Sex-ed, Cartoons & The In-between

Admittedly, I peruse the CBC News page regularly to see what’s happening locally and nationally; some of it good, some of it not. The usual politics and crime stories slide off me as it’s the same crap over and over again, but every now and then a jewel comes out; shining right into my eye.

An elementary school in B.C. was criticized by parents for allowing an “explicit” sexual education book into Grade 6 and 7 classrooms, supposedly traumatizing their children. The book, called the CATIE Safer Sex Guide, describes various sexual acts and touches upon drug use, contraception, and sexually-transmitted diseases, all told by colourful cartoon characters.

Sex things? Cartoons! Oh mon dieu!

The fact that this was labelled as “accidental” is what got me. Why is knowledge an accident? Why is education about how your sexual organs work, what’s safe and what isn’t, supposed to be treated as if we shouldn’t hear about it?

Two birds interacting with what appear to be anal beads and a couple of dildos. (via CATIE)

Still, parents were livid. One parent even noted the book was “on the side of almost sexual assault” teaching kids “this kind of crap.” Well, I don’t know about her, or any of the other parents who feverishly vowed the book’s removal from classrooms, but clearly they’ve forgotten what it means to be a tween (I hate this term) – let’s go with young adult. Young adults – having been one myself, once – have a LOT of questions in that period of their lives, and many have to do with the volatile changes happening right between their legs; the what, the how, and the why.

When I was 11, I was already thinking about girls. I didn’t know why, and couldn’t really process those feelings, which were rushing towards me like an avalanche. I had crush after crush, and when a girl actually liked me, I didn’t know what to do, or how to respond. Repeatedly, I shied away, as slowly all these fears of the unknown crept into my consciousness. Worse yet, I didn’t have anything to learn from, or anyone to discuss this stuff with – I definitely didn’t want to discuss it with my parents. To be fair, my parents always wanted me to be happy and healthy, but they avoided this subject largely because they didn’t know how to approach it from a healthy direction, one that wouldn’t shock my frail little mind.

But would’ve it been shocking… or informative? No young adult will outright come out and say “my vagina feels weird,” or “my penis is hard and I don’t know why!” – they’d die of shame; but that doesn’t mean they’re not worrying about those things day and night.

And this is where things start to get dangerous. Having no source of reliable material, no discussion with knowledgeable adults, young adults start following each other’s advice, or are mislead with incorrect information. I know, I’ve been there. As a (former) young adult, among the silly myths I used to believe was that girls don’t get horny; only guys do. Absurdly hilarious, right? Everyone gets horny. But at the time, it was a conundrum.

It wasn’t just me, either; it’s a common misconception by a lot of young men, as depicted in the hilariously-accurate and genuinely educational (in my opinion) Netflix animated series, Big Mouth:

The heads of two male characters in the show explode when they are told that girls get horny too. (Netflix Photo)

You can also see the clip here. While it’s just a show, it is eerily on point with a lot of those myths young adults have, not only of themselves, but the opposite sex as well. Definitely worth a watch.

Point is, there’s all this stigma and defensive walls surrounding the topic of sexual education in Canada, and I don’t fully understand why. We live in a time when anything is just a click away and virtually everyone has a cellphone. With that in mind, what would be more harmful first? A thorough discussion about sex and sexual health in a controlled environment such as a classroom, OR, watching porn on a phone, tablet or computer, which otherwise paints an unrealistic and unhealthy image of intimacy and sexuality. Perhaps that’s the reality that many parents fear; their children are far more tech-savvy and connected than their own generation ever was; they will find out about far worse things in their own ways, in ways they cannot control or police.

So why not get to them first with genuinely helpful advice and information? Sex-ed is one of the most important parts of a young adult’s education, yet it’s one of the most ignored and frowned upon. I was completely in the dark at that age on this stuff, and I didn’t even have a cellphone. There was no Facebook, no Instagram; in school, sex-ed was just an afterthought, something to fill time with; it did more harm than good, and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

I’ve seen a lot worse.

The politics of sex-ed in Canadian schools is even worse; with every step forward to improve the curriculum, two are taken back, kneeling to extremists. In August 2018, Ontario’s Ford government imposed a “no tolerance” rule for teachers still willing to maintain the most current sex-ed curriculum (implemented in 2015) because it was too “vulgar” to teach kids anything – you know, important, such as gender identity, same-sex relationships and masturbation. So I guess just show them a bunch of a fucking pictures then, and use a banana with a condom to explain how it works (that basically sums up my entire sex-education in elementary/high school). Teachers were (and still are) publicly persecuted by politicians and helicopter parents for simply opening a door of knowledge for the very people they’re supposedly trying to protect: their kids.

Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum, in a nutshell

The province even went as far as creating a website where parents can go and directly complain to the Board of Education if they feel their kids’ teachers are teaching them anything they deem explicit. Imagine that. Try and help young adults better understand their bodies, understand how to protect themselves from sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancy, understand consent and how intimacy works, and in turn be suspended, detained, even fired. In many ways, this sort of government-based imposition reminds me of Communist Romania, where the topic of sexuality was strictly forbidden; your sole purpose in life was to go to school, get a job, find someone and get married, and cultivate a whole lot of little assholes so they can grow up to become part of the Soviet Machine. Whether you got pregnant, or you were happy with your partner, had sex or not, it didn’t matter. Your life’s path was written; those who deviated in pursuit of knowledge were imprisoned, sent to Siberian labour camps, or killed.

To bring it to a somewhat lighter, and present note, sex-ed is, at its core, pure; it’s not political; it has to do with understanding who we are as human beings, and the stages we must all go through in our early lives. To suppress or hide this educational component from a kid’s curriculum will only harm them in the long run. And when all the politicians, regulators, pushers and pullers go home to their miserable lives, there’s always gonna be a kid stuck with a kid, or a kid who commits suicide because they’re bullied for being gay, or a kid who rapes a colleague because porn taught them it’s okay. None of them ever think of the kids they turn into victims when they rob them of vital lessons in life.

A fly attempts to whip the spider in a display of bondage. (CATIE)

Young adults have a right to know what’s happening to them sexually. Whether sex-ed is taught through cartoons, videos, literature or other media, it’s important that the right messages reach them first to help guide them through what is, already, the busy and hectic life of an adult.

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