'Our education system isn't the best': Toronto teens talk sexual consent

Toronto students reacting to a judge's ruling on sexual consent say schools should put more emphasis on the topic.

Ontario mandates sex-ed curriculum, but teachers decide how to implement it

The Ontario sex-ed curriculum was revised in 2015 to include discussion of consent, but some Toronto students say schools still need to place more emphasis on the topic. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Pemcy Tsesang, a 19-year-old student at Central Tech High School in Toronto, doesn't remember being taught about consent in her health classes.

The teen said she learned the basics of old-school banana-wrapping, but there was no discussion about what it means to consent to sexual activity.

"They teach you how to put a condom on and how to have safe sex ... and about STIs and all that stuff," Tsesang said Tuesday. "They teach you the male parts, the female parts. And I think that's about it."

Tsesang was reacting to an Ontario court judge's ruling last week that found a boy, who was 15 at the time, guilty of sexual assaulting a 14-year-old girl. Judge Kimberley Crosbie said she rejected the boy's version of events and his assertion that he did not believe the girl was too drunk to consent to sex.

The boy was "either reckless or willfully blind to [the girl's] lack of capacity to consent," Crosbie said.

The Ontario sex-ed curriculum was revised in 2015 to include discussion of consent.

Even though the Ministry of Education now mandates discussion about consent and alcohol use, that curriculum can be taught differently depending on the instructor.

"The 'what' part is mandated by the ministry," said George Kourtis, a program co-ordinator for physical education at the Toronto District School Board.

"The 'how' part is up to the teacher."

Tsesang expressed disappointment that classes don't push further into sexual health issues.

The school system's not known to deal with the real world.—  Pemcy   Tsesang , 19

"Our education system isn't the best, I think," she said, pointing out that the curriculum doesn't go into "basic human rights."

"The school system's not known to deal with the real world."

Another student echoed her concerns. "People should take [consent education] more seriously," said Charlie Cowan, a 17-year-old attending Central Tech.

Cowan recalls learning about consent specifically.

"The first class we had in sex ed, they gave us a list of cases where consent was given," he said.

"But I feel like it definitely could be improved."

Consent taught in Grade 2

Kourtis stressed that while not every teacher feels equally comfortable teaching sexual health, they're compelled to include it in their classes.

"I wouldn't be too comfortable in delivering fractions, but I would," he said. "Some [teachers] are going to be more creative."

The Ontario curriculum teaches students in Grade 1 the proper names for body parts. Grade 2 students learn about the broad concept of consent by being told that no means no.

Concepts of gender identity are introduced in Grade 3. Starting in Grade 7, students learn about sexual conduct.

The curriculum outlines goals for learning. "A person should not have sex," it states, "if their partner is not ready or has not given consent, if they are feeling pressured, if they are unsure, or if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol."

Kourtis says teachers have access to materials and resources that will help them convey these ideas.

"It's something we're going to build towards … by providing teachers with learning opportunities," he said.

Engage students, teachers told

When asked about concrete tactics for teaching consent, Kourtis gave the example of a video that uses hot beverages as a metaphor for personal boundaries. 

"There's a great video that many teachers show that's all about tea. Having tea one day may be great, but having tea the next day, you may change your mind."

Kourtis stresses the importance of the revised curriculum.

"This is where [youth] are going to get the information, and hopefully, they'll make decisions that will keep them safe," he said.

"Engagement of all kids is our No. 1 priority. I think we've done a great job getting there."


Malone Mullin is a reporter in St. John's. She previously worked at CBC Toronto and CBC Vancouver.