Opinion 'There is a massive avoidance of LGBT+ sex on the curriculum for sex ed'

Ireland needs to be more proactive around the area of sex education for LGBT+ teens, writes Cionnaith Ó Duibhir.

THE ABILITY TO talk openly about sex has admittedly never come easy to the Irish, highlighting the ever pressing need for effective sex education in our schools.

I am a Relationship and Sexuality Education teacher in a mixed secondary school, and I have attended three RSE courses run by the Professional Development Service for Teachers: Junior Cycle RSE, Senior Cycle RSE and LBGT+ training.

While the content of these courses has been generally informative, there are two elephants in the room: LGBT+ sex education and class contact hours for RSE.

Avoidance of tackling LGBT+ sex

There is a massive avoidance of LGBT+ sex on the prescribed curriculum for sex education. Sex is taught from a reproductive perspective. This terminology is then transferred clinically to LGBT+ issues if the need arises.

Yes, this is relevant, but does nothing to inform, for example, a gay teenager that anal sex requires a lubricant, patience, hygiene practices and the need for condom use due to the high rate of STI transference involved in engaging in that kind of sex.

Attending the LGBT+ course I assumed some of these issues would be covered in detail as questions around the area must arise for LGBT+ students and the teacher should be as informed as possible.

Instead there was a heavy focus on using the correct words for LGBT+ groups and inclusion in school. Once again important material, but still dancing nimbly around the real issue at hand.

Tolerance once sex isn’t happening

shutterstock_374495917 The current approach is desperately similar to the Catholic Church’s. LGBT+ is acknowledged and tolerated as long as sex doesn’t occur. Shutterstock / Olesia Bilkei Shutterstock / Olesia Bilkei / Olesia Bilkei

The current approach is desperately similar to the Catholic Church’s. LGBT+ is acknowledged and tolerated as long as sex doesn’t occur (it being innately sinful and all that).

This is not surprising when the religious ethos of most schools is taken into account.

The syllabus acknowledges (very well, in fairness) strategies with which inclusion can be promoted in the school, but the extreme limits to this are apparent.

While LGBT+ sex is seen as something different, something to be learned about when you are older, or something not relevant to classroom discussion compared to its heterosexual counterpart, then prejudice is occurring.

There is a distinct “Other” created and the feelings of being different from one’s peers must be very taxing on mental health and overall happiness.

Too little time allocated

Another important issue is that schools are only obliged to provide six periods of RSE to students a year. This was an agreement born of a time when schools hotly resisted teaching RSE at all.

That is six periods to provide education around the areas of relationship and self-esteem building, sexuality, sexual health, fertility and STI information.

To attempt to cover these important topics along with their inevitable offshoots in what amounts to a week’s worth of English or Maths is mind boggling. I must stress that this is the minimum, and many schools funnel great resources to this cause.

This is not a subject however that should be left to mere timetable gymnastics. A weekly period of RSE should be the bare minimum required to help equip our young people with the necessary tools to deal with relationships in an ever changing world. It is important to remember that there many things we learn in school that may be of use. What is taught in RSE will be of use.

We are making the right steps

All three courses were rich in content and populated by those with an innate desire to create a safe and informative learning environment for our students.

However, Ireland needs to be more proactive around the area of sex education if we are to truly promote equality and inclusion for all our students.

Cionnaith Ó Duibhir is an Irish, Religion and RSE secondary school teacher.

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