Cripping the Curriculum: Looking at Disability in Ontario's New Sexual Health Education Curriculum

Ontario recently announced its revised Sexual Education Curriculum to be rolled out in September 2015. There has been much debate surrounding this due to the fact that it discusses things like "sexting," oral and anal sexual activities, as well as introducing students to homosexual family models, etc. Protests have erupted over much of the material, many highlighting that the curriculum is inappropriate for students.

Truthfully, I think that this is a great step forward, as it illuminates real-world issues that our youth are facing today. One area that is poorly lit in this version is information or resources for students with disabilities, and that is where I would like to take the discussion today.

Upon reading the curriculum, I arrived at it with a good dose of skepticism, but I remained hopeful. What I found did not come as a surprise. In the document, disability is only mentioned a handful of times, and the way that it is presented caused me some concern. The first mention of disability discusses the need to adapt particular health classes for Persons with Disabilities as needed. This is important because it highlights that students with disabilities may require additional supports in the classroom, and in consultation with the family and student, they will be accommodated as much as possible. I really liked this part, and was initially pleased to see that such efforts were being made.

The cause for concern comes when the document starts to engage the topic of sexuality for the PwD. Almost immediately, it highlights the risks of sex for Persons with Disabilities, and how they may not have the social or emotional faculties to understand, appreciate or enjoy the sexual experience. When I read this my first thought was, "Wouldn't this apply to all young people who were learning about their bodies for the very first time?" I understand that the language was carefully crafted to account for the unique experiences of disability, but what they have done, albeit unintentionally, is to "other" students with disabilities. By only highlighting the risks and failing to discuss the possible rewards of a healthy sex life for Persons with Disabilities, the messaging that students are getting is that sex and disability do not go well together.

Further along in the document, there is a scenario wherein a student says that they want more resources for Persons with Disabilities made available. After the quote from the student asking for this, there is no solution offered whatsoever.

It is clear that the curriculum was trying to tactfully address issues that all students in Ontario face, and wanted to be careful not to single out one particular community. That said, I believe that so much more could have been done to introduce the world to the Deliciously Disabled, and I would like to suggest a few possibilities if I may:

1. Crip the Conversation: I think we all would like to forget those videos from the 80s and 90s where Johnny gets his first erection, and Mary gets her period, right (go on, I can hear the snickering from here)? I remember them being god awful and giggling alongside my pubescent pals, but I also remember never seeing a representation of myself in those films. Why not have Johnny or Mary using a wheelchair or mobility device? This would allow for students with disabilities to connect with the material on a much deeper, personal level. It would also allow for the non-disabled identified students to ask questions about sex and disability in a safe and positive environment. As one who has given many speeches on sex and disability at many a University lecture hall, I can tell you that we need to have these conversations early and often, so that the misconceptions around sex and disability don't implant themselves in the minds of our youth and take root.

2. Bring Persons with Disabilities into the classroom to talk to the youth - all of them: Bring in real live PwD, so that they can teach the students from their lived experience. Everyone can learn about the realities of sex and disability from someone who navigates it daily. Perhaps then it won't seem so scary to either the student or the teacher frantically searching textbooks trying to find answers.

3. Talk about Sexual Health and Disability as a Whole Concept: I think it is important that when we engage with the topic of sex and disability in education, we move beyond a risk assessment analysis and start talking about the rewarding aspects of it as well. How is it different, but how can we frame that as an opportunity rather than an obstacle? We need to tell students with disabilities that their bodies have value, and by only discussing the propensity for problems, we are not doing that.

The new Sexual Health and Education Curriculum is indeed a great jumping off point to start engaging of the realities of sex and sexuality for our young people today. That said, when they built this new platform on which sex and sexuality will be disseminated, they forgot to put in a ramp, so that all students could fully access it.