Department warns schools over sex talks

The Department of Education has warned principals about inviting speakers into classrooms who use scare tactics, sensationalism or who lecture children morally.

As a controversial organisation defends its preaching of sexual abstinence in schools, the department also underlined how “talks or programmes delivered by outside agencies or speakers must be consistent with and complementary to the school’s ethos and RSE (religion) programme and policies”.

There has been sharp criticism recently of Pure in Heart, a Catholic organisation which goes into schools to promote sexual abstinence. Yesterday it defended the content of its talks to pupils and its habit of illustrating the dangers of premarital sex by sellotaping teens’ wrists together before ripping it off.

Pure in Heart, which visits about 100 secondary schools a year, has also been criticised for its failure in its talks to address practicalities such as using contraception if you have sex.

Citing circular 23/2010, which set out the criteria for inviting visitors into the classroom, the department said yesterday that “all programmes, talks, interventions and events should be evaluated by students and teachers in terms of the subject matter, messages, structure, methodology and proposed learning outcomes.

It also said schools should avoid: “scare tactics; sensationalist interventions, testimonials; information-only interventions; information that is not age-appropriate; once-off/short-term interventions; normalising young people’s risky behaviour; and a didactic approach”.

Pure in Heart Founder member Anne O’Reilly said her group, which was set up in 2000 and is self-funded and standalone, is all about enabling young people to make “informed decisions about lifestyle choices” such as choosing to not have sex before marriage.

Young people “should be able to make a fully informed decision about their sexuality,” she said. “We are not forcing this option, it’s a proposal.”

“Early sexualisation is taking hold and casual sex is so prevalent that we think it’s important that young people hear this alternative message,” she said.

Pure in Heart has about 100 members, mostly aged under 35. They have three members who go to schools giving talks about “a positive lifestyle.” Ms O’Reilly said they are “chocabloc” with talks over the coming months and are willing to talk with parents in advance of their children.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Ms O’Reilly denied that the organisation had told teenagers that masturbation can lead to depression. Secondary school pupils have also complained that they condemned the use of contraception “as it didn’t honour a partner’s fertility”.

“This would only have come up if a person had raised it.”

As part of the presentation, it’s reported that a boy and girl’s wrists are taped together to demonstrate that they are in a sexual relationship. The tape is then pulled off by a facilitator, a practice that can be painful. The process is then repeated with several other girls and the same boy and the same strip of tape. When the sellotape can no longer be used, the facilitator says this shows how casual sex destroys the emotional bond that is sex.

According to the National Parents Council (Post Primary) it is up to individual principals whether they allow such groups to speak at their school or not.


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