Southern Manitoba library says it will keep 3 children’s sex-ed books after complaint prompted review

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

“These books alienate children from their family values. They normalize seeing adult sexual organs. They give children detailed instructions to touch themselves to obtain orgasm,” said Winkler, Man., resident Karin Banman at a meeting last week of the board for the South 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 by Silverberg, were temporarily removed from the shelves while a committee reviewed them.

Banman, who is running for school trustee in Winkler in October’s civic 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 contents of the books fit the Criminal Code definition of pornography. None of the books have pornographic photographs, but some have 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 get older. (Jenn Allen/CBC)

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

“So why are children under 16 years of age able to access sex counseling when it is illegal for them to engage in a sex act?” the delegation asks in its statement.

The Criminal Code does not contain any mention of the term “sex counseling.”

Sex-ed helps prevent abuse: researcher

Winnipeg community health researcher and consultant Jared Star is familiar with all the books mentioned in the complaint, and says they are not instructional. 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 sexuality in safer ways that feel OK for them and that are appropriate,” he said.

Community health researcher Jared Star says evidence suggests that access to comprehensive, scientifically accurate sex-ed material helps reduce the risk of a child being sexually abused. (Warren Kay/CBC)

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

“If young people read stories about heterosexual couples and traditional nuclear families throughout their entire education, 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 board of directors, Banman cites concerns that the books are grooming children for sexual abuse.

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

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

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

“They’re also able to tell a trusted adult because they have language to use. They know what body parts people shouldn’t be touching.”

Complaints dishonest, factually incorrect: author

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

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

Siverberg said what surprises them is that the claims voiced by Banman are factually incorrect.

“They say that our books teach children how to have sex, and that they qualify as pornography.”

A smiling person in a blue button-up shirt with brightly painted fingernails sits in front of shelves lined with books.
Author and sex educator Cory Silverberg acknowledges that their books are not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they should be taken off the shelves of public libraries. (Samantha Blanchett)

What Makes A Baby was written for an audience of about four years old, Silverberg says, and intentionally doesn’t mention intercourse. Their other book, Sex is a Funny Word, was written for an older audience, and talks about gender, boundaries, touch and consent.

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

The Canadian author respects that their books are not for everyone, and that there are other ways families might choose to educate their children on sexuality. But Silverberg thinks the complainants are using the review process in a dishonest way.

“If someone were to say, ‘I don’t like this book because this book says it’s OK to be gay’ … that’s fine, you could just say that. But they don’t. They say, ‘This book is pornography.'”

At Willow Press, an independent bookstore in Winnipeg, a whole bookshelf is dedicated to books like Silverbeg’s. Store owner Meghan Malcolm sees first-hand the positive impact that sex-ed books have.

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

Customers aren’t always buying the books to read to children, but to educate themselves on how to guide conversations about sexual health and gender.

“We got a lot of parents being, like, ‘Because I wasn’t taught this, I have no idea how to talk about it.’ They’ll come get books and read it themselves,” said Malcolm.

The South Central Regional Library completed their review, and all three books will remain on the shelves of the Winkler library. One of the books, It’s Perfectly Normal, has been moved from the juvenile to the young adult section.

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

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

Complaint prompts review of children’s sex ed books

Some community members in Winkler, Man. are upset about three sex ed books in the community library. They filed complaints — calling on librarians to take them off the shelves. The group says the books — which include drawings and explanations of sexual activity — are pornography.

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