I was interviewed by the Irish Times for an article on The Silver Ring. I spoke here about my experience with, and my hope for the future of sex education for adolescents in Ireland. Alarmingly, this was over 20 years ago – have we copped on??
THE IRISH TIMES Tuesday, July 6, 2004
Psychotherapist Sally O’Reilly, who specialises in adolescent counselling, says one of her biggest concerns is in relation to the “relentless and sexually explicit” nature of advertising and other media, which is aimed at young people. “Teenagers are constantly being bombarded with sexual imagery through television, advertising, magazines and music videos,” she says. “These images are giving young people the message that in order to be a valuable person, you have to be sexually provocative and attractive. This in turn is putting huge pressure on teenagers to conform to this image and to become sexually active at an earlier age.”
O’Reilly, who also co-runs a drugs prevention and personal development programme in schools in Cork, says one of the common complaints she hears from young people is that sex education in schools is not relevant enough to what’s going on in their own lives. She is in favour of a more liberal sex education programme, delivered by professionals who are specially trained in the area, rather than by teachers within the school. Young people should get information on STIs and on contraception, O’Reilly says, but, more importantly, they need to be empowered to make choices that are right for them and which do not necessarily adhere to the “MTV culture of today”. Spokeswoman for the National Parents Council Post-Primary, Marion Lyon, believes the current Social and Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme, which incorporates relationships and sexuality education and which is now compulsory in all schools up to and including the Junior Cert cycle, does address the main issues relevant to young people today. However, she is concerned about the level of in-service and pre-service training teachers who deliver these programmes are getting. Teachers need to receive adequate training and support and must feel comfort-able in the role if they are going to deliver these programmes successfully, she says. Equally important, Lyon insists, is the need for greater participation by students and parents in the planning and evaluation of sex education programmes in schools.