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Funding threat to pioneering sex education service
Irish Examiner 21/03/2007

by Conor Kane

An innovative sex education programme currently being offered to schools is in danger because of a lack of government funding. The future of the sex education programme, which has been delivered for years by the Sexual Health Centre in Cork, is in doubt, acoording to the centre's chief executive, Deirdre Seery, who accused the Government of paying "lip service" to sex education.

The Government's funding for the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme in Irish schools does not include money for schools to pay for outside experts such as the staff of the Sexual Health Centre. "While teachers struggle to implement the RSE programme, the Sexual Health Centre in Cork is inundated with requests from Cork and Kerry secondary schools to provide sexual health workshops for their students. Unfortunately, due to inadequate funding, we cannot meet the ever-increasing demand,"Ms Seery said.

Specific funding is needed from the Department of Education, she said, to support sexual health training. "There is so much fear attached to 'what to discuss and when' with young people, that the issue tends to be avoided altogether. We cannot afford to do this any more. We have unhealthy incidences of crisis pregnancies and increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections to show for our neglect of young people's sexual health education," she said.

Ms Seery said that the service provided to schools by the centre "does not exist anywhere else in Ireland", but the lack of funds is making it difficult to employ staff. Workshops also need to be extended to parents, she said, to ensure that they have the accurate information and support needed to be able to discuss sexual healthc issues openly with their children.

"The Govenment must help organisations like the Sexual Health Centre to support the RSE programme by meeting the demand from parents, teachers and students for quality sexual health education. Our young people deserve a fair chance to improve their knowledge, attitudes and skills. Prevention is the the best and most cost-effective cure for HIV and other STIs."

Sexual Health Promotion co-ordinator Helen Geary said that young people are receiving the wrong message about sex and described as obscene the "unrealistic pressures" on adolescents. "We have found that young people are desperate to talk about issues relating to their sexual health, as currently they only have each other to talk to," she said.

The aim of the schools' workshop provided by the centre is to explore young people's experiences and attitudes and promote respect for personal boundaries. Information is provided on a variety of topics such as self-esteem, self-image, peer pressure, relationships, human sexuality, physical and emotional feelings, condoms, abstinence and responsibility.