Middle school health classes usually have a segment on sex education, which for most adults conjures awkward memories of studying the female anatomy and putting a condom on a banana. Wiseguyz, a nonprofit based in Calgary, Alberta, is working to broaden what “sex ed” can teach youth — specifically, boys between the ages of 13 and 15. Their participants instead talk about weighty issues like masculinity and the hyper-sexualized portrayal of women in media. […]
WiseGuyz is built on four modules, which take from October to May to complete. Instead of focusing only on the physical basics of sex, participants talk about human rights, sexual health, gender, and healthy relationships. Within those broad topics is plenty of conversation around pornography, consent, homophobia, sexual violence, and emotional abuse.
As simple as the concept is, it’s had a huge impact in just five short years.
Martin Poirier, a former principal at Georges P. Vanier Junior High, credits the program for making the school a safer place. “We were one of the first [junior high] schools in Alberta to have a GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance],” he said. “We could do that because kids could be respectful — and that’s a direct impact of WiseGuyz. They were educated to have that respect for diversity.” […]
WiseGuyz has made efforts to track its impact. Since its inception in 2010, 370 boys have participated in the program. A recent 12-page analysis notes that “the program has had a significant positive influence on teen boys’ perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs with respect to sexual health, masculinity, and homosexuality.”
But perhaps more persuasive than the self-collected data is the fact that the program has grown from three to six schools in Calgary. Plans are underway to move it into high schools next fall — with WiseGuyz alumni at the helm. Spence routinely fields requests to export his program to the United States, and more recently to South Africa.
We need more programs like this, to push back against the stereotypes our culture projects on to boys and men. I really hope it flourishes, and becomes the model for all other sex ed courses.