“Safe sex”

“Safe sex” in AIDS education jargon means using condoms, which, the writers point out, are not one hundred per cent safe. “It is true that condoms do not prevent semen from entering the partner’s body. Therefore, condoms can be effective in reducing the risk of transmission of the AIDS virus. However, condoms are not foolproof. They might break or have holes in them …”

The writers do not refer at all to the fact that condoms are ineffective in their primary use for preventing pregnancy and that many experts believe they will be even less effective in preventing AIDS transmission, with perhaps as much as 50 per cent failure rate. The crucial fact is ignores, the writers are more interested in telling the students that condoms are unreliable because children are too “emotionally immature” to use them properly.

The lesson continues, “most often condoms do not fail because the product is at fault.” Two reasons are given:

“If two people are engaged in sexual activity, they are often in a state of sexual arousal that makes it difficult to act as logically as they might at other times. (Just as you might do something when you are mad or upset and then think about it later and realize how foolish it was.) It is very difficult to have the control to interrupt the sexual activity and put a condom on.”


“Condoms are often not used properly. Some semen can enter the partner’s body if the condom slips because it has not been put on or removed properly. Mistakes often occur, especially by those emotionally immature.”

Pointing out that condoms are not the answer to AIDS may well help some students to conclude that they would be better off remaining chaste. Others may find another more subtle message present, namely, ‘We feel you probably will experiment with sex. When you do, we hope you’ll remember to use a condom. But since you’re immature, you’ll probably end up in trouble.’ It is telling children that they are not personally responsible for the consequences of their “choice.”

The AIDS education programme falls into the same trap as the majority of sex education programmes. It assumes that the knowledge about a prophylactic will curb the spread of AIDS in the same way that knowledge about contraception is supposed to have reduced teenage pregnancy. Statistics on teen pregnancy show the assumption is good only as a theory: it does not work in practice. Young people engage in pre-marital sexual activity for a whole variety of complex emotional reasons. Adolescents are “emotionally immature.” Condoms will “fail.” And some adolescents will get AIDS.

Double blind

The extracts quoted from various lessons in the AIDS education package in this article and the one last month show how absurd it is to create such a programme for children as young as 11 years old. The writers are clearly caught in a double bind.

On the other hand, they cannot avoid mentioning sexual activity is largely responsible for the spread of AIDS in Canada.

On the other hand, they cannot be too explicit because they are writing for an audience of 11 to 14 year olds, all of whom have different levels of emotional development and different levels of knowledge about sexuality.

Some children in this age group, perhaps a majority, are already well aware of how sexual intercourse is physically achieved. Others may be well content in knowing that something intimate happens between adults and not wish to know more. Healthy curiosity is one thing, openly inviting premature questioning before a child’s emotional development is at the appropriate level is irresponsible and absolutely perverse.

Whether or not the writers took into consideration the possibility that the programme has potentially damaging consequences to the students, it is impossible to establish from reading the programme itself. Nor is it clear whether or not the writers considered that they are placing teachers in the hot seat, leaving them to deal with the consequences while giving them minimum guidance eon how to handle classroom discussions prompted by the lessons.

The children have been set up with certain information n various forms of sexual activities and why condoms may not prevent infections. Will some teachers feel obliged to bring in as visual aids plastic phalluses and condoms to demonstrate their correct use? There is nothing to say they should or should not.

If a student asks how sexual intercourse is physically managed (either because he or she is genuinely curious or he or she wants to have some fun in the classroom) will the question be answered or will it become topic for schoolyard speculation during recess?

The grades 9 and 10 teachers are given slightly more guidance as the writers review and expand the teaching on chastity presented in the earlier grades. The same information on condoms is repeated as has been quoted above. The individual teacher, however, decides how explicit the discussion should become.

“Remember,” the teacher is directed “keep the information simple and clear so that you can dispel confusion. Help the students solidify values and supply support for these values.” Note that the teacher is not expected to teach the values: the students are expected to provide them. And whose values are expected to prevail? The writers acknowledge that the programme does not have enough Catholic content to stand on its own.

It is this question of whose “values” will be taught that worries most parents. Unless moral principles are spelled out clearly and uncompromisingly at every stage, they see their own work as primary educators becoming undermined.

Apathy, or an unsubstantiated belief that only a small minority of parents care about teaching their own children the correct moral foundation, are the defenses usually given when sex education programmers come under-attack. The sad part about this programme is that Ontario educators had the opportunity to become leaders in the field of AIDS education. Instead, they have bowed to outside pressures and the result is a mess.