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Catholic group that taped students together in sex ed talks develops presentation for primary schools

Teenagers have previously spoken to TheJournal.ie about the presentations in secondary schools – in one case a group was told condoms fail one in six times.

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A CATHOLIC YOUTH charity that has told teens in sex education talks that condoms fail one in six times and taped them together by the wrist to demonstrate the consequences of having multiple sexual partners is now planning to target primary schools. 

In 2014, TheJournal.ie revealed the group, Pure in Heart, was taping teenagers together by the wrist during its talks on chastity. One teen would be taped to another, and then taped several other students in turn afterwards with the same piece of tape which eventually was no longer useful. 

A student at one school said a speaker in the group “casually equated serial killers with the watching of” pornography during a sex education presentation. And teenagers were also told by speakers that condoms fail one in six times (if used correctly, condoms are 98% effective).

Pure in Heart is a Catholic charity run by young people, which offers presentations to adolescents on love and relationships. 

In an email sent to supporters this week, seen by TheJournal.ie, the charity appealed for financial help, stating it needs to raise €25,000 to cover day-to-day costs for the coming year.

Pure in Heart said one of its new projects this year was developing a presentation suitable for primary school pupils, aimed at 5th and 6th class with the launch in September this year.

Dr Caroline West, lecturer in sexuality studies at DCU has questioned the qualifications this group has to teach children about sex and relationships.

“Up to 50% of sex education is outsourced to external groups. Sex education should be taught by suitably qualified personnel that deliver inclusive, objective information that is free of shame, stigma and moralising. This does not appear to be the case with some of these groups,” she said.

“What qualifications does this group have to teach sex education?”

Students in Irish schools have already reported that the sex education is inadequate, with LGBT+ students stating they felt excluded and marginalised as the material focused on heterosexual relationships. Will this group be inclusive of all genders and sexualities in a non-stigmatising way? Our young people deserve to be included and accepted.

One teenager who attended a Pure in Heart talk said speakers only represented and spoke about relationships between a man and a woman. 

“LGBT+ students are at higher risk of lower self-esteem, suicide and self-harm if they are not accepted and experience stigma,” West explained.

“They may also feel unable to be themselves and not fulfil their full sexual potential when it is the right time for them to do so. Consent is also a topic that needs to be taught to students of all genders and sexuality in order to work towards the prevention of harmful sexual encounters.”

Pure in Heart did not respond to a query from TheJournal.ie about its plans for a primary school presentation. Its website does not give details of the qualifications of speakers, but a spokesperson has previously said its members “educated themselves about sexuality and relationships”. 

The charity offers a two-hour presentation for schools covering: 

  • What is love?
  • Value of the human person
  • Building self-esteem and confidence
  • Dating and managing relationship
  • What is chastity?
  • Exploring the nature of friendships, marriage and family life
  • The role of intimacy and relationships
  • Challenges to live; Pornography, lust and using people
  • Deciding for love

The website states that the feedback from students is “overwhelmingly positive”. 

“The students often comment that our speakers are always respectful, fun and extremely genuine and deliver an important message in a light-hearted fashion,” it says. 

“Students benefit from hearing out mission team members, who are carefully chosen with varying and contrasting life experience and backgrounds.”

Higher rates of teen pregnancy

When it comes to appropriate education on relationships and sex for children at the 5th and 6th class stage, West said they should be taught about healthy relationships and how to treat each other with kindness and respect.

“No one is encouraging 10-12-year-olds to engage in sexual activity, and some studies have found that the more comprehensive the sex education, the later young people have sex for the first time, and the more empowered they feel in communication and consent,” she said.  

In places where abstinence only education is taught, there are reports of higher rates of teenage pregnancy and higher rates of STI transmission.
Children should also be provided with a space to ask questions, as at this age they may also be discovering pornography and experience a range of emotions that may be upsetting or confusing.
At this age children don’t need to be taught every aspect of sex, but should be taught how to relate kindly to each other as a basic way of interacting with other humans.

Last year the Oireachtas Education Committee reviewed Ireland’s current sex education system. 

The committee took the view that relationship and sexuality education (RSE) in Ireland needs updating in many areas and “is no longer reflective of society today”. 

Its report on the matter stated that it wants improvements made to the curriculum to give young people the skills they need, particularly in areas of consent and contraception and that it should be “inclusive of all students”, giving a voice to LGBT+ students and those with special intellectual needs. 

The report said

To achieve this, the curriculum must be reviewed, to reflect today’s society and must be delivered in a consistent manner to all students and from an earlier age so that it becomes embedded in our children’s social development. 

Committee members also recommended that all outside providers be regulated to ensure consistency and accuracy of information provided to students. 

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who was a member of the Oireachtas committee that conducted the review, told TheJournal.ie that the previous reports on Pure in Heart’s presentations “do not reflect the kind of sexual education I believe is effective”.

“Groups are entitled to promote abstinence by their own ethos, however it isn’t effective and schools should be delivering effective sexual education.

Overall we need revised guidelines on RSE and I believe the guidance to school is outdated

There is a need for a new government to deliver reform in this area, and that includes that a school ethos shouldn’t be a barrier to delivering inclusive relationship and sexual education.

Caroline West said due to the election and change of government, “we may be waiting longer for this to come back to public and political discussion”.

“In the meantime, our young people are missing out on quality education.”

In its email to supporter this week, Pure in Heart said it is currently running at a deficit of €2,100 per month. 

It has set up a GoFundMe donation page, which has so far raised €620.

The charity said as well as its presentations over the year, it is creating blogs, podcasts and social media content as well as offering social events for young people between 18 and 35 years, including weekly prayer meetings, bowling and hiking.

It also organises an annual retreat and a pilgrimage to Youth Week in Medjugorje.

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