Last week, my ten year old son, Evil Genius, returned from school with some news that had him a bit excited. He had heard from a few of the sixth graders (one year above him) that they had watched an animated video on puberty. This particular point wasn’t the one that had him anxious. It was the anecdotes that said the video compared penises to noses and that the penises sprout wings and eventually fly away.
Evil G, learning that his time will come to view the video by the end of the year, is mortified by the thought of the winged penises and is far from looking forward to watching them: “It’s too weird!” Whether or not the penis noses take flight is debatable in the sense that kids will say anything to those in the grade below to freak them the fuck out. However, knowing what passes for sex education these days in Ontario, I won’t be surprised should this be true.
I’ve been scouring the internet to find any reference to this film (I’m assuming it’s 8mm), but sadly have been unsuccessful. I tried asking Evil G’s teacher if it would be possible for me to view it, and was invited to see it with the rest of the class in three months. I don’t want to bar my son from seeing it, but I do want to know just how educational it is, how current and how inclusive. My bets are hedging on close to the “not very” end of the spectrum for at least my last two questions.
That the sixth graders were chagrinned at having to watch flying penises while terrifying the grade below them is a pretty good indicator that what schools are passing as sex education is not up to snuff.
My curiosity was piqued at Evil G’s mention of the airlifted members because I’ve been keeping a close watch on our government’s choice to shelve an updated sex and health curriculum for elementary and high school students. Two years in the making, the updated curriculum was introduced in 2010 in order to keep up with current standards – standards created by the kids themselves, thanks to the heavy influence of the internet and social media, as well as hormones that are hastening the onset of puberty. A small contingent of agitated parents made a stink about the update, and our then-Premier Dalton McGuinty backed down and shelved it, placating them while infuriating others, not the least of which were the myriad of experts and students that had been consulted.
Upset that the revision would be explaining to kids things like masturbation, same sex relationships, and oral sex (despite all of those things being legal in Canada and a fact of life), groups like the Canada Christian College managed to persuade McGuinty to not promote such immoral behaviours. Luckily for McGuinty, he could hold off long enough to never bother returning to the debate, and left the mess in the hands of Kathleen Wynne. She has taken the reigns and promised to take a deeper look into another updated curriculum with further consultation. Until then, most teachers are relying on years-old information. A few are trying to stay current with kids’ needs, supplementing with what they can, sometimes with examples from out of province.
It’s infuriating that our government is still beholden to such religious zealotry when it comes to sexuality. God forbid (apparently so) my son would have been taught just what was happening to him in grade 3 when he started getting curious about his body and what made him feel good. NEWS FLASH: young kids masturbate. Thankfully, Evil G has parents who have no problem with filling in the blanks, and have been trying to teach him everything we can to prepare him for the years ahead. He’s armed with enough info so far that he found it completely comfortable to come running home and tell me about flying penises (and make the occasional testicle joke. NEWS FLASH: boys make testicle jokes) without batting an eye. With what little sex ed I got as a kid from both my school and my parents (close to zero), I never would have even hinted at the word penis or vagina to an adult, much less my parents. I had to learn everything the hard way: through Playboys and VHS tapes. If things were the same today, I may not be so focused on what Evil G sees at school. But with hardcore becoming available via a single web click, I’d like him to be able to parse what he’s viewing.
In trying to source this elusive flying penis video (there are many, though not related to puberty education. Go figure), I wasn’t able to find too many alternatives that Evil G would want to watch. They’re either too juvenile, or not relatable (despite this series being divided into more contemporary and manageable clips). The closest thing I could find that would hold Evil G’s attention for longer than 15 seconds is this random 1minute-something video from a Berlin animation studio.
Also absent from much of what I managed to find are ideas on consent. This type of education seems to come much later – closer to high school and university –and almost always seems to be geared toward victims, essentially teaching how not to get raped. We need to start teaching our kids much earlier that getting permission to touch other bodies is just as important as the idea that touching our own is ok.
Another absentee concept? That of non-heteronormative identities. Many of the resources tell us that when we hit puberty, if we’re girls we will start to like boys, and vice versa. For those who don’t feel this way, it’s not surprising that LGBTQ kids can feel othered, and may develop feelings that they must not be doing puberty right.
When we can’t teach our kids the proper words for genitalia at an early age, we have proof that our Health and Physical Education system is failing. When we’re teaching only about abstinence as safe sex, we are failing. When eighth grade girls are performing oral sex with a mouth full of toothpaste because they think it removes the chances of getting an STI, we are failing. When kids are committing suicide because of gay bashing, we are failing.
Do I mind supplementing Evil G’s sex education with resources I find myself? Not at all. But I want them to be just that: supplements, not the only education he’s getting in a media-soaked world that is beating our schools to the punch. I’d much rather show Evil G this series of condom ads than rely on his school telling him abstinence is the path toward a healthy lifestyle.
If you want to see comparisons between what schools are currently working with, what was originally proposed, and the revised edition, (still not enacted, and is the only one available on the edu.gov.on.ca site), Kathryn Blaze Carlson highlighted the differences between all three versions in her 2011 article for the National Post.
Other interesting reads are the UN’s International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, as well as SIECAN’s (The Sex Information & Education Council of Canada) Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. These documents highlight the needs and reasons for intensive sexual education. These are a strong basis for what we obviously need, but until our government can handle groups like Canada Christian College (whose Facebook Page boasts 266 Likes), we’re going to be stuck with flying dicks.
Got a question about sex in art, relationships, parenting? Send Sonya a note at email@example.com. Anonymity assured.