Sexual education in Ireland is unevenly distributed, which leaves many missing out on vital information. Studies have shown that lapses in sexual education can lead to risky and irresponsible sexual behavior. With a 4.45% increase in Chlamydia cases this year, a 23% VAT for condoms and a high 12 to 1000 ratio of teenage mothers, the lapses in sexual education may be one of the reasons behind increased risky sexual behavior in Ireland according to a recent study.
Comparing the first three months of 2015, with the first three months of 2014, we find an 8.83% rise in Chlamydia infections. So far this year, there has been 231 more chlamydia cases than this time last year, a 4.45% increase.
The number of teenage pregnancies in Ireland that resulted in birth for women aged 15-19 in 2012 was 1,639. This puts Ireland at a ratio of 12 to 1000, according to the government body Crisis Pregnancy. Although this figure has decreased over the years, in Sweden in 2014 there were 6 births for every 1000 female teenager according to Statistiska Centralbyrån (SCB) a number that has pretty much stayed the same over the past ten years. We can also compare it with Holland, which has the lowest rates of teenage pregnancies and abortions in Europe.
The European document ‘Policies for Sexuality Education in the European Union’ reported, “Some experts argue that the lack of sexuality education could lead to irresponsible and unconscious behaviours that can have dramatic impact on teenagers’ lives.”.
The Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) in Ireland is delivered to young people through the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme in primary and post-primary schools. The Department of Education states that the schools’ role when it comes to sexual education is to complement the parent’s role in the area. However, the reality is that the information is very unevenly distributed around the country, which results in some teenagers leaving school knowing significantly more than others.
When I asked what measurements the Department of Education takes to ensure that every school enforces some kind of sexual education, they responded at the moment 98% of schools have or are in the process of enforcing a RSE program on their school. Which leaves me wondering, why not all of them?
In 2014 a report was conducted by UNESCO Child & Family Research Centre, NUI Galway, entitled ’Relationships Explored and Life Uncovered: Foróige’s REAL U: Relationships Explored and Life Uncovered Programme’. It found lapses in sexual education in Irish schools. Foróige is a national youth organisation, which in 2011 set up the REAL U: Relationships Explored and Life Uncovered programme for young people aged 12-18 in school and work environment to talk about sexuality and relationships.
The conclusions were that the programme filled gaps in sexual education that young people in Ireland would not have received otherwise. The major outcomes of implementing the REAL U programme were extended knowledge about sex and a more positive attitude towards LGBT. They also found that the programme managed to level with young people about sex in a way that the schools did not and thereby delivered accessible information to the youths.
Another important factor is the difficulty in obtaining contraception for young people. Young girls have to go through their GP to do so, which leaves many fearing parental repercussions, along with the 23% VAT charge on condoms that leaves many teenagers unable to afford contraception. The availability of free condoms is slim, with them mainly being distributed at third-level colleges or through rare occasions where organisations distribute them to the public. HSE’s website lists 24 clinics around the country where you can get tested free of charge, however getting tested still carries a stigma.
Many European countries have youth clinics in place where young people can obtain information, contraception and general guidance around their sexual health and activity. In Sweden for example, the youth clincs are free and open for everyone up to the age of 23 for consultations, birth control, condoms, STI testing, gynaecological examinations, etc., without parental knowledge or consent. Midwives and psychiatrists specialize in consulting young people about sex and relationships. There is a mandatory therapy session involved related to the first visit the youngsters make, where they have a chance to speak with a trained psychiatrist about life in general.
The inconsistent distribution of sexual education in Ireland seems to play a role in the rise of STI cases, a high rate of teenage mothers and a rise in risky sexual behavior. Youth clinics would be beneficial in many ways for teenagers, but without education there’s still the risk of them pursuing risky sexual behavior as adults, which once again brings us back to the issue of sexual education. The Department of Education reports that 98% of schools in Ireland have, or are in the process of enforcing, a RSE programme. Do you think this is enough?