- Our Town
Pornography is not sex education
Too much information about sex, not enough knowledge.
Young people see lots of sexual images and hear lots of sex-related information on the Internet, but they aren’t acquiring fundamental knowledge, says Cathi Johnston.
“In the last five years the kids’ knowledge around sexuality has really changed.
I find they don’t have the knowledge,” she says. “They’re all online, they’re on their phones, but they don’t have the basics.”
As Family Life teacher, Johnston has been teaching about sexual health in School District #83 for 20 years. She has attended many courses – professional development the district has supported. But last year Johnston’s full-time position was cut to .6; now it has been cut altogether.
She notes that Canada-wide, statistics show 93 per cent of boys and 62 per cent of girls have been exposed to Internet porn before age 18. The average age of first seeing online porn is 11 years old.
“The questions I’m getting from them are quite disturbing and it’s because of what they’re seeing.”
Adults will say to her how much more young people know these days about sex.
“But what the kids are getting is not appropriate. I’m finding even at the upper levels, kids don’t know a lot about the reproductive system.”
However, they know lots of other things.
Over the last few years, adolescent boys have become very concerned about their penis size, she says.
“They’re comparing themselves to what they see (in Internet pornography). And these are kids in the middle school.”
She says the inappropriateness of what students are viewing stretches across the district.
“In the academic classes the questions have become more inappropriate over the years… The high achievers, their exposure to the media is really reflected in the questions they’re asking.”
A few years ago sexuality was something everyone was concerned about, she says. Now parents are so busy that the concern isn’t so strong anymore.
Johnston says it’s important for parents to talk to their children at a younger age, calling body parts by their proper terms.
“Don’t make it a big deal. It should just be part of the conversation from when they’re little. That’s what kids hate, when parents want to give them ‘the talk.’ If you talk to them from when they’re little, there’s no need for ‘the talk.’”
If children ask a question, give them the answer.
“But don’t go on and on and on about it,” she says. “That’s what turns kids off. If they ask, give them a simple answer, and they’ll tell you if they want more… Just be open to them, or ask them what they think about something.”
She emphasizes listening.
“Talk with them, not to them. That’s what they need, to listen to them. They have a lot on their plate around sexuality now, and they’re just trying to sort it out. If you don’t know, say you don’t know.”
It’s how you talk to kids, not what you say, she says.
“You want that open door,” she adds, noting that humour is useful.
Johnston says despite what the media tells people, everybody is not “doing it.’
“I think they want to know a lot of it (what they see on the Internet) is inappropriate. When you say to them it’s not appropriate, they sigh with relief,” she says.
Superintendent of schools Glen Borthistle said the program cut came down to finances because the district has lost 3,000 students over the past 12 years.
“We’re down to the point now where we’re looking at very good things that need to be taken off the table.”
School board chair Bobbi Johnson says classroom teachers will be provided training and she realizes it will be near impossible to replace Johnston with all her knowledge.
Johnston doesn’t see how classroom teachers can be expected to teach about sexual health.
“It’s not just curriculum, you have to be aware of your audience and have very clear boundaries when you’re teaching it. Those are things you pick up. How to answer questions. I took a whole course on that.
“You don’t know why kids are asking certain questions. I’ve had kids who’ve reported abuse because I’ve been in the class. I’ve had kids come to me after, ‘this is what happened to me.’ There will be kids in the class who have been abused, you have to be very, very careful.”
She notes that a teacher also has to watch their language around sexuality as some students in each class will be homosexual.
“You have to be aware of all those things when you’re talking to them.”
She stresses that young people can’t be left to learn about sexual health from the Internet.
“I can’t emphasize enough how I am appalled by the grossness of what kids are seeing. It’s not us, it’s our society, and no one’s there to help them make their way through it,” she says. “Sex is scary for a lot of kids. We talk about that in Grade 11.
“Sex is a way of expressing love, it shouldn’t be made dirty… What they’re getting isn’t a healthy image of sexuality.”
A couple of websites she recommends are: www.sexualityandu.ca and www.pornisnotrealsexed.com.