Thursday, May 06, 2010

The birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees....

So here is the question: Can I get this post written and up in the 30 or so minutes I have before I leave to get Emily from school?

The thing is, this post is about a newsy, current, heavy, sensitive topic that I have very strong opinions about and when I have strong opinions I tend to go on. And on. And on.

The topic is twofold really: (1) sex education and (2) talking about sex with your kids.

Okay, first. Most of you know I attend church regularly. In fact, I'm a member of a Mennonite Church. No, I don't drive a buggy and I do have electricity. Yes, I do like doughy foods and most members of the sausage family. And pie. Lots and lots of pie.

However, I'm not what people refer to as "culturally Mennonite." Which means my last name is not Friesen or Janzen or Heidebrecht. In fact, my family, going back several generations, belonged to a denomination called Plymouth Brethren. If you can imagine one of the most conservative evangelical groups going and then put a head-covering on me, you've got the Plymouth Brethren.

And so you can imagine what I learned about sex. Don't do it unless you're married. And until then you pretty much need to know nothing about it and don't even mention homosexuality because all those people? Well, you won't be seeing any of them in heaven. And as for abortion? Well, we all know about that because we've all been to the pro-life rallies, right?

In actual fact, I learned about sex at a friend's house from a book her mother bought her. My parents never sat me down to talk about it. My mother did attend our Grade 6 health class when sex was introduced and was very comfortable and supportive in the conversations in that class but to be honest, the class was a lot more about having your period than anything else. I'm not even sure if sex was discussed. I do remember health class in further grades when sex became part of the curriculum. By then my very-conservative church upbringing was firmly entrenched so the sex part was off the radar for me. And if I remember correctly, most of the classes were about what it was like to have a baby and why we shouldn't do that as teenagers.

Needless to say, I've changed a lot since then. I'm extremely liberal in my views; I believe so many different things now about sex and so many other subjects... and strongly believe them: my views on sexuality and abortion are the opposite side of the fence from what I was taught as a kid. And I'm so happy that I was able to make that shift, through my own intellectual pursuits and discussions and meditations on these subjects. (Just as an aside, this all jives very easily with the Mennonite churches that I attend. Of course, members have differing opinions but that seems to be all okay and there are many, many people who have the same opinions that I do.)

And that brings me to sex education. If you've been following the news in Ontario recently, you know that the government introduced a new sex ed curriculum, got a big backlash from a few religious minority groups (mainly right-wing Christians and Muslims) and then rescinded the curriculum promising more extensive consultation and a new go at it. If you followed the story closely like I have, you would also know that the original consultation was extensive, had the support of many religious groups and educators and did not go as far as many countries and even some Canadian provinces do.

To give a succinct run-down of the new curriculum: proper names of body parts taught in Kindergarten, homosexuality introduced in Grade 3 as a right that must be respected by law (and what it means), safe sex - all forms - in Grade 6-8 I believe and continuing conversations from there that seemed to point us down the right path for our kids and the decisions they would be forced to make. It made a lot of sense to me and I applauded it. As did many other parents I spoke to.

Our kids need to know this stuff. The earlier the better. Nations that have early and open sex-ed have lower rates of STIs and teen pregnancies. Canada is doing well on those fronts but we could do better. This curriculum was a first step. Those who were rallying against it are fooling themselves if they think their kids don't need to know this stuff or that they won't participate. And knowledge is power here, folks. The more they know, the better choices they can make.

My own experience made me decide long before I had kids that when my kids one day asked me about sex, I would be open and honest and not deflect any questions as long as they were old enough to understand the concepts. It is part of animal and human nature and there is nothing to be ashamed of... and I'm not just talking about heterosexual sex in the missionary position either. I also know that if you delay, the kids will be embarrassed to talk about it with their parents. Because, ew... parents having sex. So gross to a kid over the age of 8 or so. The younger they are when you have the conversation, the better.

So when Emily asked me two weeks ago "How did the baby get in there?", I told her. We had a good conversation, probably the first of many on the topic, one evening. I didn't get into the pleasure side of sex... just the functional. I didn't talk about homosexuality... just the process of baby-making. There is time for all that later. But right now she knows the mechanics and she has brought it up a couple of times since in conversation showing me that she gets it. She thought the whole thing was pretty funny, which is about what I expected. As she gets older, I know she'll still get embarrassed about talking about this with me... that's just normal. But at least I planted the first seeds of knowledge and she learned it from me, not from a book or t.v. or a friend. The conversation will be ongoing. I hope that before she starts to feel weird about talking about this with me, we'll have lots more conversations... hopefully stemming from a strong school sex-ed curriculum.... that will lead to good choices and a feeling one day that she can talk to me about anything and expect an honest answer.

This is a touchy subject but an important one. How do you approach it in your house? What were your feelings about the Ontario curriculum changes?

(Phew, made it with a few minutes to spare!)


Anonymous said...

I live a world away from you in Texas. But what you described as the proposed curriculum sounds WONDERFUL! I taught middle school science for 6 years in Texas. Preteens and teens desperately need correct information around here. A large number of the students I taught were already engaging in sexual activities of all kinds and I even taught several students who were already mothers. The school district that I worked for takes a horrible approach. We always joked that in our town "we didn't have sex". I wasn't aloud to discuss sex in any context and I was to avoid all sexual words. Even if a child asked me a specific question in a confidential conversation I was to tell them to talk to their parents. Teachers in the district have actually been fired for saying too much.

It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever experienced. And if one of my students asked me a question in private (before or after class or in tutorials) I answered them. Obviously if they were asking me then they didn't have anyone else they felt comfortable talking to.

As for our boys...they are doomed! I was a science teacher and my husband/their father is a biology major who taught health class and works as the high school athletic trainer. They will most certainly be told correct information and I plan to start young with age appropriate conversations and discussions. My boys won't feel comfortable talking with me when they get older but I am going to do everything I can to let them know the door is always open. I would rather them ask me than ask a friend who gives them incorrect information!

Julie said...

well since you know me, you probably know that i have pretty much the same thoughts and hope to have the same approach with the jellybean.

talking the the hubby about it he did say that he would be a little uncomfortable teaching the extent they laid out for grade 3, but agreed that all those parent who say "it's the parents job to teach sex ed" are the ones that aren't doing anything. i think for the hubby it was more that the schools he has been teaching at have a very high muslim kid population and he felt some of their uncomfortableness with the issue.

i hope the government gets their balls back and puts the curriculum in place sooner rather than later.

good post k.

Lynn said...

I was very disappointed when Ontario backed off from the new curriculum. I thought it was very appropriate and necessary. I hope they come back to it soon.

I've been meaning for a while now to talk to my 7 and 5 year old about sex. I feel it's time they learned that it's not just "magic" that puts a baby in there...but I admit I am nervous about it, and I don't know how to bring it up. Plus, my 5-year-old (a girl) is already totally freaked out because she learned that a baby comes out a woman's vagina -- and now swears she will never have kids. I don't want to scare her any more, but I don't want my kids to have the same experience I did -- almost DYING of horror when I learned what sex was from Grade Seven health class. I'm sure I was the last to know!

I should get a book for the kids. I'm so much better with books.

PragmaticMom said...

I have some sex ed book suggestions. I blog on my Birds and Bees talk with my 10-year-old daughter at

It was made easier with a good book on sex first, followed by q and a. Other moms also suggested their favorite books.

Pragmatic Mom
Type A Parenting for the Modern World
I blog on children's lit, education and parenting.

Karen said...

These are great comments, everyone. Since my sister lives in Texas (albeit Austin), I'm not surprised by thesmallmoments comments but it's still really sad that Texas is depriving its kids of the knowledge they need. Good for you and your husband in making sure your kids are educated the best they can be.

Julie, I assume that not all teachers would be 100% comfortable with it but over time I think it would become easier. If I was teaching, I wouldn't have an issue with it but I enjoy talking about this kind of stuff with kids.

Lynn, books seem like a great way to start if you're not comfortable. I wonder if there are some other good ways to start the conversation... a trip to the Experimental Farm around lambing time? A visit to The Body exhibit if it is playing somewhere nearby?

Shan said...

Abby and I have been having what I like to think of as beginning conversations on this very topic. I've really surprised myself with how I've managed to wade through it all. I thought I would find it much more awkward and uncomfortable than I have. It's been interesting and at times very funny. It all began with my poor little girl sobbing in the shower because she didn't want to be a woman. The idea of having a baby terrifies her. I think this being a part of the school curriculum as just another layer of learning. Kids don't get all their knowledge from one place, right? I have also expressed upon Abby that she can come to me with any questions, but the conversations we have are just between her and I. It's not her job to educate her friends. That's a job for their own Moms and Dads.