Health

These 13-Year-Old Girls Want To Use Their Sex Ed Classes To Fight Rape Culture

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The image accompanying the middle schoolers' petition

The image accompanying the middle schoolers’ petition

CREDIT: Change.org

Two eighth graders in Toronto, Canada are pushing to overhaul their province’s sexual health curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships, saying that combating rape culture involves creating a “consent culture” among youth.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente, both 13 years old, are asking the Ontario Ministry of Education to add consent education as a topic in the province’s health curriculum. In an attempt to accomplish that goal, they launched a petition on Change.org last week that’s garnered more than 2,000 signatures so far.

In a recent interview with Canada.com, the middle schoolers explained that they learned more about consent after being assigned to complete a school project on a social justice issue. They chose to explore “rape culture,” or the set of cultural assumptions that allows sexual assault to flourish by assuming that violence and forcible sex is a normal part of gender relations. That got them thinking about how more information about consensual sex could help address issues like cat-calling and slut-shaming, which they say they’ve witnessed in the hallways of their school.

“Our society is scared to teach teens and young people about safe sex, and most importantly, consent. Young people will have sex, despite teaching abstinence in the classroom, so the most important thing is to educate us and other young people about consent,” the petition reads. “When young people don’t learn about the importance of consent in a sexual relationship, it can lead to unhealthy relationships and ultimately perpetuates rape culture.”

Ontario’s current sex ed classes have been in place since the 1990s, and are widely considered to be the most outdated in the country. Education officials attempted to update them in 2010, but that project was shelved after pushback from social conservatives, who complained the proposed changes — like including information about masturbation and homosexuality — were too “explicit.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay head of government in Canada, has indicated that she wants to keep moving forward with the 2010 proposal. In December, she directed the Ministry of Education to rework the curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships. And last week, she tweeted that Hill and Valente are doing “important work” and she’d be happy to meet with them.

Similar efforts to update sex ed classes here in the United States are often met with resistance. In California, for instance, parents recently grew outraged after learning that their kids’ sex ed classes include information about gender identity and consent. Across the U.S., proponents of abstinence education have raised concerns about “X-rated” and “pornographic” sexual health classes that teach students about condoms and healthy relationships. Just as in Ontario, these objections often successfully prevent school districts from implementing the curriculum of their choice.

But young people are also increasingly fighting back and demanding medically accurate information in their health classes. Teens in Nevada recently held a rally to push back against their school district’s decision to drop comprehensive sex ed materials. A West Virginia high school student made national headlines for protesting against a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course. And last summer, a Canadian teen convinced her school to drop a course on sexual purity after she filed a human rights complaint against it.