When it comes to sex, Canadian society is reasonable. Civilized.
I recently spoke all day in Calgary, a city the size of metro Denver, 700 miles north of Boise. I was hosted by ASPSH—the Alberta Society for the Promotion of Sexual Health.
I’ve always found Canadians very pleasant. Oh, I sometimes get irritated there—they refuse to cross the street on a red light, even if there are no cars coming. Taxis don’t weave in and out of traffic. And the weather is legendary—it snowed the day after I left, on the first day of fall.
But we can all admire Canada’s culture regarding sexuality. It’s not perfect, but here are just a few features that put America to shame.
SEX & THE PUBLIC BATHROOM
It starts when you land in a Canadian airport. First stop, of course, is the bathroom (“washroom” in Canadian-ese). And in every one you find condom vending machines. Because that’s what millions of adults use when they have intercourse. In Canada the public health message isn’t “don’t have sex,” as it is in many American legislatures (Utah isn’t even the worst). It’s “make sex safer, and use contraception.”
The next day my workshop at the university started at 9am, so when we took our morning break, everyone headed for the er, washroom. But women workshop attendees greatly outnumbered the men, so of course the line outside the women’s bathroom was huge. Until the women went into the men’s room.
They didn’t wait until it was empty, and they didn’t sheepishly apologize. Basically everyone acted the way people act in mixed-gender grocery stores—which is to say, no one made a fuss. Rather, we all did what we came to do, and did it the way we always do—calmly and briskly, without rushing or complaining.
If any women were staring at my penis while I urinated, they did it so discretely that I didn’t notice.
KIDS & PORN
The subject of my training workshop was pornography, so I did some legal research to prepare with Vancouver attorney Paul Kent-Snowsell.
I confirmed that in Canada, it’s actually legal for kids to watch porn; generally ill-advised, of course, but not illegal. That means divorcing parents can’t use each others’ porn-watching as a weapon in a custody battle. And it means if one kid shows another kid any sex-related material (which is what normal kids have always done), they’re not breaking the law. The meta-message is that simply watching porn doesn’t automatically damage kids.
There’s no evidence that Canadian kids watch more porn than their American cousins. Or that, when they grow up, they rape more women.
And while it isn’t legal for kids to sext each other—it’s classified as child porn, as it is in the US—the consequences for doing so are dramatically smaller. Kids don’t go to jail or register as offenders. Their phone is typically confiscated, there may be some probation involved, but the government doesn’t ruin kids’ lives in the attempt to show them that sexting will ruin their lives.
SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY
As in America, Canada has a National Sex Offender Registry. But it’s far less
cruel—without it being less useful to the police. First, minors can only be placed on it if they’re criminally sentenced as an adult. Second, a consumer can’t casually find records of sex offenders, and there are no vigilante groups trying to isolate and destroy these people.
Compare that with the American law which is so punitive that it relegates registered sex offenders who have already served their jail time to living under freeway overpasses or in the desert.
Like many governments, in 2016 the Canadian Parliament convened hearings and collected research to decide whether pornography posed a danger to society. Like the reports commissioned by Presidents Nixon and Reagan, this one exonerated porn. Unlike those American reports, the Canadian government didn’t trash their study—they actually used it to formulate policy.
As my attorney consultant said, and my audience of over 100 professionals confirmed, there is very little moral panic about porn in Canada. Again unlike the U.S., it comes almost completely from religious groups rather than anti-trafficking advocates, anti-sex-work feminists, etc..
For example, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada criticized the government’s decision to rely only on experts who had done peer-reviewed research—complaining this “excluded some important views.” Yes, the Canadian government actually depended on science when collecting data.
As with so many other things, Canadian society’s perspective on pornography is basically “do what you want in private, just don’t smack me in the face while you’re waving your hand in the air.” And don’t frighten the horses out on the street.