This New Bill Passed In The Dáil Could Put An End To Religion-Lead Sex Ed, And It’s About Time

"We were told that condoms have holes in them, so even if you use them, you'll get pregnant."

A new bill that would require schools to give factual sex education regardless of religious ethos was passed in the Dáil today, meaning it will soon be debated by a committee.

The sex ed bill guarantees that students will receive factual and objective information on sex and relationships – there are also provisions for education on consent, sexuality, gender, abortion and contraception.

It has been welcomed by LGBT and students’ groups, and for good reason: It’s about time. Religious groups have been let run riot with Irish sex education for far too long.

In 2014 there was controversy when students at a Dublin school claimed that, during a talk on chastity, Catholic group Pure In Heart had bound them together by their wrists with sellotape to demonstrate what happened when a person had more than one sexual partner.

This struck a chord with me at the time, as a former convent school student who went to more than a few of these talks and ‘retreats’. Some were more focused on meditation and wellness, but others were devoted to an almost creepy degree to scaremongering about sex.

We had received some very basic sex education in our first year of secondary school, which was mostly concerned with biological goings-on (even that 80s Catholic sex ed video we all laughed at did a better job at explaining things). Retreats were the only occasions I ever recall contraception, abortion, and relationships being discussed.

Here’s a short list of things that occurred at one particular retreat, which took place when I and my classmates were around 14 years of age:

  • We were told that condoms have holes in them that are big enough for sperm to swim through (this was illustrated by a big ‘diagram’ of sperm swimming through said holes) so even if you use them, you’ll get pregnant.
  • We were also informed that every time you have sex before marriage, you give a piece of your heart away. So by the time you find your ‘true love’, you have only a tiny scrap of your heart to give them. (A paper heart was torn up to demonstrate this.)
  • We were given little cards to sign and carry around, pledging ourselves to abstinence.

No doubt many Irish people have similar stories to mine – and no doubt these retreats did nothing but scare and anger them too. I don’t really blame the school or the teachers, who probably (hopefully) didn’t know what was going on, but… it’s time for them to stop passing the sex ed buck on to these groups.

We have to do better for teenagers and establish a more healthy, normalised attitude to sex. This bill, if it indeed comes to pass, will go some way towards achieving that goal, and allow students to learn about sex minus the shame.

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