Beyond ‘The Birds and the Bees’: Why Are We Afraid of Sex Education?

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Image: Intrigue.ie

By Padraigin Mervyn, Features Editor

The topic of sex education is one that provokes many  blushed whispers in a room, murmurs of disgust and awkwardness. Why is this so? Students at primary and secondary level are not being provided with a substantial sex education – in fact, the lack of understanding goes beyond the school environment and into the real world. A taboo question lingers over open discussion about sex and an understanding of it, from the awkward parent telling their pre-adolescent child about the ‘bird and the bees,’ to the likewise awkward teacher discussing a diagram on genitals. Ultimately, this has led to children and teenagers of lacking knowledge of sex education, and resorting to means such as looking curiously online or discussing with friends. However, this has not led to children becoming fully informed adults on this topic, in fact their opinions can often turn into shaming and selfishness.

When discussing who is to blame for a lack of sex education that children learn, it is important to remember that this general uneasiness has been passed through generations and prevent an honest open discussion on the matter. In the North, the influence of the Catholic Church has often stigmatised the topic of sex education in schools, and in recent decades the subject has been moved into biological studies. However, the focus isn’t on obtaining a more general knowledge it is centred on a scientific understanding of how the body works, and looking at print off diagrams of genitals. There is no actual discussion on sex and sexuality, the teacher giving the class is most likely sympathised by other colleagues and laughed at by the children. Students laugh due the alarming taboo demands around the topic, and therefore it is a little embarrassing for both parties in the classroom. In religious studies, there is an even more daunting atmosphere in the classroom, as classes are taught the catholic teachings of issues such as abortion, IVF, and sex before a marriage. The teachings are often deemed as biased, and any opportunity a student displayed of disagreement they were made to feel somewhat embarrassed. Moreover, it is no surprise that children and adults feel uncomfortable talking about the subject – in their educational pursuits the topic has not been discussed openly and freely, there is minimal discussion on sex apart from being scolded on partaking in it. Thus, the deficiency of sex education being properly discussed in education has led to a lot of misunderstandings on the topic.

Some ways that an absence of sex education has led to misunderstanding is the mistreatment of women in society in relation to sexuality – it is more common for a woman to become demonised for partaking in sexual activity than a man. This is because women have always been unable to express their sexuality more freely due to patriarchy, although recently more women have reclaimed their sexuality by partaking in campaigns such as ‘free the nipple,’ and abortion rights as they want full autonomy over their own bodies without societal restriction. However, these things aren’t taught in school or at home, women have had to gain their own knowledge, whether it’s been through social media or grassroots campaigns.

Another effect of the absence of sex education has led to people being unaware of possible sexual diseases they could or may have obtained through unprotected sex, although this issue is more highlighted than the former, yet in the North the numbers of those with HIV has increased. NI Direct, on their website claim that, ‘over the past ten years the percentage increase in new HIV diagnoses in Northern Ireland is the highest of the UK countries,’ this is an alarming fact, and the reason more people are being diagnosed is because they aren’t fully aware or educated on how to stop or detect a sexual disease, such as HIV.

To sum up, it cannot be doubted that there is a lack of sex education being taught suitably at all levels, whether it is at school, home or even online, and this has led to a number of consequences – whether it is the demonisation of women or people retracting sexual diseases. Most commonly people fail to openly discuss sex openly as they were not able to growing up, in order to improve people’s lack of understanding it is essential that the taboo alerts must be removed and genuine discussions must take place.

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