Abstinence is Not Sex Education

Yasmin Kelly

The way in which Irish school’s talk about sex is in great need of reform after a study from NUI Galway showed that 20% of men and just 15% of women admitted to being content with their second level sex education.

Sex education was introduced to Ireland in the mid 1990s and we may think we have progressed past that “Catholicism-permeated” system it once was, but unfortunately it hasn’t. Even in 2021, we are still as sexually repressed as ever.

It was only last year that the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI), banned the Tampax Tampons and Tea advertisement, after receiving 84 complaints regarding the “sexual nature” of the notice. It is also worth noting that 80% of such complaints were from women.

Irish women especially are truly feeling the wrath of the Catholicism when it comes to our sexual health.

“Busy Bodies Adolescent Development Programme” provides information on the physical and emotional changes children may experience during puberty. This scheme is particularly popular in primary schools. However, it is completely male-dominated, with little to no mention of female pleasure. Information about wet dreams, male ejaculation and male masturbation is plentiful, but young girls are left just as confused as ever.

As women, a cloud of shame hangs over us as we were left to fend for ourselves regarding sex education in school. We had no one telling us that it was normal to feel sexual desires while we were being bombarded with hormones during puberty. Such shame can stay with you for life.

Contraception shame amongst women is something that’s becoming more prevalent every day. Rather than just admitting they’re sexually active, most women will lie and blame it on an irregular or particularly heavy periods. Sexual barriers can also lead to embarrassment for women seeking treatment for something as simple as a UTI or thrush.  How can something so natural be seen as dishonourable?

I can’t help but feel that the Irish education system is stuck in the past. A document that advises teachers on how to approach the topic in junior cycle seems as if it was taken from the 50’s, even though it was written only in 1998.

“Sex is a gift, a most sacred act, and full sexual intimacy belongs in a totally adult relationship where there is equal trust, respect, acceptance and understanding for both partners- as in marriage.”

Such a statement feels light years from a modern world. We sometimes forget that this “ancient” Ireland was actually scarily recent. If you really think about it, the last Mother and Baby home was only closed in 1993.

As someone who went to an all- girls Catholic secondary school that was previously run by a convent,  I can safely say I never truly learned the meaning of consent until I was 18 and in college. I also had little to no knowledge on any other sexualities other than heterosexuality and I most certainly didn’t know what it meant to be non-binary. As I come to my three year anniversary of graduating school, I can recite the many steps of the Krebs cycle (diagram included), yet I don’t truly know how to report and/or deal with sexual crimes.

LGBTQ+ issues, sexual consent, social media and easy access to porn have redefined the landscape of relationships for many teenagers.

In April of this year, a new sex education programme for Catholic primary schools, which describes sex and puberty as a “gift from God,” was published.

“Flourish,” a relationships and sexuality education programme, has been developed by the Irish Bishops Conference for junior infants to sixth class. However, it has received widespread backlash after it stated that “we are perfectly created by God to procreate with him”; while a lesson on safety and protection advised senior infant children to say the “Angel of God” prayer.

“Religion shouldn’t have influence on relationships and schools,” Solidarity TD, Mick Barry stated after he questioned how the programme qualified to be appropriate sex education.

So what needs to be done? As a nation, we are moving backwards and continuing to fail the Irish youth. You can hand out as many free condoms as you like, but if shame is drilled into us as young, impressionable kids, we have no hope.

We need a comprehensive sex education system that all schools must follow because as it stands, no school is obliged to follow any standard relationship and sexual education programme. How the establish wants to deal with it is up to them and ca be decided through the schools “ethos.”

Ireland has the attitude and ability to move forward with progressive ideas in general, but it seems that we are not ready to part ways with Catholic ideologies.

Yasmin Kelly 

Image Credit: Sonja Tutty