Four Religious Leaders on Sex Ed

We asked men and women from different faiths how they teach sex, pleasure, and consent. Their answers might surprise you

Candle sits on a green table
The Walrus
Rabbi Mark Fishman

—Congregation Beth Tikvah Ahavat Shalom Nusach Hoari, Montreal

Judaism sees sex and sexuality as an opportunity to create a life of holiness. Sex is not something dirty or evil or something to be ashamed about. It is a physical act, and Judaism teaches that every physical act can be elevated and made holy. The teaching of such a subject, however, must be done in an intelligent and sensitive fashion. Like with all meaningful educational experiences, the student and teacher have to be on the same “wavelength,” where an understanding of religious, cultural, and spiritual values are at the forefront of that education. Jewish values have been communicated and passed in such a fashion down through the generations.

Yet, with a subject as sensitive as sex and sexuality, education is usually most effective when such matters are not turned into a “cookie-cutter” mould and taught universally to all at the same time at the same age. Our kids have different levels of maturity and understanding. We honour them by respecting the fact that educating others at the wrong time does a disservice to both our students and the subject matter we are trying to get across. The art of successful education lies in this balance.

Reverend Roberta Fuller

—St. Mary Magdalene, The First Apostle, Catholic Faith Community, Pickering, Ontario

As a member of Roman Catholic Women Priests Canada, I believe the 2015 sex-ed curriculum in Ontario was a big improvement that provides needed information for students. I supported its implementation, as did Roman Catholic regional school boards and teachers’ unions, because it protects the students’ safety. Consent is the cornerstone of the new curriculum, and that is a vital concept to teach clearly and early. Women’s rights are human rights, so I always support an individual’s freedom of choice in consenting, adult relationships.

Many parents would rather have their children learn facts than spurious stories from their fellow students or even strangers. Sex is here to stay, so we must ensure that our young people are prepared to deal with it in a mature manner and make sound decisions. In this age of instant media and wide access to pornography, children and adolescents need a comprehensive tool kit that includes facts, such as about health and hygiene terminology, for instance, as well as information about physical processes. And they need moral standards to guide them. Sadly, not all students receive this grounding at home: some parents delay such conversations or are not available to have them. Some students avoid these conversations due to embarrassment.

A modern curriculum is vital to safeguard students during this period of transition from child to adult, and their education must progressively evolve to accommodate their age and stage of maturity. A curriculum that avoids this disclosure leaves young people prey to misinformation, peer pressure, and predators.

Reverend David Price

All Saints Anglican Church, Agassiz, BC

As a federated church within Christianity, the Anglican Church has different responses to this question, which vary from diocese to diocese. There are twenty-nine individual independent territorial dioceses in Canada plus a new Indigenous diocese for the country. Within each diocese, there are separate parishes that have their own viewpoints on sexual health and consent.

Our Diocese of New Westminster, located in Lower Mainland, is a very open and sensitive community. We welcome and support modern educational advances that are inclusive, informative, and broad in scope. We are not constrained by narrow interpretations of a Biblical text. Our positions are based on the theology of love, inclusion, and reason, as well as science. We want children to live informed lives in the modern world—lives that are safe, restorative, and sustaining and that follow the Gospel vision espoused by Jesus in his actions and teaching.

As a priest, I support the truth that human sexuality is a nonbinary spectrum where all gender identities are gifts from the Creator and must be supported and included. Children are independent, thoughtful beings who need to be given all the tools necessary to live healthy lives within a highly sexualized world.

Reverend/Imam El-Farouk Khaki

El-Tawhid Juma Circle: The Unity Mosque, Toronto

To me, the key concepts in Islamic law and its development are: do no harm and alleviate suffering. Education is valued in the Islamic tradition. The Prophet Muhammad decreed that any prisoner of war who could teach ten Muslims to read and write would be set free. This tells us that knowledge and education are vital in Islam. Also vital is the concept of consent. For example, a marriage is only valid with the free consent of the parties or couple. Our prayers are only valid with the requisite intent. You cannot have “intention” if you do not have consent. All of which is to say, sexual-health education, including understanding what is consent and what is not, are vital for every thinking human being, which is what Allah created—beings with ‘aql (intellect).

It is our religious duty to be informed in all aspects of our being—spiritual, physical, emotional, and sexual. The Prophet had frank and honest conversations about sex. He himself embraced his sexuality. The Prophet and traditional Islamic fiqh have also affirmed the right to sexual pleasure for both parties. Really, Islam is a lot more sex friendly than most uptight Muslims.

Why then are so many contemporary Muslims in a tizzy about sex education and protecting them from abuse and exploitation? Don’t they want to educate them on being able to exercise choice over their bodies? In my work as a refugee lawyer, I have worked with refugee claimants from over 120 different countries. The majority of my claims are based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender-based violence.

People who think their children are somehow protected or immune from danger because of their family’s religious or cultural traditions are oblivious to the reality that the majority of children who are molested or abused are victimized by people they know and who have access to them. With realities such as these, what parent would not want to educate and protect their children from dangers such as abduction and enslavement or from molestation? Education is knowledge and that is power. Let’s empower our kids through education and knowledge.

The Walrus Staff