Inoculating against misinformation — how anti-vaxxers & Ontario sex ed crusaders put kids at risk

Comprehensive sex education matters precisely because many parents think it doesn’t.

Parents who choose to opt their children out of Ontario’s sexual health curriculum are instead opting in to willful ignorance. They are putting their children — and all of us — at risk.

Just like anti-vaxxers who trust that nature will protect their children from measles, mumps and rubella, those opposed to sex ed in the classroom cast their children out into the world unprotected and unarmed against ignorance — an issue so easily addressed. It’s the same false choice: using sugar water and good eating habits to protect against measles, and allowing crude conversations whispered by classmates in the hallways of schools to replace expert-backed curriculum grounded in scientific basis.

When you have the opportunity to give your kids the right information to make good choices for the rest of their lives, and don’t, you are not delivering on key aspects of responsible parenting. For their whole lives, their health and well-being will depend on that information; to hide them from that information could result in their risky decision-making, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual assault or harassment by peers who are equally as uninformed about healthy and positive interactions with intimate partners and friends.

For these parents, their children are not having sex — nor will they in the future. Their children certainly would never consume alcohol underage nor have to grapple with related issues of consent. Their children would never send a compromising photo to someone they felt they could trust. Their children would never find themselves in situations where they weren't able to assert themselves, or did not have their choice heard and respected by a partner who wasn’t comfortable communicating about intimate issues.

But sex ed is not just about the children of these disgruntled parents — education provided in public schools lays the foundation for life-long relationships and informs our collective views on consent, relationships, and other issues of sexuality.

Victims of sexual assault are often not taken seriously by members of the media nor the public because of a flawed knowledge of — and regard for — consent. Women who bring forward allegations of harassment in the workplace are ostracized, mocked, distrusted instead of supported. Young girls and women who have intimate photos shared online without their permission are derided. Many of these situations stem from a lack of understanding and information, which can be positively changed over time by universal sexual education through the public school system.

I was lucky to grow up in a home where healthy relationships and bodies were discussed. Not just as a one-time talk about the facts of life, I was engaged in an ongoing age-appropriate conversation that filtered into all aspects of our home life and honestly addressed my questions as I asked them. Not all of my peers were so lucky — they have shaped their views on intimacy and sexuality through pop culture and other flawed sources, much like how those opposing vaccinations have made up their minds. Comprehensive sex education is an inoculation against that misinformation and would go a long way towards improving our collective health.