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The Most Outrageous Parts of Last Night’s Panel on Ontario’s Sex Ed Curriculum

Just because some or all concerns about the new sex ed curriculum are untrue, doesn't mean we shouldn't be scared!

Heaven forfend! Photo via Flickr user romana klee

Ontario recently instituted a new, slightly less out-of-date sex education curriculum, and hoo boy, are people mad. There are a lot of people who are really mad about this horrible sexual education their children are getting. Unfortunately for everyone, those angry people also seem to be misinformed about the very thing they're so mad at.

A good case in point is Feras Marish, who appeared with sex educator Nadine Thornhill and erstwhile Sun News host Michael Coren (more on him in a bit) on Ontario public TV news show The Agenda to talk sex and kids. But not sex with kids.

Marish, who organized the Facebook group Parents Against Ontario Sex-Ed Curriculum, had a lot to say about the new curriculum, and also about how he doesn't actually oppose sex ed wholesale. Oh, no. He definitely wants kids to be educated about sex! It just happens that the things he does oppose are either outlandish or so vague that they do, effectively, mean he opposes the entire idea of sex ed in public schools.

Below, we've compiled the best ("best") parts of the panel. If you want to watch for yourself (and who could resist), skip to the time marked by each. Thornhill doesn't figure very prominently below because everything she said was well-grounded in fact. She's probably a great sex educator.

Learning about masturbation will make kids sex offenders (5:22)
"When I see a statement to Grade 6, and a teacher is telling them, 'You can explore yourself and it's not harmful,' well, we know a lot of researchers that say masturbation is harmful when it goes beyond a certain level," Marish said to astonishment from around the table.

According to Marish, masturbating is an addiction, and when kids start doing it they don't stop there! They become sex-crazed monsters intent on fornicating with everyone they see. One has to wonder if he thinks that of all masturbation or only of masturbation given the tepid approval of a public-school teacher.

"They're gonna get even more and more charged, and they're gonna start becoming sex offenders," he said, citing a "November 24, 2015" case from the UK wherein a young boy raped a classmate after a sex ed class.

This logic is hard to follow: kids will become sex offenders if their teachers say it's okay to masturbate, but not if teachers don't say that? Is that because kids won't masturbate at all without a teacher condoning it, or is it the teacher's approval that turns them into sex maniacs?

Sex-related fear-mongering aside, we could all learn a thing or two from sex ed opponents like Marish about respecting the awesome powers teachers hold over their students.

Sex ed is okay! But parents are the only people who should do it and actually you know what? It is bad (7:55)
Marish says he "absolutely" agrees that there's a difference between promoting and teaching about sex, before essentially disagreeing completely. The new sex ed curriculum is "promoting [sex], because there are adults that are not able to control themselves."

Here, Marish has deployed the time-honoured tradition of putting two things together and pretending they're connected. "This is promoting sex rather than teaching about sex" is not at all related to the idea that "there are adults who can't or don't control themselves sexually." Those are just two separate ideas floating in the universe, like "my favourite day is Thursday" and "chocolate is sweet." While those two things may be true, I can't reasonably argue that chocolate is sweet because my favourite day is Thursday.

"There are resources out there that we all receive in our emails, that talks about using vegetables to try masturbation, or doing this or doing that. What kind of a classroom would that be?" (8:30)
Are there? Do we all receive these "resources"? Is he talking about porn?

These are just a few of the many, many questions one could ask after hearing this statement. Michael Coren asked if this was a part of the curriculum, at which point Marish said no, because obviously, this is not a part of the curriculum. But just because it's "not a part of the curriculum" and is in fact "just a thing Feras Marish made up" doesn't mean it's not a cause for concern!

"It's not in the curriculum," Marish admits, "but it's a resource that will be used."

So, you know, be worried.

Michael Coren was a progressive voice of reason (throughout)
One of the most upsetting aspects of this panel has to be that Michael Coren, formerly a reliable arch-conservative, was forcefully and consistently on the side of reason. He took a well-placed shot at the Catholic church from which he's only recently converted (to Anglicanism, so he's not exactly starting an anarcho-atheist commune), he called out the homophobia undergirding the curriculum's opposition, and he repeatedly pointed to the curriculum as fact-based and mainstream. He even cited Europe as an example to follow, for god's sake.

Is Coren finally shedding the hideous pupa of conservatism to reveal his beautiful socialist butterfly wings? Only time will tell.

It's cheap and easy to assume that people who disagree with you are intellectually lazy or inferior, and if your aim is to build some sort of consensus or working relationship across ideological lines, it's not helpful. But Marish's statements, which echo larger concerns in the anti-sex-ed-reform movement, just don't make sense. Faced with opposition so misinformed—or, perhaps worse, willfully ignorant—it's hard to know what to do other than throw up your hands in despair and keep teaching kids about sex.

Hopefully the kids educated under this new regime won't be so prudish about using vegetables as teaching instruments.

Follow Tannara Yelland on Twitter.