Teenagers should be given the facts on safe sex when they're in school
Educating teenagers on the subject of sex, sexuality and relationships can be an awkward task but it is undoubtedly one of life's most important lessons. Its implications are far reaching in terms of the emotional, physical, psychological and mental development of a young person.
Whilst some may argue that the subject should be taught exclusively by parents, the reality is that despite some parents having no difficulty in explaining 'the facts of life' to their children, many feel uncomfortable in discussing the subject.
Many schools feel obliged to provide students with relevant information on sex and relationships, although precise motivations differ, whether it is due to the school's ethos or pressure from parents, or both.
The inclusion of a new short course on sex education as part Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme is welcome. This initiative will be delivered as part of Junior Cycle reforms, which will also see an increase in the time allocation for SPHE at Junior Cycle from 60 to 100 hours.
The recently published Department of Education 'Life Skills' survey included data on the teaching of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in post-primary schools, and stated that some 98pc had a documented policy in place on RSE or were in the process of developing one.
However, this figure conflicts with data from the department's inspectorate report on RSE, which indicated that only 56pc of post-primary schools evaluated had an RSE policy in place.
Whether we like it or not, many teenagers will engage in sexual activity. One-in-four teenagers aged 15 to 17 has done so, according to the most recent report by the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC).
The reasons why vary – whether it be motivated by peer pressure, a more sexually liberal society or the disturbing trend of over sexualisation of teenagers in the media.
The responsible thing for post-primary schools to do is to ensure that students are provided with adequate information.
Ignorance around the facts of life is never acceptable. Teenagers need to be armed with the facts on practicing safe sex, contraception and its consequences. However, each school is entitled to teach course content in line with the ethos of the school.
The more comfortable young adults are in talking about sex, the better it is for society. A 2012 HSE report found that there were 13,259 notifications of sexually transmitted infections (STI) in 2011, an increase of over 12pc on the previous year.
On the other hand, and more positively, CSO figures indicate that teen pregnancies are now at their lowest level for 50 years.
Our education system is, quite rightly, designed to provide its students with as much quality information as possible in order to equip them better to become functioning members of society.
One should never be afraid of information. Thus dedicating time to informing our students about life skills and true life situations as part of a vibrant SPHE programme is time well spent.
CLIVE BYRNE IS DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF PRINCIPALS AND DEPUTY PRINCIPALS