It appears the sexual education curriculum controversy refuses to die. On the first day of school nearly 700 hundred children were kept out of Thorncliffe Park Public School (almost half their population) and their parents have vowed to keep their children out of school until the new sex-ed curriculum is changed. However, I urge these parents to instead change their minds. Although I know that the parents who are protesting are not only Muslims and not only South Asian, I am personally invested in the health of these particular communities. As a Muslim, South Asian woman who has researched sexual health of Muslims, and who went through the Canadian school system, I strongly believe that these parents need to support this curriculum which will be a benefit to the health of our communities. The research on this matter just does not support their outrage.
From my research it appears that, when it comes to sex, young Muslims are no different than any other young people. The majority of young Muslim adults in my study who reported having had sex, reported doing so before marriage. Half of those who had not had sex before marriage had considered it. I know this conflicts with what many parents expect, believe, or teach their children. Many take an abstinence-only approach, expecting that their children will only engage in sexual activity once married. But that is not the reality for many young Muslims. The idea that this curriculum is not age-appropriate does not hold when we now know young Muslims need sexual education well before marriage.
Additionally, it appears that Muslim parents are not talking to their children about sexual issues. The vast majority of participants in my research reported that parents were their least likely source of information on sex. This isn’t unlike most other parents but it is reason enough to believe that if these children are not receiving this education at school, they are not going to be receiving it at home either. And that is putting these children at risk.
Research demonstrates, again and again, the benefits of comprehensive sexual education. Along with lower chances of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies, sexual education also has been linked with young people delaying sexual activity – something I would assume many religious parents prefer. Research also shows that lack of accurate sexual education can result in anxiety about sex which can negatively impact sexual relationships. However, providing comprehensive sexual education can increase confidence and allow young people to make informed, healthy decisions.
On offer is a progressive curriculum that includes a focus on relationships (not just sex), inclusivity, and, very importantly, consent. When I was going through school in the Maritimes these topics were never included in sex-ed, but they were the ones my peers and I most wanted, and needed, to learn. Unfortunately, I saw first-hand the detrimental impact that lack of education had on some people around me. Denying children access to education on these essential life skills can be of no benefit to their health.
It is clear to me that the parents who are protesting truly care about their children. I believe they are genuinely fearful of the impacts this education may have. But I want to assure them that all the evidence suggests their children will be much better off, and healthier, being educated about sexual health, relationships, inclusivity, and consent. Education is a tool that helps us navigate the world. Just as children need to learn the basics of math, science, literature, and history to understand their world, they need to learn the basics of their sexual health to understand themselves, their bodies, their relationships with others, and their boundaries. We cannot place less importance on the health of our children than we do on math, science, and literature. All youth need to be armed with sexual education so that they are able to make healthy sexual decisions, which they will most certainly be confronted with throughout their entire lives.