How can we discuss sex ed without talking about marriage?

Marriage understands shared existence, including the economic, spiritual, social and sexual aspects of our lives

With the Ontario government’s public consultations on a new sex-ed curriculum well underway, we should recognize that both the old and new versions of the document suffer from the same fatal flaw. Neither makes any effort to educate about marriage – in fact, the word is never mentioned – as a significant social institution.

The next version needs to fill this gap.

Discussing healthy relationships without mentioning marriage is a bit like trying to teach about healthy eating without discussing what nutrients are in various foods.

It’s an oversight that does a disservice to our children and youth as they grapple with issues of connection, sexuality, stability, attachment, love and family. And, of course, marriage.

Our youth do indeed grapple with the idea of marriage and many of them would like to get married one day.

Some have noted (and condemned) how Ontario’s sex ed is low on talk of love. Where lifelong love is a goal, marriage is the gold standard.

Yes, it’s an ideal. No, it’s not for everyone. But teaching marriage is the logical continuation of any discussion of love and relationships, and we are cutting the conversation short.

Marriage is not merely a recognition of intimate, personal love. Marriage is an important social institution that fuses sex, intimacy, economic co-operation, and parenthood into a permanent relationship. In spite of high divorce rates, marriage breaks up less frequently than cohabitation.

This is not an attempt to promote any particular definition of marriage. Ironically, the federal government legalized same-sex marriage because it was a critical institution to which sex must not be a barrier – only to stop talking about marriage altogether.

In fact, we have every reason to keep talking about it. A significant body of research points to just how much good can come from healthy marriages.

Children raised by their married parents do better in school, are more likely to graduate and, following that, to get a good job. They’re less likely to use drugs and more likely to delay sexual initiation. Married parents are more likely to share finances, making more resources available to children.

The success sequence of finishing school, getting married and only then having children is a near guarantee against poverty. And it’s routinely acknowledged on the left and the right.

Marriage is good for adult health, too. Medical research shows that in contrast with those who are single, cohabiting, divorced, separated or widowed, people in a good marriage have a 20 per cent increase in cancer survival rates, improved mental health and reduced chances of a heart attack.

When men marry, they’re more likely to care for their children and stay involved in family life.

Institutions, including marriage, are essentially bundles of rules that help us live ordered lives without government intervention or unwieldy legal contracts. Marriage understands shared existence, including the economic, spiritual, social and sexual aspects of our lives. Consider the thorny topic of consent. No one will dispute that consent is critical in sexual relationships. But who believes a ‘sexual contract’ actually ensures safety? And what of intimacy, connection and attachment?

In our ‘limitless’ world, honouring the ideal of marriage (always uncoerced) offers sanctuary from the tyranny of endless choice, at least in relationships. In an uncertain world, it’s also a gift to know that we can know and be known, and accept and be accepted, in spite of our flaws.

A good marriage makes for greater meaning, success and health in life. A bad marriage can be a person’s undoing. Why wouldn’t we educate our young people on this, the most critical and – when done right – most lasting decision of their lives?

Marriage isn’t for everyone. People can live fulfilled lives in other ways.

But where support, safe sexuality, poverty reduction, health and child outcomes are important, marriage is the most effective solution.

If a sex-ed curriculum can’t mention the very best solution for safe and consensual lifelong love, it’s wise to ask: What is it actually teaching?

Andrea Mrozek is family program director at the think-tank Cardus.


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