Editor’s Note: There is sexually graphic material in this story.

The Nova Scotia government and teachers union play a big role in the promotion of sex and homosexuality education, and these sensitive topics are being taught throughout the elementary school curriculum.

According to the N.S. Ministry of Education’s Learning Outcomes Framework, Grade 1 students are to “explore the concept of gender.” In Grade 4, they learn to “differentiate between gender roles and gender identity.” Fifth graders must “demonstrate an understanding that sexual orientation is a part of our personality and explore the harmful effects of homophobia.” In Grade 7, students learn to distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity. Eighth graders “examine the media portrayal of sexual orientation.”

In the 2003 health curriculum for Grades 4 to 6, fifth grade teachers giving lessons on puberty are warned, “when discussing reproduction, be aware that gender stereotypes have often coloured descriptions of the fertilization process. The egg is depicted as passive and fragile; the sperm as aggressive and heroic.” Also in Grade 5, the prevention of sexually transmitted infections is discussed within the context of a sexual relationship. Students are informed that having sex without a condom may lead to HIV. Sixth graders “identify the consequences for the level of risk” of “activities” that include “touching the genitals of a partner,” “masturbation,” and “oral sex.”

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union published a handbook for equity liaisons, who disseminate information from the NSTU to local teachers. The handbook lists the union’s “Anti-homophobia and Anti-heterosexism” policy, which advocates that children be taught about the contributions of homosexuals and that schools establish anti-homophobia policies recognizing that “homophobia plays an integral role in bullying and harassment in schools.”

Teachers must also use language that “affirms all sexual orientations” and avoid “assuming the superiority of heterosexuality.” Homosexual students must have access to counselling that is “free from efforts on the part of counsellors to change their sexual orientation and/or identity.”

The handbook’s resources include a list of responses for teachers to make when they hear somebody saying “that’s so gay!” which are also used by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. The comebacks include: “How would you feel if your name/identity was (sic) instead of ‘gay’?;” “How can a book, idea or song have a sexual orientation?;” and “Gay is OK.”

Nova Scotia Public Health Services also plays a role in sex education for children. It has published Sex? – A Healthy Sexuality Resource for Grade 7 students that provides them with information about sexual orientation, gender identity, and birth control methods, while including references to oral and anal sex.

A brochure titled “Talk Sex” provides suggestions for parents about how to teach children about sexuality. The authors inform parents of children from birth to age 2: “You might feel anxious if your child enjoys touching his or her genitals. Some children in their first year of life even seem to have orgasms. Relax! This simply means your child’s body is working well. Children have feelings about their bodies long before they can talk.

The NS Public Health book also recommends that parents teach children of this age group words like “penis, testicles, vulva, and vagina.” From age three to four, kids “enjoy examining their genitals and self-pleasuring” and “engage in sex play with friends and siblings.” Masturbation and sex play are apparently normal pursuits for children from five to 12 as well.

Parents should always take the opportunity to talk to their children about sex, the resource counsels. If a nine-year-old asks where babies come from, the parent should reveal that “the man slips his penis into the woman’s vagina.” Parents should also correct themselves if they misinformed their child. One example is: “Remember when I told you that condoms are a type of balloon? Well, I know that you need to know that condoms are really used by people to keep from having a baby or getting an infection.”