it comes to sex education we still have an awful
lot to learn
Irish Times 14/03/2007
When teenagers were asked for their views on the
age of sexual consent in the first ever government
consultation on the issue last year, many adults
tittered incredulously. Surely it was a waste of
time asking irresponsible, hormonal, convention-breaking
teenagers what kind of safeguards should be put
in pladce around underage sexual activity?
outcome to the consultation surprised many. The
overwhelming theme which emerged was that teenagers
wanted to learn more about sex. They didn't know
enough about sexually-transmitted diseases, contraception,
sexual orientation or the consequences of sex and
wanted some form of support.
report, an analysis of the implentation of sex education
in schools suggests that much of the irresponsibility
regarding teenage sex should be left at the door
of adults. It showed that one school in 10 did not
offer any form of sexual education while in many
other schools it was taught in a selective or inconsistent
way. Some students reported that while issues such
as relationships were being taught, sexuality was
not being addressed at all. Others reported that
their sole experience of sex education was a single
day-long session in the first year of school.
Ironically, the chances of being offered sex education
reduce as teenagers become more sexually active.
In third year of school 20 per cent of schools did
not teach it, rising to one third of schools in
Leaving Certificate year. Students at boy's single-sex
secondary schools were least likely to receive sexual
the demand for knowledge was clear. Students reported
being anxious to learn, but said teachers were often
too closed or embarrassed to teach the subject.
Parents, they said, did not see it as a priority.
Many felt the opportunity to talk about it with
parents was limited or embarrassing. Friends or
the media were also cited as frequent but unreliable
sources of information.
students, school might not have been the ideal place
to be taught about sex but it seemed by far and
away the best. For them, it represented a "neutral
zone" in which to discuss issues about relationships
and sexuality. From the point of view of teachers
and school management, there are clear barriers
to properly education young people about sex. These
include the croweded curriculum, discomfort among
teachers over the content of the programme, the
religious ethos of schools and the pressure to devote
more time to exam subjects.
pattern, however, has emerged among schools which
are implementing the sex education programme effectively.
They tend to have good leadership from the principal
and board of management, along with policies on
the teaching of the subject. What is clear is that
the success of effective sex education lies in greater
leadership from all adults - parents, teachers,
school management and policy-makers - in overcoming
the traditional barriers around sex education.
we can place a burden of expectation on teenagers
themselves, we can only expect a reduction in unplanned
pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases if
young people are given the chance to learn more
about sex in the first place.