Doreen Beagan
The Interim

Editor’s note: This story contains material that is not suitable for younger readers or those who are offended by discussion of sexually related issues.

On April 5, New Brunswick’s Education Department announced it had revamped its controversial sex education program in response to parental pressure. But parents are dismissing the changes as inconsequential. Merely dividing the curriculum into three booklets still means topics like oral and anal sex and mutual masturbation are introduced in Grade 6, they say.

Replacing a drawing of an erect penis with a view of a flaccid penis, or switching from a claim that better-tasting, non-lubricated condoms are the best oral dams, to stating that they “may provide some protection” against disease, are not the kinds of changes parents are seeking.

“True, the curriculum now states that abstinence is best, but then it teaches repeatedly that the ways to be healthy are via anal or oral sex, sex with a condom, or abstinence – and all three are equally healthy. That’s absolutely not true,” says Fredericton-area physician Carolyn Barry.

Further, she points out, the material on sexually transmitted diseases is 25 years out of date. “On this continent alone, there are one million new cases of herpes every year, and over five million new cases of human papilloma virus (a precursor of several forms of cancer). We have no cure for those diseases. And no prevention. Condoms do not prevent the spread of HPV and herpes, because these viruses are not spread by fluids. They are spread by contact with the sores anywhere on an infected body and can also be spread by hands. This information is nowhere in the curriculum.”

The curriculum does not frown on early sex or sex with multiple partners, she notes. Yet almost certainly, children who begin sexual activity at age 12 (which it does not discourage) will have more than one partner during their lifetime – a recognized factor in the transmission of most STDs.

In her practice, Barry sees the anguish of those who contract STDs they thought they were protected from. She knows there is about a four-fold increase in the incidence of depression and suicide, or attempted suicide, among sexually active young people who break up. She believes that if the Department of Education insists on opening up these issues, it is also obligated to tell the children about the negative psychological consequences of sexual intercourse outside of marriage.

Barry explains why many parents also consider the program an invasion of privacy and a violation of respect for the child.

In a typical exercise, a girl might have to stand up in front of the class and act out a skit involving convincing a boy to use condoms. Or children might be required to align themselves with various stances on moral issues – such as whether it’s normal for a 12-year-old to be sexually active or permissible for a gay boy to bring his male date to a party – and defend their position.

Teachers are also encouraged to “talk sex” with the kids in their classrooms. In a typical scenario, a boy, obviously sexually aroused, says, “This feels good.” The teacher is directed to ask questions like, “What does that feel like? What are your sexual thoughts and fantasies?”

“Some teachers will actually do that,” says Barry. “As adults, we are never, ever allowed to go there, never allowed to do that to children. It’s unethical. It’s illegal. Yet, this ‘revised’ curriculum still encourages it.”

Even adults have difficulty talking to other adults about such things. “If this is presented in the classroom as healthy and the norm, how do vulnerable children as young as 11, 12 or -13 stand up and object?” she asks.

Many parents see no solution but to take children out of the classes. But, Barry says, “This program is like a virus. It will spread from the classroom into the playground and affect even the children that have been pulled out. It will spread to the family and community. It will change the culture of our province.”

She is convinced this leaves concerned parents no choice but to continue saying: “We will not let you hurt our children. This has to stop.”