Southern Manitoba Library says it will keep 3 children’s sex ed books after reviewing complaint

Three children’s sex education books will remain on the shelves of a public library in southern Manitoba, after a group of residents filed a complaint alleging the books are sexually explicit and encourage children to engage in activities sexual.

“These books take children away from their family values. They normalize the sight of adult sexual organs. They give children step-by-step instructions for touching themselves to achieve orgasm,” said Winkler, Man., resident Karin Banman, at a meeting last week of the Southern Board of Directors. Central Regional Library, which has a branch in Winkler.

It’s perfectly normal by Robie H. Harris, What makes a baby by Cory Silverberg and Sex is a funny wordalso from Silverberg, were temporarily removed from the shelves while a committee reviewed them.

Banman, who is running for school trustee in Winkler in the October mayoral election, declined CBC’s request for an interview but provided a statement on behalf of the delegation that filed the complaint.

The statement alleges that the content of the books meets the Criminal Code definition of pornography. None of the books contain pornographic photographs, but some do contain illustrations of internal reproductive organs, genitalia, and childbirth.

Chapter 9 of It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health teaches readers about the changes their bodies will go through as they age. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

“These books, and many other materials not included in the presentation, are labeled as ‘sex advice’ for children,” the statement reads, noting that the age of consent in Canada is 16.

“So why can children under 16 access sexual advice when it’s illegal for them to engage in a sexual act?” asks the delegation in its statement.

The Criminal Code contains no mention of the term “sex advice”.

Sex education helps prevent abuse: researcher

Winnipeg community health researcher and consultant Jared Star knows all of the books mentioned in the complaint and says they are not informative. Rather, they give readers information to help them make safe and healthy choices if they decide to be sexually active, he says.

“Young people are going to have sex… [and] we need to make sure that young people understand how to engage in sex in ways that are safer, that are right for them and that are appropriate,” he said.

Jared Star, a community health researcher, says evidence suggests that having access to comprehensive, scientifically accurate sex education materials helps reduce a child’s risk of being sexually abused. (Warren Kay/CBC)

He also said that in many cases these types of books are the first time kids have their own gender identity and sexual orientation validated.

“If young people read stories about heterosexual couples and traditional nuclear families throughout their upbringing, they might not see themselves represented…and they might not see healthy representations of the stories that normalize who they are.”

In the complaint presented to the library’s board, Banman cites concerns that the books prepare children for sexual abuse.

But Star says the reality is the opposite: access to comprehensive and accurate sex education reduces the risk of sexual abuse.

On page 110 of Cory Silverberg’s book, Sex is a Funny Word, readers are told about inappropriate touching. The following pages tell readers how to know if touching is inappropriate and what to do if it happens. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

When children understand boundaries, consent and how their bodies work, they’re able to recognize when behavior is inappropriate, he said.

“They’re also able to tell a trusted adult because they have a language to use. They know which parts of the body people shouldn’t touch.”

Dishonest, factually incorrect complaints: author

The author of two of the books cited by the delegation says that some parents “don’t think that children should be taught the basics of sex education”.

“They don’t think kids should learn about gender, and for some reason they don’t want kids to get information that will protect them,” said Cory Silverberg, who uses the pronouns them/them.

Silverberg said what surprises them is that the claims made by Banman are factually incorrect.

“They say our books teach kids how to have sex and they call it porn.”

A smiling person in a blue button-up shirt with brightly painted fingernails sits in front of shelves full of books.
Author and sex educator Cory Silverberg acknowledges that their books aren’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they should be pulled from public library shelves. (Samantha Blanchett)

What makes a baby was written for an audience of around four years old, Silverberg says, and intentionally does not mention intercourse. Their other book, Sex is a funny word, was written for an older audience and is about gender, boundaries, touch and consent.

“There is a comic [and] page that talks about masturbation because at this age, it’s common. But there are no instructions,” Silverberg said.

The Canadian author respects the fact that his books are not for everyone and that there are other ways families could choose to educate their children about sexuality. But Silverberg believes the complainants are using the review process dishonestly.

“If someone said, ‘I don’t like this book because this book says it’s okay to be gay’…that’s okay, you could just say that. But it’s not the case. They say, ‘This book is pornography.'”

At Willow Press, an independent bookstore in Winnipeg, an entire library is devoted to books like Silverbeg’s. Store owner Meghan Malcolm sees firsthand the positive impact of sex ed books.

“Some people get really emotional about it. They’re like, ‘I wish there were books like this for me when I was a kid,'” Malcolm said.

Customers don’t always buy the books to read to children, but to learn about how to shape conversations about sexual health and gender.

“We have a lot of parents who are like, ‘Because I wasn’t taught this, I don’t know how to talk about it.’ They will come and get books and read them themselves,” Malcolm said.

The South Central Regional Library has completed its review and the three books will remain on the shelves of the Winkler Library. One of the books, It’s perfectly normal, was moved from the juvenile section to the young adult section.

Winkler’s group did not respond to CBC’s request to comment on the decision.

WATCH | Winkler residents call on the public library to remove children’s sex ed books:

Complaint prompts review of children’s sex education books

Some members of the Winkler, Man. are upset about three sex education books in the community library. They filed complaints – calling on librarians to remove them from the shelves. The group claims the books – which include drawings and explanations of sexual activity – are pornography.

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