Thursday 26 April 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: Reforms for sex education? Our boys tend to have watched porn from the age of 11

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Ciara Kelly

There's been much talk recently about sex education in our schools and the issue of sexual consent. Hardly surprising really, the recent high-profile rape trial in Belfast highlighted a way of men talking about women that made many people question how our young men actually view girls. Minister Richard Bruton has said that consent, in terms of sex, will be taught now in secondary schools. Our current sex education curriculum is 20 years old and needs a revamp - things have moved on greatly in Irish society from a sexual point of view since the 1990s.

And, while I welcome the notion that the sex education that's taught in our schools is going to be overhauled - in addition to consent, they are going to teach an LBGTQ module and also update contraception - I think now is the time to do more than just pay lip service to sex education. Now is the time to be brave in what we say to our children and adolescents about sex.

The truth is our sex education has, and is, being taught through the prism of Catholic morality - not unexpected considering the Catholic ethos of the majority of our schools where said education is delivered. And, because we were taught something quite similar ourselves, we all go along with it. So sex is viewed as something best to be avoided, where possible, due to the terrible negative side effects of unplanned pregnancy and STIs.

And, of course, all of that is true. You can get pregnant. You can get an infection. And there are some boys who don't respect girls - whether they have sex or not. But none of that addresses why people have sex in the first place. None of that explains that people have sex because they enjoy it and it can be an amazing experience.

Or that it can be the most powerful expression of intimacy. Or that it's a natural physical need like hunger. So, first up, an explainer of why we actually have it is missing or largely sidelined - and because kids already know it anyway - the teaching can lack credibility. So a positive approach to sex education would be more honest and open and might remove some of the residue of shame that appears to continue to hang over our relationship with sex to this day. But, the other real problem in how we teach sex, is we are playing catch up to what our kids already know. The truth is the average age at which children start watching porn is far younger than any of us would like. Boys, in particular, tend to have watched it from around the age of 11. Unless we do something to actually change that - like a blanket enforced ban on smartphones - they are getting a hard-core sex education at a pre-teen age from the adult entertainment industry.

So, the fact is, while we are agonising over the child appropriate language we'd like our kids to hear used about sex; they are watching naked adults f***ing with no preamble, sometimes aggressively, sometimes as rape fantasies, sometimes with added fetishes, on their phones and tablets often quite regularly. That is the truth. And we are not equipping them, or ourselves, to deal with it.

Sex is a natural biological function that we engage in for pleasure. If it is part of a committed relationship, it can be an incredible thing. But if it's not part of one it can be, too. We still teach kids about sex through the veil of morality and it's hard to know why exactly when that's not how we all view it as adults.

Most schools in Ireland, where sex education is taught, have an ethos that is fundamentally opposed to contraception, sex outside marriage and LBGTQ relationships. So how can the sex education they deliver talk about those aspects of sexuality in a positive way. The Catholic view on sex has always been rooted in abstinence - something we know doesn't work as a means of preventing things like teen pregnancy. We need to take our heads out of the sand about our kids' understanding of sex, discuss it in a more positive light, remove any aspect of shame and not let the porn industry get the jump on us in explaining why sex isn't a soulless unconnected perfunctory act.

#sexpositive@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk weekdays from 12-2.

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