Vote: Should sex ed be taught in kindergarten?

Civil liberties association suing Ontario government to block sex ed changes

Quebec will make a drastic shift this September in its approach to informing children about sex and sexuality.

Next September, the province will go from having abandoned sex education from its curriculum a decade ago to making the matter a mandatory subject in every grade, beginning in kindergarten.

Every child in both the private and public systems will study material that goes well beyond the metaphorical birds and the bees.

Quebec's new curriculum falls in line with the ones that exist, or will soon be implemented, in British Columbia and Alberta, as well as in Ontario, where some parents protested and pulled their children from school when the new subject matter was brought into the classroom.

In kindergarten, five-year-olds will get a brief explanation of the steps involved in making a baby. They will be told that an egg and sperm unite to form a zygote that will grow into an embryo and then a fetus, and they will learn about the different types of families, including those involving same-sex couples.

They will also be given the proper terms for male and female body parts, including the vulva, penis, scrotum and testicles.

The correct terms are meant to help protect children from sexual exploitation, said Lisa Trimble, a McGill lecturer specializing in sexual education.

"If we are all using the same language and we are removing some of the charge around it by calling it the name that it is supposed to be called, then children are able to articulate if they are having problems," she said.

At six or seven years old, children will be learning about gender stereotyping and be taught to recognize situations that could lead to sexual assault.

Discussion of this subject will ramp up a notch at the age of eight or nine, when children will be told about different forms of sexual assault, from sexual contact and touching, to exhibitionism and to being exposed to pornography.

During this time, children will also learn to identify the sexual organs and their functions.

At ten and 11, children will be warned about the dangers of the Internet and the strategies used by sexual predators to lure people.

The Education Ministry explains on its website that a significant number of sexual assault victims — two out of every five female victims and three out of five male victims —  are children under the age of 11.

The school has a critical role in preventing and reporting these crimes, the ministry said, because often, abuse is committed by family members.

Eleven- and 12-year-olds will learn about homophobia and sexism and about the changes that come with puberty, including vaginal lubrication, spontaneous erections and nocturnal emissions.

Education Minister Sébastien Proulx said Thursday it's important for children to learn about the mechanics of puberty before they actually start experiencing it.

Children also need to be taught that what they may be experiencing is normal, said Trimble.

"It can be a scary thing if you think that you are the only person in the world that this is happening to," she said.

After that, preteens will learn about body image and how attraction helps people become aware of their sexual orientation.

At 13 and 14, adolescents will learn about consent and what constitutes sexual assault and will be encouraged to "adopt a positive attitude to the use of condoms," the Education Ministry says.

At 15 and 16, lessons will include how to recognize the symptoms of a violent relationship and will have discussions about emotional intimacy. They will also be told what steps they can take after having unprotected or poorly protected sex.

Right now, this curriculum is optional, and only about 200 schools in Quebec are teaching the material, including St-Gabriel, Riverview and Evergreen elementary schools, and Lester B. Pearson High School on the island of Montreal, as well as several schools in the New Frontiers, Riverside and Eastern Shores school boards.

Trimble expects some people will be uncomfortable when all of Quebec's 3,114 schools are forced to adopt it next fall.

"Just having one [a sexual education curriculum] is an enormous change," she said.

"There is a lot of misinformation and panic that gets cultivated when sex education starts to be something that we talk about in schools," she said.

"I see it as a human rights and a public health issue."