Young people ‘know more about sex than their parents’

Teenagers and young adults are more likely to trust the internet and their friends for information on sex than their parents or teachers.

Two out of three of them believe they know more about sex than their parents do and three out of four say they are more comfortable talking about it than their parents.

The survey of 1,000 young people, aged 14-24, was carried out for Youth Work Ireland, the umbrella group for the country’s 21 regional youth services.

The extent and quality of sex education in Ireland’s schools is under scrutiny, amid calls for a mandatory standard of teaching that does not have to take account of a school’s religious ethos.

Nine out of 10 respondents said they trusted the internet most for information on healthy sexual relations, while friends were trusted by 89%.

Medical professionals and youth workers were trusted by 60% of young people, but teachers and parents barely got a mention.

Just 23% said they were comfortable talking about sex with their teachers, while 26% were comfortable talking with their parents. Girls, in particular, said information from teachers was “not at all useful”.

By contrast, 74% of all those surveyed were comfortable talking about sex on social media and the internet, and 21% said the internet had the biggest influence on their sex lives.

Half said movements such the #MeToo campaign had made them feel more empowered to say ‘no’ to unwanted sexual attention and 45% believed they were more empowered than their parents had been.

Three out of 10 said the movements had made them realise that incidents they previously considered innocent were inappropriate.

However, 47% of respondents believed that their generation had to deal with more inappropriate sexual behaviour than their parents’ generation, yet 42% said they did not believe there were sufficient supports to help someone who experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Patrick Burke, CEO of Youth Work Ireland, said the report showed the shortcomings in sex education in schools and that young people saw the failings.

“The Government urgently needs to deliver a comprehensive overhaul of relationship and sexual health education in Irish schools, building on best practice with no opt-outs,” said Dr Burke.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, said a “watershed moment” had been reached and it was essential that all parties worked together to see how they could better combat sexual abuse and harassment.

“The involvement and voices of young people are crucial,” she said.

“We must listen to the concerns, fears, and experiences of children and teenagers — they are crucial, if we are to find solutions which work.”

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