The Kids Have Spoken — It’s Time to Update Sex Ed
It started in December while they were working on an 8th grade media studies project. Thirteen-year-olds Tessa Hill and Lia Valente were researching for a documentary about rape culture in the media. Through their research, they began learning about consent, and then they began wondering why—in a country where one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime—they hadn’t really learned about it before.
Their school in Ontario, Canada had a health class, and they were taught sex ed… but the curriculum hadn’t been updated since 1998, long before technology put a computer screen in everyone’s hands and teenagers spent an average of 7 hours a day consuming media. Long before sexting was even a word and the lessons focused mainly on biology, rather than on decision-making and healthy relationships.
Basically, it was out-of-date… and they wanted a change.
So when they found out from their teacher that the Ontario health curriculum was scheduled for an update, they decided that “No Means No” wasn’t enough anymore. They wanted their peers to learn that “Yes Means Yes.” They wanted everyone to learn about consent.
So they did something about it. They created a campaign, We Give Consent, and put out a petition on Change.org requesting that the Ministry of Education add consent as a topic in the 2015 Health Curriculum.
“There are different sources in our society that make and perpetuate rape and sexual violence, but one of them is our lack of sex education.”
– We Are Consent
They then harnessed the power of social media to take their campaign to the next level, and their petition received over 38,000 signatures. With those signatures came media attention, and with that media attention came the support of Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne.
— Kathleen Wynne (@Kathleen_Wynne) January 26, 2015
Tess and Lia are great role models to share with the kids for a number of reasons. First of all, they used social media in a positive way, to help others and bring about social change… and they’ve become successful advocates for it. At the age of 13.
Also, these two are speaking up for what they deserve. For what all of our kids deserve… a comprehensive health curriculum designed with their generation in mind.
"We need to renew the curriculum to address issues that students are facing every day,"
– Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario
So, that’s happening in Canada, and the U.K. is on top of things too. But what about here in the states? We’re in desperate need of an update too, but curriculum here gets tied up in bureaucracy, and fear can prevent people from wanting change.
But in a recent national survey, three out of four Americans—regardless of political party, socioeconomic background, or ethnicity—were in favor of federal funding going toward programs proven to delay sex, improve contraception use, and prevent teen pregnancy.
It looks like we’re ready for a change, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. According to the January 2015 Report on Sex and HIV Education from the Guttmacher Institute, roughly half of the states currently don’t even require sex education at all, and the ones that do are often limited or abstinence only.
It's a disheartening document to look at, but I’m not giving up hope. If there’s one thing we’re seeing with this generation, it’s that when they get fired up and feel like something needs to change, they’ve got the passion and the tools to make it happen fast.
"It's our curriculum. We are the ones learning it. And it's time that youth get a say in what we're learning at school."
– Lia Valente, age 13
For further learning (and action!), have students look at the Guttmacher Report, see where your state stands, and get the discussion and projects rolling.
About the author: Amy teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. She has presented at conferences in Asia as well as the AAHPERD and SHAPE America National Conventions. You can access her blog and resources at thehealthteacher.com and find her on twitter at @teaching_health.