The Sex Factor – Sex Education in Eire

Ø  “The average age for abusive relationships among teenagers is 13/14, so keep an eye on your sisters” – my R.E. module in 6th year, aged 18

I can remember being 18 years old, about to sit my leaving cert and sitting in my religion class, thinking that the Sex Ed. module would be a bit of craic and a nice oul’ break from the exam subjects. Instead, we were met with a disturbingly outdated course and I felt nothing but shock and discomfort, regarding the ease to which my teacher could warn her 18-year-old students about the inevitability of rape and abusive relationships among 13-year-olds and then walk into a first year class 40 minutes later without batting an eyelid.

Now, being my naturally vehement self, I reacted to this information by storming into my guidance counsellor, wherein I learned that there are laws regarding appropriate lessons in relation to sex and age appropriateness. I was told that, while my teachers were aware that a child in first year would benefit more from such lessons, there was little they could (or would) do.

This brings to light one of the many flaws of the Irish educational system. Refusing to acknowledge sex in a classroom until the students are all 18 years old is redundant because, statistically speaking, the majority of the class are well aware by this point.

I should not be told to “keep an eye” on my younger sister because the educational system does not care. I should not be told at age 18 that, statistically, 1 in 5 young teenagers (aged 12-14) experience sexual abuse from a romantic partner when, assuming that this statistic is correct, I was sitting in a classroom of roughly 5 survivors that were never forewarned, out of fear of being “inappropriate”. I should not be told that my teacher was aware of the dangers that were facing my friends and I at that age, yet didn’t mention it. To put it simply, if you are old enough to be at risk or to be asking questions, then you are old enough to have those answers.

Ø  “You will need to go to the bathroom a bit more, and when that happens come to me and I will give you some stuff to help” – teacher of a girls’ 5th class

Ø  “A period is when a girl starts to pee blood” – father of an 11-year-old boy

In this day and age, we simply cannot be so ashamed of female bodies that we refuse to educate children correctly. An eleven-year-old girl should not be uninformed about her own body, otherwise she will feel ashamed and scared when the changes happen to her. An eleven-year-old boy should not be under the impression that women can control their periods, otherwise they may (and will) grow up to support luxury taxes on tampons and period-related products. The lack of education and information regarding female puberty appears to stem from an underlying shame of women’s bodies. Boys do not need to know about periods because it will not affect them. Girls do not need to be told about periods because they will learn of their own accord. As a result of this, there is a widespread misunderstanding regarding women’s bodies, leading to the complete disregard of women’s issues.

Ø  “Sex is where a man puts his penis into a woman’s vagina” – 3rd year SPHE class

I will not go on a rant about heteronormativity (as that could easily take over an entire article), however, I would like to point out that hearing this statement at fifteen years old can be quite damaging to a child’s identity. They do not need to be told that their sexual identity/behaviour is invalid and in my personal opinion, what constitutes sex is entirely circumstantial and conceptual. Therefore, it is inappropriate to inform a young teenager about what qualifies as sex.

Furthermore, the lack of discussion of same-sex couples leads to unhealthier sex.

Ø  “If you are sexually active you are aware of the likelihood of pregnancy so you should be taking folic acid as a precaution” – my R.E. module in 6th year

Ø  “Pregnancy and STDs, in a nutshell” – a classmate of mine describing our R.E. module

Naturally, coming from a catholic school I was not expecting an in-depth analysis or discussion in my Sex Ed. class. However, the information I received was nothing short of ridiculous. Sex was addressed as a scary way to make a child or gain an STD, with no other circumstances. Rather than acknowledging sex as a healthy part of the majority of people’s lives, we were immediately informed of the statistics for underage pregnancy and STD transmissions and were shown diagrams of male and female genitalia (at 18 years old).

In a Sex Ed. course, it is my belief, that the teacher has an obligation to their students to provide a comprehensive and concise lesson that informs them of the ins and outs (no pun intended) of the subject. With regards to health, I should not be under the impression that sex leads to either a baby or an STD and nothing else.

With regards to identity, I should not be led to believe that certain types of sex are invalid, because they don’t result in procreation.

With regards to puberty, I should be aware of what’s awaiting my body BEFORE it happens.

With regards to “appropriate teachings”? Fuck that . It is not my responsibility to provide my sister with the teachings that my school wouldn’t give. That’s not appropriate. I should not be told 5 years later that the dangers I faced were predetermined by my teachers and that they decided against warning me. That’s not appropriate. Body shaming and shying away from informing women about what needs to be said directly, leads to the belief that women are less important, that their bodies are to be disrespected, that their questions don’t need answers. This leads to rape culture, heteronormativity, and all those buzzwords that social media wants us thinking are Tumblr creations. That’s not appropriate.

I know it’s a college paper so swearing is probably fine but I just wanted to highlight it in case it’s not.