Sex Education & Awareness in Ireland
That is both an indication and warning as to what this article contains. Those you are uncomfortable with an open and frank discussion about sex education and awareness have been sufficiently informed and have possibly scampered away. For those of you still with me, let’s continue on.
It doesn’t take a historian or a sociologist to know that Ireland as a state has historically been very heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. This applies to many things like our morals, our constitution and our education system. Many of my own generation went to at least one school with a religious ethos whether it was primary or secondary and this has had some knock on effects particular when it comes to sex education and awareness. A friend of mine relates his own story of a woman coming into his sixth class classroom to talk about puberty and sex. When it came to periods and other lady concerns the boys were sent outside for an early lunch. This is a story that will be familiar to many but I am aware that there are still plenty, like myself, who received a very incomplete education about it all.
Although I don’t have any issues with how I obtained any sexual information – my parents or at least one of them was always relatively willing to discuss such matters with me – there was no clear formal education in secondary school. In our Social Personal Health Education class there was some timid discussions on the matter but a lot of it was “don’t have unprotected sex, you’ll get pregnant” or “don’t have sex until you are ready”. In regards to the latter there wasn’t any real information as to when someone is ready.
As it was an all-girls school, there wasn’t a huge amount of diversity in what we were told. I can remember facts about the legal age of consent and how to make sure a boy wasn’t ‘pressuring’ us but not a huge amount of time given to the various forms of contraception aside from condoms and the pill. Even at that, I can’t recall anyone ever telling me you needed to get the contraceptive pill prescribed or at what age you could do this without needing a parent or guardian’s consent.
Considering my own school was in a small rural town, formerly run by a convent with a board of management that was very active in how things were run, it isn’t a huge surprise that sex education was mixed in with other subjects like Science and Home Economics. I can also remember a visit from an employee of a clinic in Transition Year giving us a presentation on STIs complete with pictures but this seemed to be more of a scare tactic rather than offering any solid information – like what to look out for if you do contract something and how it’s very important to get regular check-ups when you do become sexually active. Given that some former students of the school had had children of their own, by the time it was given the incomplete education was both too late in life and it didn’t sufficiently inform us.
The debate on legalised abortion is still present in the news with a strong argument being that the state should be separate from the church – a very valid point that needs to be applied to our schools. While there seems to be some education offered as children hit puberty and some more again coming up to the age of consent, it is far from sufficient. Teens are often sexually active before 17 and there needs to be more information given before this for their own emotional and physical safety. This is all before I go near masturbation or the many different kinds of sexuality in that aren’t addressed in any form.
Some form of standardised sex education has long been lacking in Ireland and certain institutes and organisations that often give talks in schools on abstinence and nothing else are not helping the situation. While some may happily choose it for themselves it should not be a choice made out of ignorance or fear. Likewise with those who choose to become sexually active, young students deserve the right to receive information in a healthy and stable environment.
Photos c/o sojo.net, theaunicornist.com