of technical information about the reproductive system. There was much awkwardness and giggling, and the few questions that covered topics like oral or anal sex were assumed to be jokes and quickly dismissed.
Abstinence was encouraged. So was marriage.
I should state that I attended Catholic school, so it was mandatory to promote no contact and definitely nothing about abortion. I never saw a condom in class. They were only 99 per cent safe, whereas abstinence was foolproof.
Babies ruined lives, but you had to have them because, ladies, you made the mistake.
In an effort to be fair and balanced, we learned that AIDS was not just for gay people anymore, with the unspoken understanding that it still totally was.
To his credit, my Grade 7 teacher did address the topic of masturbation, albeit in a single sentence. It was something along the lines of… “It’s normal if you do – just don’t make a habit out of it.”
That was by far the most valuable piece of information our class ever received in elementary school.
But high school… That’s where things got real, right?
A few things about sex, gender, and education in 1998…
Encyclopedias were still on CD Roms.
The internet, as we know it, did not exist.
‘Fag’ was still a word that could be carelessly tossed around. Gay men were being beaten to death. Transgender people did not exist.
Anyone who was gay or even suspected of being gay in a small town was ostracized and subject to constant backchat and rumours. Most didn’t stick around after graduation.
Boys were still expected to get some or be a loser, and conquest was still a staple in teen movies everywhere.
On that note, boys could have sex with sluts, but sluts couldn’t have sex with boys.
Further to that note… Not putting out still made girls sluts.
In 1998, we learned about STDs and contraceptives in health class, which was an add-on to gym class. What a couple of Friday afternoons that was!
Again, the focus was mainly on the reproductive system. Not consent or respect. Not how to approach or understand people with differences or the evolving family structure or huge gains in human rights.
Being ’emotionally prepared’ carried the undertone of ‘you never will be‘.
Here’s what stuck:
This is what crabs look like. Herpes are with you for life.
Boys – keep your penises away from vaginas.
Girls, keep your vaginas off penises.
Gay or trans people – stay quiet. You don’t exist.
Fun fact – I learned more about being gay from Kids In The Hall than I did in any classroom. Even though it was a comedy show, it still helped to normalize the subject and point out that gay was okay. Scott Thompson, even as he minced around as the epitome of flamboyance Buddy Cole, was a way better teacher than our teachers themselves.
Buddy was empowered. He was unapologetic. He never pulled a punch.
Seinfeld, on the other hand, taught us that contact between straight men was inherently perverse… “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Which brings us to the present day…
Parents opposed to the new curriculum have (soon to be ‘had’) the option to remove their kids from those classes. Somehow this wasn’t enough, and I have mixed feelings on those who choose this route.
First – I appreciate standing up for your convictions and beliefs.
Second – Children will only learn based on those convictions and beliefs.
Conviction is relative. Beliefs even more so.
For example, one of the most troubling aspects of sex education in the 1990s (I have to restate that I went to Catholic school) was the doctrine that virginity was to be cherished, and maintained as long as humanly possible. I saw some great ‘real talk’ skits to that effect.
We literally learned that once you give away that precious gift, you will never get it back. Your clean canvas was ruined. Pre-marital sex would spoil your intimacy when you eventually have to give your flower to your (implicitly heterosexual) spouse.
That’s the world I fear we’re heading back to. To suggest the updated curriculum is purely ideology-driven proves the backlash is equally so.
Ultimately, if this reactionary approach to sexuality is about age-appropriateness, I’ll leave you with this quote from the 1998 sexy teen blockbuster, Wild Things.
Detective Ray Duquette: Why don’t we begin with a question? What is a sex crime?
Jimmy: Not gettin’ any!
[all the other students cheer]