As Quebec and Ontario grapple with the formation of their sex education curricula, some activists have noticed how pornography has permeated culture—including sex-ed. Culture Reframed, a free online parent program, seeks to build resilience and resistance in children and adolescents to hypersexualized media and porn.
April 11, 2019
This year, Quebec made sex education mandatory for all students in both public and private schools. The new curriculum is being rolled out gradually after years of developing the current model that was supposed to finally bring sex-education into the new millennium.
The new program ostensibly deals with all aspects of sexuality in an age-appropriate fashion, as well as gender stereotypes and gender equality, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual assault. However, the revised sex-ed curriculum is facing mounting opposition from many parents who say that it has little to do with providing students with up-to-date information or protecting them from sexual predators.
Instead, they say it has everything to do with promoting a sexual ideology that is unscientific, value-neutral, and most definitely not age-appropriate. Many Quebec parents argue that it violates their parental rights, religious freedom, and the "best interest of the child" the framing principle of Canadian law set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
There has been a similar resistance to revamped sex-education in Ontario, which has witnessed more than a decade of continuing protests against the "modernization" of its own sex-education curriculum. Opposition from groups such as Parents as First Educators, the largest parent group in Ontario, was so intense that exit polling in the 2018 fall election showed that concern over the province's proposed sex-education was the third leading factor that brought about the defeat of Kathleen Wynne's unpopular Liberal Government.
Doug Ford's recently elected Conservative government has so far made good on its pledge to scrap the controversial 2015 sex-education curriculum developed by Ontario's former Liberal Deputy Minister of Education Benjamin Levin, a convicted child-pornographer and registered sex offender. Still, many Ontario parents feel that the 1998 sex-ed curriculum, which has been temporarily reinstated to replace the contested 2015 version, is woefully inadequate. The Ford government is now scrambling to put a new sex-ed curriculum in place by the fall of 2019.
While the new sex-ed that is popping up all over North America is supposed to equip kids with the information they need to recognize the risks of sexting, promote cyber-safety, and provide essential sexual health information a closer examination reveals that it is about much more than simply educating children and adolescents about the sexual realities of modern life. It unabashedly presents the whole smorgasbord of sexual options under the rubric of sexual identity, sexual diversity, and gender equality, making it difficult to criticize. Sexual themes and behavior that were once the domain of pornography or confined to adult sex clubs and the boudoirs of the demimonde are now being openly presented as alternative sexual options to be explored.
"As if the porn industry isn't the major form of sex-ed," says Gail Dines, the world's leading anti-pornography activist, lecturer, and author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.
The threat of rape is an urgent concern for many parents as news of a "rape culture" on some university campuses in recent years has made its way into mainstream media coverage.
It isn’t meant rhetorically. Dines is the president and CEO of Culture Reframed, a free online parent program designed to build resilience and resistance in children and adolescents to hypersexualized media and porn.
"We are living in a porn-culture," she says, matter-of-factly.
A professor emerita of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston, Dines says that no robust sexual education can be put in place without first doing a critical analysis of pornography and its pervasive influence on mass culture.
"What is missing in most sex-ed curriculums is any discussion of relationships and intimacy," she says. This has everything to do with the fact that initiation into masculinity is through porn.
"Pornography is the sexual template for boys all over the world," she adds. "The industry comes in and hijacks their sexuality."
While the focus of many anti-porn activists is to educate young women about the insidious nature of pornography and its detrimental impacts on their health and lives, Dines and her husband made sure their own son, now in his thirties, understood its dehumanizing effects on men.
"My husband and I did porn-resistant education for our son."
She jokes that she's been married to "the same guy for 300 years," which provided a framework of emotional stability. This was the personal impetus for starting Culture Reframed. Desperate parents who didn't know where to turn started coming to her for expert advice saying, "Help me."
It took 18 months to build the anti-porn program, which gives parents the tools they need to have the "ongoing conversation" with their children.
"We wanted to build a moral compass in boys. No matter how many filters you put in, they will click on it."
According to Dines, 90 per cent of pornography is violent and degrades women.
"There are only two words that are missing in porn," she says, "consent and no." Porn trades in violent fantasies of females being choked, subjected to rough anal sex, as well as being penetrated orally and vaginally by multiple men who spit in their faces and call them every imaginable obscene name.
"Boys masturbate to it and emulate it," Dines says.
In pornography, "Men make hate to women, not love."
This is the background to today's "hook-up" culture that has replaced dating. Studies show that many men have 3-4 hook-ups per night which gives them "bragging rights" with their friends. Boys have more hook-ups than girls who experience the whole thing much differently.
"The more hook-ups girls have, the more depressed they are," Dines says. "Girls purposely get drunk to have hook-ups."
When girls look at porn, it's to see what boys want, to gauge their expectations. The porn mentality is "whatever he wants, she wants."
Dines says that many young women she has encountered over the years in her classes and seminars mistakenly think that they are the authors of their own sexuality. Once they become aware of what the misogynistic porn agenda is really about, they come to realize that what they thought was a consensual sexual experience was actually a "hook-up rape."
Dines traces a disturbing connection between pornography, hook-ups, and rape, painting an ugly picture of an omnipresent porn culture. The threat of rape is an urgent concern for many parents as news of a "rape culture" on some university campuses in recent years has made its way into mainstream media coverage.
Many Canadian parents were jolted out of complacency when news surfaced that a petition was being circulated to deny infamous pick-up artist, blogger, writer, and activist "Roosh V" aka Daryush Valizadeh, Roosh Valizadeh, and Roosh Vorek entry into Canada. Valizadeh has self-published more than a dozen sex and travel guides. His posts relate to what he calls the "manosphere". His advice, videos, and writings have received widespread criticism, including accusations of misogyny, promotion of rape, and antisemitism. As of 2015, Roosh V was living in Montreal despite efforts to keep him out of the country.
Perhaps the most disconcerting fact is that the billion-dollar porn industry has positioned itself as the arbiter of sexual taste and sexual norms. Pornographers have set up their own "porn-ed" sites seeking to influence public opinion about sex education.
Sexual abuse does not always fit the male-to-female pattern.
When Ontario had its public consultations on sex education, there were intervenors openly seeking to normalize violent sexual behavior in the sex-ed curriculum. The more extreme forms of sexual behavior have not yet made their way into the classroom, but they may yet come in by the back door. In Quebec's new curriculum, sex education is to be spread over several subjects and teachers are to be assisted by "sex experts" outside the classroom setting, an obvious ruse to thwart parents who plan to pull their kids out of sex-ed classes.
Quebec's new sex-education manual for teachers has raised more than a few eyebrows. It features an ambiguous photo of three young people on its cover. Two boys walk side by side smiling conspiratorially at each other. A pretty young blonde girl drapes her arms over one of the boys' shoulders. It appears he is carrying her on his back. She is in her own dreamy state, the result of drugs or alcohol intoxication perhaps? Some might view this as an innocent photo of three friends on their way somewhere but that would be naive.
Threesomes have long been a staple of pornography. Hyping the "throuple" is now the latest taboo-smashing Internet meme celebrating polyamorous lifestyles. Former professional baseball player Alex Rodriguez found himself in hot water recently when reports surfaced that he had sent a text to British Playboy Playmate Zoe Gregory with a picture of his penis requesting that she set up a threesome with one of her girlfriends shortly before he proposed to Jennifer Lopez.
Small wonder then, that many parents worry the new sex-ed that draws indiscriminately from all elements of a hyper-sex culture rather than grounding sex education in biology, social sciences, and ethics could potentially be used to groom students, making them sexually available to other children and adults. It's not just celebrity role models without sexual boundaries like A-Rod they have to worry about. J-Lo's a big girl and presumably, she can take care of herself. The same can't be said for a teenage girl who is still in high school.
The age of sexual consent in Canada is 16 years for minors of proximate age, but you'd never know it. Parents who oppose the new sex-ed curriculum argue that it promotes "enthusiastic assent" to all forms of sexual behavior for kids as young as 5 or 6 making the whole issue of "informed consent" moot and mere politically-correct window-dressing.
The Toronto District School Board elicited the wrath of parents several years ago when it posted a link to a sexual diversity website for children 8 years and up encouraging them to experiment with bondage, fetishism, and group sex with their friends, adding insult to injury by refusing to reveal the identity of the teacher who posted it. It was perhaps no surprise, then, when it was reported that a young Muslim girl had been gang-raped by a group of boys in a TDSB washroom.
In 2018, The Globe And Mail reported on a "culture of fear" and a "culture of silence" in the TDSB involving incidents going back to 2008, noting the findings of the TDSB's own School Community Safety Advisory Panel report – weighing in at almost 1000 pages. The document paints a grim picture of Toronto's public schools, rife with hundreds of violent assaults, often unreported by staff, and alarmingly high rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment of female students.
There has been a similar pattern of under-reported sexual abuse in Quebec schools. Last spring the Committee Against Sexual Violence in Schools held a press conference at the YWCA in Montreal to draw attention to what it called "the underhanded phenomenon of sexual abuse in schools" at both the primary and secondary levels. The Committee comprised members from women's and community groups who decried the lack of adequate structures in schools to accommodate complaints, accompany the victims, and document attacks.
"The figures on sexual assault are devastating," noted Émilie Martinak, Youth Coordinator at Maison d'Haïti. "They are even more so when we realize that the main victims are our teenagers."
The committee noted that according to the most recent statistics available (2013) approximately 66 per cent of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. About 20 per cent of abusers are under the age of 18. 85.6 per cent of minors know their assailant. One in five girls is a victim of sexual violence. However, only five per cent of sexual crimes are reported to the police and only three out of 1000 result in a conviction.
"If we look at them correctly, these figures require urgent action on the part of decision-makers to act in the young people's living environment," Martinak said. "This is the type of crime that is the least reported to the authorities."
The Committee urged Quebec's Department of Education to take legal steps to ensure that high schools and elementary schools have plans to address sexual violence in schools, emphasizing that a law could be adopted quickly, as was the case to counter sexual violence in higher education institutions. Another option would be to add the dimension of sexual assault to existing provisions to counter bullying and violence in school.
François Legault's CAQ Government can't act quickly enough. Recently, Le Journal de Montréal reported that former teacher Tania Pontbriand had been convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year old student. Pontbriand repeatedly abused the student more than 300 times while in a position of authority over him from 2002 to 2004. Judge Valmont Beaulieu, in delivering his decision at the Saint-Jérôme courthouse, noted that Pontbriand was twice the student's age. Beaulieu went on to say that she had used the young boy to "selfishly satisfy her sexual appetite."
Sexual abuse does not always fit the male-to-female pattern. Some research shows that female-to-male and female-to-female sexual abuse is more common than what was once believed. There is growing societal awareness about male-to-male sexual abuse. Former NHL stars Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren "Theo" Fleury have each gone public about the pain and confusion they experienced because of sexual abuse at the hands of their junior hockey coach Graham James.
Kennedy said being sexually abused for years by James turned him from a "goofy, slightly mixed-up kid" who dreamed of the future into little more than "a zombie." Fleury said the trauma drove him to alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity throughout his otherwise impressive 16-year NHL career. “An absolute nightmare, every day of my life” was how he characterized the abuse and its aftershocks.
The playing field is often an extension of the schoolyard, but in today's mobile-friendly environment, location really doesn't matter anymore. Isn't the brave new sex-education supposed to address and mitigate these serious problems? Even its mildest critics say that while the new sex-ed curriculum has some merits, it gives kids too much graphic information when they are too young to handle it. More strenuous opponents say that the new sex-ed is nothing more than a thinly-veiled "pornification" of sexuality, giving porn an aura of legitimacy it otherwise wouldn't have, and ultimately setting the stage for the sexual exploitation of youth.
Dines says we are in a "teachable moment." What we learn or don't is up to us. Research by Dines and David L. Levy shows that "teen porn” and related genres featuring young-looking females have grown to be the largest single segment, representing about one-third of all internet porn. The relative strength of this segment of the porn market can only incentivize the sexualization of young girls and groom young boys to eventually become adult sexual predators. The chilling thought ought to give parents and educators something to think about when they consider the direction in which sex education is headed.