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31st Jul 2017

We deserve better sex education in Irish schools… and we need it too

Young people in Ireland deserve better than this.

Jade Hayden

Sex education

How old were you when you received your sex education?

Did you get one at all?

I was 11-years-old. A woman was sent to our national school armed with a bunch of line diagrams and a cardboard box with the top cut off. She told us what Irish Catholic schools consider the basics, and encouraged us to write down questions we were too embarrassed to ask.

At the end of the day she opened the box and read through the slips of paper. About half of them went straight in the bin.

My sex education lasted the entire day, but it might as well have went on for about half an hour.

At 11-years-old we obviously weren’t having sex, but we were being treated as if we were never going to. Or that if we ever did, it would be to have children – not for pleasure or for fun or for the myriads of other reasons people have sex that aren’t directly linked to procreation.

sex education

We weren’t shown how to put on a condom. We weren’t told anything about the morning after pill, the coil, or the implant. We weren’t told that some girls go on the pill to ease their period pain, or to clear up their acne.

We weren’t told much else other than sex equals penis entering vagina, and that we should probably wait until marriage before we started doing any of that.

The suggestion was met by sniggers from the majority of the class. It had been said with such indifference that we assumed the woman probably didn’t even believe it herself.

Towards the end of the session, our teacher returned and announced that the boys had to leave. He brought the lads out to the yard to play football while the woman went a little more in depth about periods, when we’d be most likely to get them, and what to do when we did.

At the time we felt special. Like we were being let in on a secret that nobody else was allowed to know – just us girls with our vaginas and wombs that would forever remain a mystery to the boys.


Looking back, the gender split leaves a bad taste in my mouth. What was thought to be so obscene about our developing insides that boys weren’t permitted to learn? What was so wrong with menstruation that it was decided men couldn’t even be present when it was being talked about?

We had learned about their reproductive organs, so why didn’t they have to learn about ours?

As far as sex education went, it was strictly technical. Fast-forward a few years to secondary school where biology class was one of the only sources of sex ed provided to us.

We drew countless pictures of wombs and pregnant uteri, learning the names for each body part off by heart. I still didn’t know how to put a condom on but I could sketch an impressive pair of testes – spermatic cord and all.

We knew what all of these parts did in theory, but the link to real life outside of the science lab was virtually non-existent. There might as well not have been one.

My sex ed experience (or lack, thereof) certainly isn’t the worst. But it’s far from being the best either.

We often laugh at the outdated, religiously charged sex ed videos that appeared during the 1980s, but the reality is that so many of us who grew up in the early noughties (and those who are growing up now) are still being fed this antiquated, painfully narrow definition of what sex is.

We were told nothing about consent, foreplay, abortion, masturbation, or any kind of intercourse that wasn’t strictly heterosexual.

We were told the bare minimum, and it shows.

Figures released by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) show that 38 percent of couples in Ireland aren’t using any form of contraception, with 30 percent of these relying solely on the withdrawal method.

The findings also show that almost one in four women have experienced an unplanned or crisis pregnancy in their lifetimes.

Medical director of the IFPA Dr Caitriona Henchion has said that the research points to a serious lack of education.

“This recent research shows that almost one in ten couples are using an unreliable method – withdrawal – rather than condoms or other reliable methods of contraception.

This is really concerning and shows that there is a need for more education and knowledge so that women are empowered to make the choice of contraceptive that’s best for them.”

Over ten years on from my school sex education and I’ve learned most of what I know from pop culture, hushed conversations, and questionable first-hand experiences.

Starting to speak candidly about sex was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but not all of us can be awarded that privilege when we’re being taught so little about such a huge subject.

Our sex education has failed a lot of us. Young people in Ireland deserve better than shameful half truths and self-taught facts.

We deserve better than the bare minimum. We need it.