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December 3, 2014

Sex Education: a Vexed Question

The whole question of school “sex education” requires careful handling. If you’re agin it, you will probably be jeered at as a prudish Victorian relic, who covers up table legs and would like children to be told that babies are brought by  storks or are found under gooseberry bushes.

The late Doris Manly wisely pointed out that the problem is not that sex education is about sex.  When she was approached by a researcher for one of John Bowman’s RTE radio programmes, she was  careful to state that the real problem is that sex education comes as part of a package of total attitude-formation programmes taking in many areas of life, of which sex is only one.  But when it came to the actual interview, John Bowman tried to insist on confining the discussion to sex education, and was somewhat irritated when Doris refused to play along with this.

In one of her chapters in The Facilitators (Brandsma Books) Doris pointed out that such attitude formation programmes deal with several of the teenager’s important relationships: those with his parents; with his peer-group; with the clergy, and with himself.  It is significant, she believed, that some of his other relationships—such as those with God, with the saints, and with the devil—are not included, and  these omissions could be a productive subject for speculation.

In my view, the approach these programmes take to all these relationships is harmful to adolescents. Harmful to them as rational and responsible beings, and not merely as sexual beings.  These programmes would, I think, have a pernicious effect upon the teenager’s total self.

However, there is a particular problem with sex education, especially in  a mixed class. It’s that  teenagers, being combustible creatures, will want to do their practical homework–particularly if the subject is taught outside any moral framework.

Hence a shocking and distressing item carried recently by the British media. It concerned  a 13-year-old boy in North Wales who raped a female classmate after they had both attended a compulsory sex education lesson. He lured her to a secluded part of the school and asked her if she wanted to “try sex”. When she refused and resisted, he overpowered her and carried out the attack.

A spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales, the equivalent of our own much-loved Rape Crisis Centre,  admitted rather grudgingly that teenage rape by friends was  “not uncommon”. You will probably not be surprised to learn that her proposed  solution to the problem was “more and better” sex education, and at a younger age. To be fair she did also suggest that it should include “relationship advice and information about consent, respect and emotions”.  I’m inclined to agree with British Tory MP Philip Davies, who thinks  it would be better to have less sex education, or preferably none at all.

If  sex education is devoid of any strong moral component,  as it usually is, it’s  an  open invitation to fornicate. Our spiritual leaders know this perfectly well, but they are usually too full of human respect to  protest about it, for the reason mentioned in my first paragraph. It’s so much more popular to talk about homelessness.



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