Growing up in Ireland meant nobody talked about sex in the classroom. When the topic of sex arose students were told limited factual information or stories that did not reflect a young persons' reality by an older person visibly uncomfortable. One classic example of sex ed in Ireland was teaching young people that abstaining from sex was the best possible solution to growing fears around STD's, teen pregnancy and sexuality.
Avoiding discussions around sex is the equivalent of handing someone a set of car keys and asking them to drive so it's not surprising that a recent report uncovered some startling information.
A recent report by Youth Work Ireland indicates that the majority of young people learn about sex from pornography. One in five of the 1,000 students between the ages of 14-24 who completed the survey, consider internet pornography as a useful source of information. 90% trust this information. Unsurprisingly, young people are most likely to turn to their friends and health professionals rather than parents or teachers.
Anyone growing up during the dial-up era knows this was always the case. Whether you were figuring out how to reveal your sexuality, how your menstruation cycle worked, your gender identity or types of contraception that were available it was all done through our helpful friend Google. Now, to add to the frustrations of not understanding sex 101, 42% feel like there isn't appropriate help and support for people who experience inappropriate sexual behaviour.
However, the survey found some interesting results in terms of consent. Due to the #MeToo movement and other movements that positively shame, boys are now more likely than girls to reflect on their own behaviour.
It's clear that a number of people, public and private, want sex ed reform in Ireland to happen. According to The Irish Times, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone finds it crucial that we listen to the fears and experiences of children and teenagers to find solutions that work. CEO of Youth Work Ireland is adamant that the Government needs to overhaul education surrounding relationships and sexual health.
As it stands a sex education bill is being pushed forward but one area remains a major barrier to factual sex education - religion. The majority of schools in Ireland are still supported by, or are on lands owned by, the Catholic Church. Religious bodies involved in education can, and have, adjusted the content of a sex education class to comply with their ethos. Catholic counseling agencies such as Accord are regularly used by schools to educate the young.
There's good news. Last week the Objective Sexual Education Bill was passed at the Dáil without a vote. The Objective Sexual Education Bill, proposed by Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger TD, aims to introduce sex education independent of schools’ religious ethos. Ms Coppinger said her Bill would require the religious and sexuality education curriculum to be separated and sex education delivered factually to cover contraception, sexuality, gender, LGBTQI+ issues and consent.
At the launch ShoutOut, an LGTQI+ advocacy group, and the Rape Crisis Network were just two of the sexual health groups that took part in the discussion. Bella Fitzpatrick of ShoutOut shared the untold truth that what young LGBTQI+ people hear on sex and sexuality, which does not reflect their direct experiences, results in feelings of inferiority; ultimately impacting a young LGBTQI+ person's mental health. The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland was championing the introduction of the class as the issue of consent will be covered; saying it would create a "...fundamental building blocks for not only health sexual relationships but a good society" said Dr. Saidléar of the RCN.
The speakers recalled their own experiences of Ireland's archaic sex education remembering references to God, families, and babies, “the c-word” for contraception, “natural family planning” and the importance of not using tampons. Most of these memories stayed with those who heard them and were directly targeted women's experience sexuality, sexual health, and reproduction.
Catholicism has shadowed issues on the eighth amendment and poor sex education for too long. The most troubling aspect of 'learning' about sex and sexuality from porn is the abundance of half-truths and misinformation that are spread amongst young people. It is performative and typically unrepresentative of the majority of people's actual sexual experiences. The moronic relationship the Catholic Church has with sex has impacted Irish life for too long. We need to stop being embarrassed talking about sex so young people aren't turning to pornography to contextualize the schoolyard rumours.