Time To Transform Our Sex Education


From top: a still from a Catholic sex education video made for an Irish audience in the 1980s; Paul Murphy

“We were basically told we should wait until marriage to have sex. To emphasize this point, the teacher took a piece of sellotape, stuck it to her hand, ripped it off and showed us the bits of dirt now stuck to it.

She likened this piece of tape to each girl, and her sticking the tape down to her skin as each boy the girl kissed. She kept repeating this action, basically showing us that kissing many boys made you very dirty.

When the tape lost its stickiness, she proudly used this as an example of how we became emotionally unable to ‘stick’ to one person if we keep ‘kissing all these different boys’. I found this absolutely unacceptable and honestly am still shocked that I was actually told this.”


Paul Murphy TD writes:

When Solidarity announced we were proposing a Bill for Objective Sex Education, Sarah was just one school student of many who emailed us about the backward nature of the sex education they received.

Niamh, another student, explained that:

“I vividly remember the teacher referring to contraception as ‘the C-word’. She didn’t like saying it in the classroom as it was against the ethos of the school.”

This anecdotal evidence of entirely inadequate sex education chimes with recently published research by NUI Galway on ‘Smart Consent‘.

An online survey completed by over 1,000 NUIG students on consent found that 76% of students believed their school sex education “left out a lot of important and crucial information” and only 23.8% declared themselves satisfied with the sex education they received.

When you read the ‘Guidelines on Relationships and Sexuality Education‘ issued by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, (it is little wonder that our sex education remains in the dark ages.

It sums up its approach as follows:

“Any attempt to communicate ‘the facts of life’ as mere facts without reference to the religious and moral dimensions of human sexuality and without reference to the pupil’s need to grow in maturity would be a distortion. Scientific facts are not the whole truth about human sexuality and reproduction.”

The sex education that most school students receive is grossly distorted by the religious ethos of their schools. In many cases, Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) is provided by outside religious agencies, including Accord, a Catholic organisation which refuses to deal with same-sex couples in marriage counselling.

The result is that often LGBTQ+ people are not mentioned, contraception is barely referenced and consent does not feature. The so-called ‘gatekeepers’ model is taught in many schools, where girls are warned about sexual activity and boys get no real education on consent.

This contrasts starkly with the attitudes of young people, where there has been an awakening in awareness of the problem of sexual harassment and a real understanding of consent as something that needs to be explicit, mutual and continuous.

This was seen in the last weeks on the streets across Ireland with big protests about how rape victims are treated in the legal system. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the #WeStandWithHer protests, the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, announced a review of sex education.

However, importantly, he did not say that it would remove religious ethos from the teaching of RSE, which is a central problem. There is no point in reviewing how it is taught if schools will still be allowed to ignore it if it doesn’t fit their religious views!

The Solidarity ‘Provision of Objective Sex Education’ Bill would remove those religious barriers from the teaching of relationships and sex based on mutual respect.

It will be debated today and if it becomes law, would ensure that all school students receive factual and objective sex education.

This would be sex education which has consent at its core, which teaches about methods of contraception and the termination of pregnancy, is not gender normative and is LGBTQ+ positive.

The Bill is being supported by a wide range of organisations including the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, National Women’s Council of Ireland, Shout Out, BelongTo, USI, Irish Family Planning Association, Atheist Ireland, LadyBirds, and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

Because of pressure on the establishment parties at this stime, the indications are that the government is not opposing the Bill and it will pass second stage.

However, those who want to retain religious control over our schools and prevent young people being educated about sex will try to resist this change. The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association has come out in opposition to the Bill and incredibly claims that the current sex education programme is “working quite well”!

The next step of the battle will be ensure that the government doesn’t leave it languishing in committee, as they have done with so many opposition bills and it actually progresses to become law that transforms our sex education.

Paul Murphy is Solidarity TD for Dublin South West and member of the Socialist Party. Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulmurphy_TD


Come on media.

Get your finger out busy.

52 thoughts on “Time To Transform Our Sex Education

  1. ahjayzis

    The result is that often LGBTQ+ people are not mentioned, contraception is barely referenced and consent does not feature.

    I got zilch sexual education at school in the early naughties. It’s INSANE that it’s still the case for LGBT teens.

    1. realPolithicks

      My school “sex education” which occurred in the late 70’s consisted of the guidance counselor asking me if I knew what a “french letter” was and some discussion of the different names for this “item”…that was about it. The comical part or one of them at least is that at the time contraception was illegal in Ireland so you couldn’t get a condom even if you tried. As an aside my guidance counselor was Michael Connaughton who went on to become a Labor TD.

      1. ahjayzis

        My granny was getting them in the 80s on prescription apparently!

        Information I did not need to know…

        1. realPolithicks

          If I remember correctly it was 1983 when they were made available by prescription…the good aul dayz eh!

  2. Conde Fast

    ‘sex’ and ‘Paul Murphy’ are two things that should never be mentioned together

    1. postmanpat

      Oh come on. You can tell by the way he moves and talks that he’s an animal in the sack.

  3. ahjayzis

    We had a nun come in and do some RSE in like 2001 when I was in first year. She went ON AND ON about how masturbation was selfish

    I remember giggling that she must be some twinkly pinkly bunny to want it all for herself ^_^

  4. Cian

    I presumed that the quote about the sellotape-sex-ed from Sarah was from the 1980s (due to the proximity of that 1980 photo)… I’m stunned that this is being taught in the 21st centaury.

  5. ReproBertie (SCU)

    We were told nothing in the 80’s. The closest we got was some priest banging on about self abuse being a sin (without bothering to tell us what self abuse even was obviously).

    When I went on the (obligatory) marriage guidance course they tried to give us sex ed but the pictures they used were even less graphic than the one above. (Not the Paul Murphy one, just to be clear.)

    It’s worth checking out the Off the Ball podcast on sex ed for a great, down to earth, open approach to sex ed for teens.

  6. Iwerzon

    We didn’t receive sex ed in my school in the ’80s, we did receive reproduction education, not a mention of anything remotely intimate or pleasurable. The main message was don’t do it lads. It was from a rather nervous science teacher who chained smoke the whole way through (yes, during class!).

    1. Frilly Keane

      Our Art teacher was the same
      He used’ta leave fags all over the supplies room n’ all for us

  7. nellyb

    As transitional step towards proper class room instruction: department of education should design an online (appropriately) interactive sex-ed course and make it mandatory for junior cert as biology module. Cost effective too. Failed the module – re-sit junior cert. Or something along these lines.

    1. Cian

      When I read this I’m reminded of the sex-ed scene from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”

  8. Murtles

    Sex education? None of that in my day. Mention the word S-E-X and you’d have a middle aged woman use a sally rod to spank you. You have to pay good money for that nowadays.

  9. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

    We never had any. I had to depend on Chapter 51 of “Senior Biology”.

  10. Frilly Keane

    maybe I haven’t been around as much as some of ye
    but aren’t they a strange set of thighs in yer’wans flip chart

    1. Tony

      It’s the hips that bother me. Big wide lady hips with a winky. Still, I’m sure some find that attractive and good luck to them.

  11. david

    I can imagine the confusion for the kids as all parts of sexuality is thought to them from cross dressing to anal sex to all sorts of the new normality of modern day sexual enjoyment

    1. ReproBertie (SCU)

      And that’s why we need to teach them that what they see on extremetube is not the normal everyday experience of sex. If nobody is talking to them about sex then nobody is telling them what they need to hear.

      1. david

        That’s the reality
        Hang on the LGBTF community would argue very differently
        These practices are practices in a loving normal relationship
        Have you an issue with it?

        1. ReproBertie (SCU)

          Are you a professional point misser?

          I’m talking about the way people look, the noises they make, the always availability, the lack of discussion, the lack of contraception and yes, the acts as well. Kids need to know that it’s OK not to be that big, or last that long or have body hair, or want to do that thing. It’s OK to say “No”. Its OK to say “Yes” today and “No” tomorrow and it’s ok to say “No” today and “Yes” tomorrow and “No” the next day. They need to be told that it’s OK to change their mind and they don’t have to do something just because someone will call them frigid if they won’t and that they have no right to call someone frigid if they won’t.

          Sex ed isn’t just insert tab A in slot B.

      1. david

        Not really ,why should I
        Mind you its not just David with the small d its also a,v,i,and another d
        Or are you trying to say your d is bigger than mine

    2. Janet, I ate my Avatar

      All the above has been around from the dawn of time
      Just ask the Greeks
      + there is no “normal” in sex

  12. missred

    We had a periods talk in first year and one about STIs from a Well Woman lady in sixth year, far too late in my opinion. Nothing in between which was a missed opportunity. I got all my sex ed from English teen magazines. I went to a Church of Ireland school though, so there is distinct absence of all this horror-inducing stuff ye got from priests and nuns.

  13. Daisy Chainsaw

    “Sex ed” consisted of a nun who walked out on a group of 12 year old first years because we giggled nervously at the word “period”.

    Two years later, preparing for the Inter cert, the science teacher spent an inordinate amount of time on the Asexual Reproduction of Plants and did the Human Sexual Reproduction bit at the end of May where she referred to each body part as the Hmm Hmm.

    It’s not really a surprise that the school was nicknamed the Pregnantation. The other all girls’ school was nicknamed “The Virgin Megastore”.

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