Relationships and sexuality education review


Sir, – I very much welcome the recent decision of the Minister for Education and Skills to organise a full review of the school-based Relationships and Sexuality Education Programme.

I think this provides a vital opportunity to consider how a gender-informed relational sexual ethics could be embedded in this programme.

There is a risk with any relationships and sexuality education that the focus comes to be put overwhelmingly on dispensing information, predominantly health information for the effective management and care of the self.

A more positive approach may be to engage students in the kind of ethical exploration, which would require them to think about what is required to view and treat themselves and others as persons entitled to sexual and other relations that are non-violent and respectful at all times and in all contexts.

I think it would be a very valuable outcome if young people had opportunity provided by the programme to appreciate and to work on enhancing their capacities to pursue ethically sexual personal lives and at the same time to feel comfortable challenging oppressive social and cultural norms, which serve to undermine their pursuit.

Such an approach could enable young people to develop their skills as ethical bystanders by, for example, challenging violence-supportive “banter” or dehumanising conduct among their peers or by ensuring that they recognise and support persons who are, or may become, vulnerable, in sexually oppressive relational contexts.

It could build on many of the positive initiatives school communities have (such as buddy systems) which enable young people to develop their relational ethics and an overall ethic of care.

By endorsing such an approach, it is not my intention to particularly problematise young people’s sexual cultures; rather I would suggest that a focus on relational sexual ethics is of value in family settings and in other contexts such as universities, sporting and recreational environments and workplaces.

I also think that doing what we can to challenge the gendered and other oppressive features of our wider societal sexual culture has to be all our responsibility. – Yours, etc,


Senior Lecturer

in Social Policy,