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FactCheck: Will children be taught how to masturbate as part of their education from September?

The claim had been made by social media users.

Factcheck

A SERIES OF claims posted on social media suggest that Irish children will be taught how to masturbate as part of a new sexual education curriculum from September.

The claims appear to be based on a recent government review of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum in primary and post-primary schools.

Although the new curriculum is still being developed, some on social media have claimed that it will teach schoolchildren how to masturbate when it is introduced.

But is this true?

The claims

Since the National Council for Curriculum Assessment (NCCA) published its report on the review of RSE in December last year, a number of claims have been made about what the new curriculum could look like.

This article will specifically examine the claim that schoolchildren will be taught to masturbate, as featured in two recent posts on Facebook.

One of the posts, shared on Facebook on 23 June, includes the claim among several others as part of a call to protest outside the GPO in Dublin every Saturday. It reads:

From September your children is [sic] going to be taught how to masturbate.

Scanlon Source: Facebook

A second post, published on a different page on 21 July, features an image which appears to be a photograph of a booklet or flyer about the new curriculum (an email address urging readers to make submissions to the NCCA is visible at the top).

It references apparent information from a document by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the delivery of sex education to children.

Among the claims are that children between 0 and 4 years old will be “given information about enjoyment and pleasures while touching one’s own body, early childhood masturbation, discovery of one’s own body and genitals”.

The poster says they received the information at a meeting this week about the new sex education curriculum, saying they were “absolutely shocked” at what they learned.

Sex ed Source: Facebook

The evidence

In April 2018, then Minister for Education Richard Bruton asked the NCCA to undertake a major review of the RSE curriculum across all stages of education to ensure it was fit for purpose and that it meets the needs of young people in modern Ireland.

RSE was first introduced in 1996, and has been a mandatory part of the primary school curriculum since 1999 and as part of the Junior Cycle since 2000, but has not been updated since then.

As part of the review, Bruton asked the NCAA to consider things like consent, contraception, positive sexual expression and sexual relationships, the safe use of the internet, social media and LGBTQ+ issues.

A number of consultation events were held, and the public were also given two opportunities to contribute their views via online survey, with the vast majority of responses (more than 3,500) coming from parents themselves.

The Report on the Review of Relationships and Sexuality Education in primary and post-primary schools was published by the NCCA in December, 2019 and contains a number of recommendations.

These included updating the curriculum, integrating it with Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and focusing more on the rights and needs of young people.

Interim guidance on the development of the new RSE/SPHE curriculum is still being created, and the process is not expected to be completed until October 2021 at the earliest.

In other words, children will not be taught anything from the new RSE curriculum from September.

There is no delivery date for the curriculum at primary level. According to the NCCA, the updated programme will form part of an entirely new primary school curriculum, which itself is still being developed with no expected start date.   

Furthermore, there is no mention of masturbation, pleasure, or “touching one’s own body” anywhere in the NCCA’s final report, let alone what specific ages children will be taught certain things.

WHO document

The second image above references information which purports to be from a document by the WHO on the delivery of sex education to children.

It claims that children between 0 and 4 years old will be “given information about enjoyment and pleasures while touching one’s own body, early childhood masturbation, discovery of one’s own body and genitals”.

A 2018 research paper, carried out as part of the NCAA’s review, does reference a 2010 report by the WHO. However, the WHO report does not specify what children should be taught.

The report, titled ‘Developing sexual health programmes’, is more a general framework on how countries can improve their overall sexual health through laws and policies, society and culture, economics and health systems.

Its only reference to masturbation is in a discussion about the activities of an AIDS support organisation working in Uganda – nothing to do with providing education.

There is, however, a second report about sexual health from 2010 that is affiliated with the WHO.

This publication was created by the Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) in Germany, and is titled ‘Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe’.

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It provides an overview of topics which European countries could provide as part of sexual education, ordered according to age groups.

These topics form the basis of the second image from Facebook above, in which it is claimed that children between 0 and 4 years old will be taught how to masturbate.

However, the publication is merely a framework for a different approach, known as “holistic sexuality education” – described as teaching children about the cognitive, emotional, social, interactive and physical aspects of sexuality.

Confusingly, the paper contains the WHO’s logo and is published in conjunction with the WHO’s regional office in Europe.

However, unlike the other report – ‘Developing sexual health programmes’ – it is not referenced anywhere in the NCAA’s review.

There is no indication that this approach will form any part of the new RSE curriculum.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education told TheJournal.ie that it was important that RSE was delivered in schools “in a manner which is appropriate to a child’s age and their stage of development”.

The spokeswoman further stressed that it was important that children were “not exposed to information that is inappropriate”.

Asked specifically about the claim, the spokeswoman added:

It cannot be correct for anyone to state that any particular element will be included in the new curriculum, as the development process and consultation have not yet occurred.  

Verdict

Two posts on Facebook claimed that Irish children will be taught how to masturbate in school as part of a new sexual education curriculum.

One of the posts claimed that children would start being taught how to masturbate from September, while the other suggested that children from the ages of 0 to 4 would receive this information following recommendations by the WHO.

However, although the Department of Education is in the process of creating a new sexual education curriculum, it will not be implemented until next year at the earliest.

There are no specific recommendations that masturbation will be taught as part of this new curriculum. Likewise, the WHO study cited by the NCAA in its final report did not recommend teaching children how to masturbate.  

As a result, we rate the claim that children will be taught to masturbate as part of a new sexual education curriculum: FALSE

As per our verdict guide, this means: the claim is inaccurate.

 TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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