Does Ireland Provide LGBT+ Inclusive Sex Education?

The Joint Committee on Education and Skills is recommending modernisation of the way relationship and sex education (RSE) is taught in Irish schools following a review of the curriculum released by the government in January 2019.

Sex education in most Irish schools is out-of-date and still heavily focuses on heterosexual relationships and abstinence, according to the review.

The report by Ireland’s National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) comprised of the questioning of more than 5000 students, teachers, parents, and consultations with almost 25 schools about their RSE programmes.

“The Committee hopes that the findings in this report will be taken on board by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment as part of the review it is currently undertaking and can advance the goal of delivering a revised national curriculum that is fully inclusive of the needs of LGBTQ+ students as well as those with special intellectual needs,” said Committee Chair Fiona O’Loughlin TD.

Irish students in most cases felt that their education had been limited to the bare minimum, with schools focusing on “abstinence” and “risks and dangers”, with little to no information provided about LGBTQ+ relationships according to the report.

Sex education in Ireland only began in the mid-1990s and the documentation that was released in 1998 that advises teachers on how to teach the subject at Junior Cert level in secondary school “seems from another era” according to The Irish Times.

HerCampus DCU Campus Correspondent, Courtney Fitzmaurice’s experiences with sex education in her primary and secondary schools were very similar to the students questioned for the NCCA report.

“Mine didn’t include LGBT+ people at all in primary or secondary school,” she said. “It mostly just focused on periods and was not very informative.”

Students in the NCCA review agreed that their sex education wasn’t educational and instead focused on the risks of sexual activity and created more stigma and fear around the topic of sex.

This type of sex education seems to be most prominent in Catholic schools with many of them avoiding the subject of sex education altogether or changing the curriculum to fit the school’s ethos; which they are entitled to do under current legislation.

“I went to an all-girls presentation in secondary school and I remember in 5th year they brought in an outside company to give us a day of sex-ed and they weren’t allowed to show us a condom because the school was Catholic,” Fitzmaurice said.

One country that has taken a more inclusive approach to its sex education programme is Wales.

On the 22nd of May 2018, Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams introduced legislation, which will make an LGBT+ relationship and sex education compulsory in Welsh schools. This change is set to be fully introduced in 2022 and will require all schools, including religious ones to include LGBTQ+ issues.

In the United States, 12 states currently require discussion of sexual orientation in sex education as told by a Guttmacher institute review of sex education in America. Of these 12, three require that only negative information be distributed to students about sexual orientation. The other nine require that information spread in schools about sexual orientation be science-based and inclusive.

Putting Ireland beside a country like Wales or by comparing it to a number of states in the USA, it could be said that our sex education programme is dated, still overtly affected by religion, and in need of improvement. 

However, according to the Global Alliance for LGBT Education (GALE) many countries are still classed as ‘Denying States’ meaning according to GALE in those countries sex education programmes “attention for sexual diversity is still forbidden and/or taboo.” 

Denying states recorded on the GALE website include Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Greece, India, Pakistan and Japan to name a few. 

But Ireland is recorded on the Gale website as a ‘Supportive’ country in which “attention for sexual diversity is an explicit priority.” Although the sex education programme in Ireland is still considerably lacking in inclusiveness the Joint Committee on Education and Skills is determined to make changes in this regard.

As said by Committee Chair O’Loughlin TD in a Dáil Eireann debate in September 2019, “The curriculum must also deal with LGBT+ matters and equip students and young people with the ability to interact with one another in a way which promotes well-being, respects the uniqueness of everyone's identity and helps to reinforce positive sexual behaviours.”