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.
your finger out busy.