School sex ed ‘outsourced’ to Catholic agencies

Removal of religious ethos from delivery of education on sex proposed in Solidarity Bill

Education on sex and sexuality as well as issues such as consent are routinely “outsourced” to Catholic counselling agencies, according to the backers of a new sex education Bill.

The Objective Sexual Education Bill proposed by Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger TD aims to introduce “objective” sex education independent of schools’ religious ethos.

Ms Coppinger said the Bill seeks to remove religious ethos from the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum and require the curriculum to be delivered “factually and objectively”.

At the launch of the Bill in Dublin on Wednesday representatives of the Rape Crisis Network, the National Women’s Council, the Irish Family Planning Association and LGBTQI+ advocacy group ShoutOut called for the removal of “religious ethos” from the teaching of relationships and sexuality education in schools. The launch was also attended by representatives of of Atheist Ireland and UCD Students Union.

Ms Coppinger said her Bill would require the religious and sexuality education curriculum to be separated and sex education delivered factually to cover contraception, sexuality, gender, LGBTQI+ issues and consent.

Bella Fitzpatrick of ShoutOut said a young LGBTQI+ person hearing “what passes for education” on sex and sexuality in many schools would be learning “that they do not belong”. She said their issues would not be addressed and “when things are left unsaid, much can be learned in the silence”. The impact for such people is that they feel inherently “wrong,” she added.

Dr Clíona Saidléar of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland welcomed the Bill as it would “make consent education core to our school curriculum”.

“Consent and mutual respect are the fundamental building blocks for not only health sexual relationships but a good society. We believe these values and tools should be universally taught to children regardless of religious or school ethos,” Dr Saidléar said.

Dr Clíona Loughnane of the National Women’s Council of Ireland said good reproductive and sexual health is fundamental to women’s family and life decisions and essential for women’s equality.” she said “sex education can provide the space for young people to discuss and understand consent”.

A range of speakers recounted their experience of sex education which they said had utilised references to God, families and babies, “the c-word” for contraception, “natural family planning” and the importance of not using tampons. Ms Coppinger said the Bill proposes that the curriculum cover issues such as contraception, sexuality, gender, LGBTQI+ issues, and consent.

“The way sex education is taught to young people in schools is not fit for purpose. It is hampered by the religious ethos of the schools and is not factual and objective,” she said.

She said many religious schools shied away from covering these issues and Catholic schools in particular “routinely outsource this to the Catholic counselling agency Accord”.

“They don’t provide counselling services to same sex couples” she said.

The Objective Sex Education Bill was introduced in the Dáil last week and will be debated in the Dáil on April 18th.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist