The new sex education programmes in Irish schools completely ignore long-term commitments and marriage. They promote the bare minimum, i.e. consent, rather than what is necessary for a goo relationship, i.e. commitment.
Sex education programmes are constantly updated at the different levels of the Irish education system. The Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum for junior cycle (age 12-15) has been recently changed and will start in September this year.
While contraception is explicitly mentioned in one of the learning outcomes it is extraordinary that a course about sexuality and relationships nowhere refers to pregnancy, birth, parenthood, or raising children, which are natural consequences of a sexual relationship.
The course specification also never mentions marriage and or long-term commitment. The emphasis is on the bare minimum, i.e. consent, rather than on what makes relationship lasting, i.e. commitment, long-term plans, mutual obligations, etc.
One of the eleven learning outcomes is about consent and says that students should “appreciate the importance of seeking, giving and receiving consent in sexual relationships, from the perspective of building caring relationships and from a legal perspective.”
While consent is a basic and necessary element of a sexual relationship, it is not sufficient.
The Senior Cycle sex education course is also currently being redeveloped. Consultation is ongoing and the new course will start in September 2024.
When assessing the review documentation generated by the NCCA up to this point in comparison to the curriculum framework that has been in effect since 2011, it becomes evident that the identical criticisms of the Junior Cycle review still hold true.
For instance, the 2011 framework has a section about parenting and one of its aims is to “discuss the role of commitment and relationship skills in marriage and other committed relationships, that help to support lasting relationships and family life”. (p. 28)
There is no mention of marriage or other committed relationships in the new draft specification. It has been deliberately removed.
Lasting relationships, family life, marriage, or commitment are all absent from the consultation report as well.
The background paper presents an analysis of international practice, focusing on New Zealand, Ontario and Canada. In the overview of key concepts and topics it mentions “long-term commitment and parenting” and one of the key ideas proposed to be discussed is “marriage and long-term commitments can be rewarding and challenging”. (p. 23)
This proposal, coming from a comparison with international practice, has found no place in the new draft specification by the Department of Education. As consultations are still ongoing, it is possible that a future draft will be amended to include marriage and long-term commitment but their removal from the current curriculum, should be noted.
This minimal-value approach which inspires the SPHE courses fails to promote proper relationship education. A good relationship is more than “healthy”, particularly when we consider the unhealthy psychological but also physical consequences of consensual promiscuity, casual sex, etc.
Consent education is not enough without commitment education.