For much of this past year, concerned Nova Scotians have fought, in every way open to them, to keep Sex? – A Healthy Sexuality Resource out of their schools. Cape Breton’s Strait District School Board, chaired by George Kehoe, flatly rejected the book.
Despite initial reservations in some regions, other English-language school boards are now distributing it to students aged 12 to 17. Private and First Nations schools have been invited to “assist” local public health agencies with distribution.
The book is also available online and at public libraries, Planned Parenthood clinics, and public health services offices. Anyone who really wants to pay, can buy one through Nova Scotia Government Publications for just over $13. Reportedly, it’s even available in corner stores.
A public health nurse sidestepped the school board ban in Kehoe’s district by personally distributing it to children in the playground.
“So much for democracy,” said lawyer Sandy MacDonald, president of the Antigonish branch of the Catholic Civil Rights League.
Sherri Aikenhead, of the Halifax Daily News, praised the manual as a funky guide that “subtly promotes tolerance. It’s never too soon to start promoting the message that it’s okay to be gay.”
Dr. Joan Wenning applauded the book’s constant reiteration “that all individuals must care for themselves, must make choices for themselves and be supportive of individual choices.”
Opponents reject the notion that children of 12 must be able to care for themselves in sexual matters and that all choices are worth supporting. There is much more they consider age inappropriate, including information about vibrators, sex toys and all forms of sexual intercourse, or the material about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.
The manual suggests that 12 may be an appropriate age for children to begin consensual sexual relations (“but only with a person who is less than two years older”). It stresses the importance of these children carrying condoms and oral dams at all times (“If you don’t need them, a friend might”). Planned Parenthood is a suggested source of supply. Kehoe said, “Giving that document to kids in Grade 7 is just plain abuse.” Jim Christian called it a form of assault. In an impassioned letter, Charlie MacEachern called it sexual interference, adding, “It is appalling that our society approves of sexual activity between 12- and 13-year-old children.”
Aikenhead’s column of Nov. 4 trivialized concerns and referred slightingly to all opponents as out of touch, not up to speed, prudes, rural and/or religious. Health Promotion Minister Rodney MacDonald insisted, “Our concern is to help youth make safe, healthy choices.”
Sex? is hailed as “the first comprehensive resource for youth on the subject of youth sexual health in all of Canada.”
Over 500 youth were asked “what they wanted and needed to know about healthy sexual living.” (Similar consultations have not taken place with regard to spelling, punctuation, and fractions, however.)
Termed “groundbreaking,” the consolidation of 30 pamphlets, booklets and other available print materials into one book, is written in “plain language,” (at a Grade 6 reading level for those with poor reading skills).
The authors work in the Departments of Education and Health, Health Promotion, Public Health Services, Dalhousie Family Medicine and Planned Parenthood. (To Planned Parenthood, family planning is the provision of contraception, abortion, and sterilization on request, for all, ages 10 and up.)
“This manual promotes the moral agenda of Planned Parenthood, an interest group which does not represent Nova Scotians”, stated Sandy MacDonald last spring in a pre-election presentation to the school board. He also demonstrated that it:
o contains a large number of blatant errors of fact and interpretation;
o gives students mixed and conflicting messages;
o contradicts itself;
o does not appropriately communicate necessary information about the risks of sexual behaviour;
o does promote (personal) moral opinions.
“It will cause the very behaviours it purports to prevent,” he warned.
“From beginning to end,” MacDonald summarized, “it contains erroneous facts and statistical assertions, which would expose the government and education boards to significant legal liability.” He suggested they quadruple their insurance coverage.
The government, though, is unlikely to disavow its own landmark production or its intense interest in helping young people make “safe, healthy choices.”