Alberta’s sexual health curriculum raises questions over the age of teaching consent

The Ontario government has made sexual consent a part of the province’s sexual education curriculum to help prevent abuse before it happens. In Alberta, consent isn’t as prominent a part of the sexual education curriculum, which is something experts believe should change.

Consent became a big part of the Ontario curriculum for grades 1 through 8 in 2015, with students learning how it’s given. That curriculum also stresses “the need to communicate clearly with each other when making decisions about sexual activity in the relationship” and features 17 other statements about consent.

But, perhaps most importantly, Ontario is now teaching those concepts to students who are in grade one, according to Global News.

Although the Ontario curriculum sparked some controversy amongst parents, Terry Humphreys, a psychology professor at Trent University who specializes in research on sexual experiences, believes consent education is very important to all ages.

“We’re not teaching your kids how to have sex, we’re teaching them things like values about respect, respecting each other, respecting boundaries of another person,” said Humphreys.

Alex McKay, executive director of Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, agrees and believes that if children are more aware about the concept of consent, it could help to prevent sexual assault.

“The concept of consent, as it relates to personal, individual anatomy particularly with respect to the body, that is a concept we want to be teaching to kids at quite an early age,” said McKay.

Currently, the majority of topics regarding consent in Alberta are not taught until junior high and high school levels.

“The ideas associated with sexual consent are found in our current 7-9 program of study,” said an email from Jeremy Nolais, the chief of staff for Alberta’s education minister. “All other mentions of consent are in the non-mandated teaching prompts.”

“We’re not teaching your kids how to have sex, we’re teaching them things like values about respect, respecting each other, respecting boundaries of another person.” – Terry Humphreys

According to Nolais, Alberta Education does believe in sexual education through all grades. In fact, their curriculum – which was last updated in 2002– is under review.

“Regarding changes to curriculum, Alberta Education is presently engaged in provincial curriculum development to ensure future programs of study will build upon a foundation of literacy and numeracy, and the development of competencies students will need to be successful in the future,” said the email from Nolais.

Nolais also explained that, in comparison to the Ontario curriculum where only one course of Health and Physical Education is required between grades 9 – 12 for graduation, health and life skills and PE are mandatory for grade 9 students along with Career and Life Management and PE in grade 10 in Alberta.

Danielle Aubry, executive director of Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, said she believes the concept of consent should be taught better in Alberta schools. However, she believes it should only be taught if it will be communicated well by an unbiased individual who can handle the discomfort both adults and children face when discussing sexual health.

According to Aubry, many individuals are lacking a connection with their sexuality to understand consensual sex in a healthy way.

Humphreys, who is also the president for the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, said there is some inconsistency around when issues around sexual consent get taught, though he believes that this education should begin in kindergarten.

A Canada-wide curriculum could ensure all Canadian students learn at the same grade level, but this change cannot be made as education is under provincial jurisdiction.

McKay added, “It’s becoming clear that when we look at the range of sexual health challenges facing today’s youth, we can see pretty clearly that in many respects the challenges are the same compared to past generations but that there are a number of issues currently at the forefront, one of which revolves around consent.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Terry Humphreys’ name, and misattributed him as “she.” The Calgary Journal regrets the error. 

Thumbnail courtesy of Ilmicrofono Oggiono, Creative Commons Licensed

tducklow@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Ashley Materi, amateri@cjournal.ca