Sex in school: An analysis of the Catholic sex ed curriculum

Sex in school: An analysis of the Catholic sex ed curriculum

Is all publicly funded sexual education equal?

Every time I mention that I went to a Catholic school for 12 years, people seem to pity me. These people generally have two assumptions about us Catholic school kids:

  1. We weren’t taught evolution.
  2. We didn’t have good sexual education.

I can promise you that we were taught evolution, but I don’t recall most of my sexual education classes past grade eight.

The only parts I remember are a lot of discussions about STIs and that the boys’ health class got to watch the birthing video, but the girls’ class didn’t.

To supplement my faded memory, I decided to research the Catholic school system’s sexual education curriculum and compare it to the public school system’s. Turns out, the sex ed curriculum for Ontario was updated in 2015, so I wasn’t able to find any guidelines from when I was in eighth grade in 2008. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. The main changes introduced in 2015 included instructing about consent, sexting, transgenderism, and teaching everything a grade earlier. The rest seemed pretty much untouched.

On the Toronto Catholic District School Board website, it says that Catholic schools follow the sexual education curriculum set out by the provincial government, but they teach it “through the lens of the Catholic faith.”

What does ‘through the lens of the Catholic faith’ mean exactly? I asked myself this question as I started to read the public and Catholic grade eight sexual education teacher’s manuals. Shortly afterwards, I discovered that the Ontario curriculum discusses condoms, methods of safe sex, and holding off on sex until you’re ready. The Catholic modifications, written in association with the Catholic Bishops of Ontario, also touch on condom use, but mainly on how they are not 100 per cent effective.

Courtesy of Fully Alive

The Catholic curriculum states that the only effective way to avoid STIs and pregnancy is to abstain from sex until marriage, and that straying from this plan made by God “may put us at risk for physical, social, and emotional harm.” The manual then goes into great detail about the “natural” family planning method, which they say is a method married couples can use to plan around the woman’s fertility cycle when deciding to get pregnant. The Catholic high school curriculum adds that masturbation should also be abstained from, classifying it as a “depersonalizing behaviour” and not in line with procreation. This follows the criteria of “purity” or abstinence-only education, a type of sexual education that discusses the merits of abstinence while delegitimizing other forms of contraception.

Not only does the “threat of physical, emotional, and social harm” terrify children and make them feel guilty about their sexuality and human urges, abstinence-only programs don’t seem to work.

Studies have shown that these programs don’t affect the age at which kids decide to have sex, but rather lead to increased rates of teen pregnancy because of the lack of information that is provided on contraceptives and safe sex.     

When discussing homosexual relations, the manual refers teachers to a section within the Catechism of the Catholic Church entitled Chastity and Homosexuality, which states that “[homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity… [However] they are contrary to the natural law [and] under no circumstances can they be approved.”

I had the chance to speak with a Catholic high school teacher to ask his opinion on the subject. He asked to be referred to as Edward Smith in this article. Smith told me the story of how a 10th grade field trip to see the movie The Imitation Game — which is based on the true story of Alan Turing during World War II — was suddenly canceled after a member of the school trustee board found out that the movie contains scenes of Turing discussing his homosexuality and kissing a man.

Smith says that many of the teachers in his school are progressive and disagree with many of the Catholic school moral guidelines.

For that reason, some may forego teaching some of the harmful lessons about sex and homosexuality, or share their own opinion in conjunction with the material. This may open a forum for students to further explore their own opinions on morals around sex and sexuality.

I’m glad I went to a Catholic school and I’m thankful I had to take religion classes that gave me insight into Catholicism and other world religions. However, if your child attends a Catholic school, you might want to talk to them about sexuality and supplement the sexual education (or lack thereof) that they are receiving from the Ontario Catholic school system.

Photo courtesy of Flickr via CC0

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *