By Gearóid McCarthy
Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance Week, or SHAG Week, should provide food for thought when analysing the standard of sex education in Ireland. I hope that sex education at university will be more diverse, all-encompassing and sex positive, as the deficiency in sexual health awareness left by the lacklustre sex education in much of the country’s secondary schools leaves a gaping hole to be filled.
When I recall the sexual health guidance I received at secondary school, there are a number of specific problems that stand out. The first is that the sex education at my school was steeped in sex-negativity.
My SPHE classes instructed abstinence instead of explaining how to protect oneself from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It was not until my final year of secondary school when we had a sexual health workshop which explained different STIs, and even that was lacking in many ways; it only vaguely explained how one would go about protection from or prevention of the STIs and was structured around a presentation containing images of the infections, meaning the workshop was largely dependent on shock factor.
The second shortcoming of my secondary school sex education is that it was not very comprehensive. For example, LGBTQ topics were not covered at all in my sex education classes. This meant that LGBTQ young people leave the school without any real guidance on sexual health, orientation and identity – a frightening reality if true for a majority of the country’s schools.
It seems fair for me to say that the sex education I was provided with in my secondary school was of a very low standard. It meant I was required to seek guidance from external resources on the majority of relationship and sexual health issues relevant to me, and this is frankly a sign of an extremely unsatisfactory level of sex education in many of Ireland’s state-funded schools.
It prompts one to question if the mark of decades of censorship in Ireland is yet to fade away. Even if sexual topics are explicitly mentioned more often than ever before, it sometimes appears as if there is an institutional discomfort around sex embedded in Irish society, particularly in past generations.
This, unfortunately, means sex-ed at third level has a significant amount of ground to make up. However, my experience in university thus far points to greater sexual health awareness and information, and here’s hoping that SHAG Week will place much-needed emphasis on the importance of sex education.