“But do you not have to have sexual abuse to get pregnant?”
Belle, from Dublin was shocked by the question her friend’s ten-year-old daughter asked her.
“I said ‘no, abuse is when you don’t want to have sex, (giving) consent is when you do’.” “Oh, I’ve only heard of abuse.” the girl responded.
The patchy and inconsistent messages children in Ireland are being taught about sex were recently highlighted when employees of the Departments Of Health and of Education addressed the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the 8th amendment.
The Department representatives told the committee that outside agencies are often brought in by schools to deliver Relationships and Sexuality Education to students. These agencies include Catholic marriage agency, Accord.
Mother-of-two is from Alison from Wicklow. She is angry at the lack of information on same sex couples and LGBT information her children are being taught.
“Our (Educate Together) school are following the DES policy on Sex Ed for primary schools which refuses to teach about homosexuality and parenting as a same sex couple. Considering that there are same sex couples sending their kids to the school this seems at best disingenuous and at worst bigoted.
“It seems like a perfect way to to ‘other’ those children and make them feel different. Also as the children are 12 and 13 by sixth class, at least some of them are going to be realising that they could be gay and have nothing in the school to normalise that for them.”
In Europe, 6 percent of people define as LGBT – so roughly 6 percent of pupils in a school will be missing out of information relevant to them.
Olivia, from Co Meath, has been researching school policies in search of a sex-positive school for her child.
“I read through the policies of all the local schools and found this very concerning. They basically have it in their policy in bold in this particular school that the ‘explicit naming of private parts will not be discussed during the school day’.
“My daughter is three and knows all the proper names for ‘private parts…’ as they put it.
“I find it extremely frustrating that the Department of Education can sit at the committee and say they are happy with how the sex Ed programme is rolled out when the schools won’t even use correct wording when naming body parts. (It’s) so backwards!”
Best practice in this area is to teach children the correct words for their anatomy including genitals. Organisations working in the field of preventing child sexual abuse say it keeps children safer if they know the words and understand their bodies.
“Kids who are comfortable talking about their bodies are more likely to be able to disclose when something worrisome or uncomfortable is happening to them.” says Audrey Rastin, a manager at Boost Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention in Toronto, Canada.
“Parents who can openly discuss and name body parts, what they do and what is appropriate can help children understand when touch or actions fall outside the range of healthy relationships, and are worrisome or abusive.”
American and Australian campaigns also focus on the importance of teaching children correct terminology. A 1995 study found that some sexual offenders are more likely to avoid children who know the correct names for their genitals.
“No part of our body should be secret, shameful or embarrassing.” says Rastin.
The booklet that the Department Of Education uses in Primary School, Busy Bodies, does not even have the word ‘vulva’ in it. As the vulva is the externally presenting part of a girl’s anatomy (the vagina is the inside passage), it seems astounding that it is missing from the official sex education booklet.
Busy Bodies also contains some alarming gender stereotyping with boys being told:
“You may find that you lose your temper more easily and you can sometimes have rows with your family or friends for no real reason.”
Whereas girls are told they may feel “a bit grumpy,” “out of sorts,” or they may have a “feeling of being in a bad mood…”
Boys are being told losing their temper and fighting is normal while girl’s hormonal responses are made light of.
Girls are also told that they might worry about their breast size and may “like to get rid of underarm or leg hair by shaving it off (there are special razors for women) or by using creams or waxes.”
There is a focus on girl’s physical appearance as something they need to feel worried about and alter. This is dangerous gender stereotyping (the people who wrote Busy Bodies also seem to be unaware that the only difference between razors for women and razors for men is the price.
‘Busy Bodies’ presents all the changes that happen to a girl during puberty as being a lead up to becoming a mother.
“All this growing up you are doing at puberty is really about your body getting ready for making babies when you are older.”
No mention is made of contraception options or the fact that some women choose not to be mothers. Nor is any mention made of the fact that the majority of sex happens for reasons other than procreation.
Niamh* is 15 and in third year of secondary school. Aside from Busy Bodies when she was younger, Niamh says she has had no sexual education at all.
“I’m in third year and the school hasn’t even taught us sex education or contraception. Three people I know in school are pregnant!
“They have only taught us the science of the reproductive system. I’m lucky that my mum has taught me about it all but a lot of my year know nothing about any of it. How are they supposed to know any better? No wonder girls are getting pregnant.”
The Joint Oireachtas Committee heard repeatedly from experts that countries with excellent sexual education had fewer crisis pregnancies and fewer women needing abortions.
Evidence shows that comprehensive, shame-free sexual education keeps children safe – yet the Department of Education is failing our children in this regard.
*Name changed to protect Niamh’s identity