Let's talk about sex: Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum

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I'm fine with the new Ontario sex-ed curriculum, I just wish there was more of it. It may seem lengthy because it's embedded in two voluminous documents. But they're the overall health and phys-ed courses, which include movement, nutrition, and even financial literacy. You have to comb through them for the sex -- as generations of humans always have.

The new curriculum is not puritanical, in the sense of stressing sex as all risks and perils, which I'd worried it might be. That was the traditional approach. It mentions affection and pleasure (though sparingly), desire, even eroticism (once, no elaboration). Probably just as well. You can't push the good side any more than the bad because kids will suspect anything adults push too much. Still, with all the negative info kids acquire, not just about the dangers of sex but about politics, work prospects, and the environment, it'd be nice to let them know from early on that there's nice stuff ahead too.

(It's also worth noting that curriculums get overstressed since they're easy to quote. But they're lesser factors since they must always be funneled through teachers, who are the core of the process.)

So what else might be included? How about why sex is important at all in human existence -- and how important it is. Not just for reproduction but as a fundamental force, a contender for top spot among drives and needs. You might think there was room for that factoid in the course of an education.

Kids may have noticed that the most accomplished among their elders seem routinely ready to risk everything in the pursuit of sex: Bill Clinton, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jian Ghomeshi, and just this week the UN panel chair on climate change, even former Ontario deputy education minister Ben Levin, who was peripherally involved with this curriculum -- duly seized on by the dauntless Charles McVety in his crusade to keep Ontario's classrooms sexless.

Sage heads are always asking: Why do they risk it all -- for a brief moment in the oval office or elsewhere? The answer is obviously: they choose to and it seems self-evidently worth it. In other words, approve it or not, it's the human condition. Sex is a fairly constant preoccupation of almost every individual -- forever.

In that light what's amazing is that humans have managed to do so much else: agriculture, clothing, cuisine, not to mention the sciences and great TV shows. Culture, in a word. Freud didn't so much explain this as point it out, as something to marvel at and cope with, more or less effectively but never conclusively. It might help kids dealing with the dumfounding arrival of sexual impulses to learn that this is part of the eternal human estate, not just their personal burden or blight. Being overwhelmed and disoriented doesn't set them off from everyone; it's their membership card in the species. And by the way, without knowing that, your education will be incomplete. The curriculum could use more of it: not what to do, but where to slot it all.

I've been touched by the widespread affection teens and tweens had for one of those TV shows: How I Met Your Mother. It's a sweet show, built around the feelings and loyalties of a group of friends through numerous couplings and uncouplings. Many viewers were irked by the finale, which they found insensitive to the warmth between characters that had been established; as if, said one, the writers hadn't watched their own program.

It's possible the appeal of the show lay in a counterbalancing to the uncomplicated, unnuanced renderings of sex that have been available to these kids all their lives through the Internet. The Ontario curriculum, I think is especially good on those nuances: confusion, vulnerability, hard choices -- though most attention has gone to other aspects.

The late John Seeley, who I consider the smartest, kindest guy I ever knew, said there are many definitions of happiness but they should all include at least a component of what he called dermal contact: a deft, elegant term. Deft because it leaves room for the vast variety of sexual meanings and levels while insisting on none in particular: just some version or mix. Otherwise it might be happiness but it wouldn't be fully human.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: romana klee/flickr

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