IndexAdditional Western Nations → Canada


“Aboriginal societies educated children about sexuality. This education sought to achieve a balance between two fundamental attitudes; that sexuality was a natural part of life but, also, that there must be boundaries and limits (Bopp & Bopp 1997a: 1997b)[[1]]. Thus, it was considered natural for young people to want to explore their sexuality, but it was usually not considered appropriate for unmarried men and women to have sex before they were married. Within these traditions, the guiding principles of each culture maintained the “sacredness” of sexuality”[2].

Sutherland (2000:p106, orig. footnotes maintained)[3]:


“At that time [1890] the beliefs and teaching on sexual practices held that masturbation was extremely harmful to those who indulged in it[4]. Middle-class parents and managers of institutions for boys, therefore, were constantly on the watch to prevent it. Thus this fear structured the whole character of over a third of each and every day that a boy spent in the reformatory. In the opinion of its superintendent, ‘half the boys throughout the towns and villages in the country’ were masturbators[5]. He also believed that the ‘cottage system’ being promoted by some reformers to provide inmates in institutions with a family-like environment was wrong because it could not provide proper surveillance. On the other hand, Superintendent McKinnon of the Victoria Industrial School – which was organized on the ‘cottage system’ – stated that, while he would not claim he had ‘succeeded in stamping out masturbation completely’ in his school, he thought it was ‘nearly at an end.’[6]


Desjardins (1994)[7] analysed 1940-1960 Québec teenage masturbation discourses. Contemporary social conflicts over parent-child relationships, especially concerning child sexuality, were analysed by Lee (1982)[8], drawing on various Canadian studies from the 1960s and 1970s.

In one study (Prescott et al., 1980)[9], 31% of American males, 33% of American females, 38% of French-Canadian males and 36% of French-Canadian females reported engaging in childhood masturbation (p179). In a study by Shymko (1979)[10], only 9.1% of male Canadian adolescents stated sex education was received in elementary school through grade 11, opposing 25.1% of females (see also Morin-Ribardière, 1980)[11].


Barrett et al. (1997)[12]:


“All provinces and territories have school programs that include sexuality education although the content, and extent of implementation, varies considerably between provinces and within different parts of the same province. […] There have been only a few national surveys of the availability of sexuality education in Canadian schools (for reviews, see Barrett 1990; 1994)[[13]] and no detailed national studies of the classroom content of sexuality education that would indicate the extent to which provincial guidelines and curricula are translated into classroom programming”.


As for informal sources,


“In general, there is a developmental shift that occurs in the relative place of family, peers, and media sources during adolescence. Between about grade nine (13 to 15 years of age) and grade eleven (16 to 17 years of age) peer influence rises to top rank and that of family decreases in importance, in some cases even outranked by the more impersonal media (e.g., print materials). In addition, at least for university women, mothers in particular have been a potential source of information and influence in matters of sexuality”.


According to a study by Otis et al. (1990)[14], among Francophone versus Anglophone high school girls however, differences were apparent in terms of intercourse experience (61.5 percent vs. 30.1 percent), number of lifetime partners (2.8 vs. 1.8), use of the birth control pill (56 percent vs. 22 percent) and use of condoms (30.9 percent vs. 83.7 percent). These differences may reflect more long-standing relationships or sexual experience among francophone girls (age at first intercourse was 14.9 vs. 15.7)


Changes in the Canadian Criminal Code in 1987 expanded the old provision that prohibited sexual intercourse with a person under 14 to include the following category of sexual interference: “Every person who, for a sexual purpose, touches, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, any part of the body of a person under the age of fourteen is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or is guilty of an offense punishable on summary conviction”. Since children under 14 are not assumed to be able to give consent, “it is not a defense that the complainant consented to the activity that forms the subject matter of the charge” (MacDonald, 1994, 16). MacDonald (1994) notes that the prohibition on sexual activity with a person under 14 does not apply if, “the child is at least twelve years old, is consenting, and the other person involved is less than two years older than the child and is not in a position of trust, authority or support toward the child” (MacDonald, 1994, 17). In addition, there is a statute on “invitation to sexual touching,” which makes it an offense “to invite, counsel, or incite a person under fourteen to touch him/herself or any other person, directly or indirectly, if the invitation is made for a sexual purpose. For example, it is a criminal offense to suggest that a young boy masturbate for the voyeuristic pleasure of the person making the suggestion”. See  (MacDonald, 1994:p16), as cited by Barrett et al. (1997).

In the period 1940-1960, attitudes toward masturbation were significantly liberalised as the traditional repressive religious morality lost ground[15]. Instead, masturbation came to be seen as an action that reflected the ordinary psychological confusion & hormonal changes of adolescence. These changes, in turn, reflect a change in attitudes toward adolescence itself, as well as the development of a new definition of sexual normality in Quebec.


Thomas (1987)[16] reports on an interview study with 77 mothers of 4-6 year olds, mapping attitudes toward sexuality.





Additional refs.:


§         Shade, L. R. (2002) Protecting the Kids? Debates Over Internet Content, in Ferguson, Sh. & Shade,L. R. (Eds.) Civic Discourse and Cultural Politics in Canada: A Cacophony of Voices. Ablex, p76-87 []


§         Porter, M. (2005) First Blood: How three generations of Newfoundland women learned about menstruation. ESREA (European Society for Research on the Education of Adults) Life History and Biography Network Conference, Anghiari 3-6 marzo 2005 []

§         Gleason, M. (1999) Embodied negotiations: Children’s bodies and historical change in Canada, 1930 to 1960, J Canad Stud 34,1:112-3




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Apr 2005


[1]Bopp, J. & Bopp, M. (1997a) At the time of disclosure: A manual for front-line community workers dealing with sexual abuse disclosures in Aboriginal communities. Ottawa: Solicitor General Canada; Bopp, J. & Bopp, M. (1997b) Responding to sexual abuse: Developing a community-based sexual abuse response team in Aboriginal communities. Ottawa: Solicitor General Canada

[2]Hylton, J. H. et al. (2002) Aboriginal Sex Offending in Canada. Aboriginal Healing Foundation Research Series, p7

[3] Sutherland, N. (2000) Children in English-Canadian Society: Framing the Twentieth-Century Consensus. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

[4] See Michael Bliss, ‘”Pure Books on Avoided Subjects”: Pre-Freudian Sexual Ideas in Canada,’ CHA, Report, 1970, pp. 89–108; Bryan Strong, ‘Ideas of the Early Sex Education Movement in America, 1890–1920,’ HEQ, XII (Summer 1972), pp. 129–61.

[5] Report… into the Prison and Reformatory System, p. 475

[6] 73 Ibid., p. 478; see also the comments of William W. Murray, the superintendent of the State Industrial School, Rochester, New York, ibid., pp. 785–6.

[7] Desjardins, G. (1994) Les enchaînements tyranniques du vice solitaire: le geste et les conséquences, Rev Sexol 2,2

[8] Lee, J. A. (1982) Three Paradigms of Childhood, Rev Canad Sociol & Anthropol/Canad Rev Sociol & Anthropol 19,4:591-608

[9] Prescott, J. W., Levy, J. & Wallace, D. (1980) Affectional deprivation in childhood and adolescence in the United States and Quebec, Canada: a cross-cultural study of sexual alienation and violence, in Forleo, R. & Pasini, W. (Ed.) Medical Sexology. Amsterdam [etc.]: Elsevier, p169-81

[10] Shymko, D. L. (1979) The sources of sexual information of a sample of Canadian adolescents, in Cook, M. & Wilson, G. (Eds.) On Love and Attraction. Oxford [etc.]: Pergamon Press, p353-375

[11] Morin-Ribardière, C. (1980) L’éducation sexuelle au Québec: un bébé rampant et muselé, in Samson, J. (Ed.) Childhood & Sexuality: Proceedings of the International Symposium. Montreal: Editions Etudes Vivantes, p306-10

[12] Barrett, M. et al. (1997) Canada, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum. Vol. 1. Quoted form the online edition

[13] Barrett, M. (1990) Selected Observations on Sex Education in Canada, SIECCAN J 5,1:21-30; Barrett, M. (1994) Sexuality Education in Canadian Schools: An Overview in 1994, Canad J Hum Sex 3,3:199-207

[14] Otis. J., Gaston, G. Lambert, J. & Pronovest, R. (1990) Adolescents and Condom Use: The Difference Between Contraception and STD/AIDS Prevention. 6th International Conference on AIDS, San Francisco. Unpublished data in text is derived from this study.

[15] Desjardins, G. (1994) Les Enchainements tyranniques du vice solitaire: le geste et les consequences, Rev Sexol 2, 2:7-22

[16] Thomas, D. R. (1987) Authoritarianism and child-rearing practices, Austral Psychologist 22,2:197-201