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New sex education Books should help young people to make positive choices about their sexual behaviour

By June 30, 2003News

– Release date: 01 July 2003

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has said that the hit-and-miss approach to sex education in Ireland has failed. It called for more comprehensive and explicit programmes to inform young people about sexuality and reproduction.

The call was made during the launch of a series of sex education booklets, jointly published by the North Eastern Health Board and the IFPA. The launch took place in Dundalk today (1/07/03).

According to Catherine Heaney, Chief Executive of the IFPA, “too many young people are reaching adulthood without a real understanding of how their body works.

“Recent surveys from three health board areas show that 25% of Irish teenagers are sexually active by the age of 16. However, many are unaware of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and some do not link sex to having a child.

“In the first six months of 2001, STIs rose by 10% compared with the same period in the previous year. Furthermore, there has been a rise in the number of teenagers travelling for terminations.

“There is a glaring need to improve the quality of information that young people are receiving. By the time they become sexually active, young people should have a good understanding of sexuality and reproduction. They should feel empowered to make positive choices about their sexual behaviour, without exposing themselves to the risk of a crisis pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

“The three booklets being launched today by the NEHB and the IFPA are a brave step in moving towards more comprehensive sex education. They were pioneered by the British FPA and offer accurate information in a non-judgemental way about the physical and emotional changes experienced during puberty. In addition, they deal with issues such as personal hygiene, body image, sexual health and sex.”

The first in the series of booklets, 4 Boys (a below-the-belt guide to the male body) was published in Britain in 1995 following huge demands by educators and health professionals for appropriate sex education materials for boys. This was followed shortly afterwards by the publication of 4 Girls (a below-the-bra guide to the female body) and Periods (what you need to know). The 4 Boys and 4 Girls booklets are targeted at 13-16 year-olds, while Periods has been developed for the pre-teens age group.

In developing these booklets, the Family Planning Association in Britain undertook comprehensive research and consumer testing, which have resulted in such high quality publications. These have been modified by the IFPA to meet the needs of an Irish audience.

According to Catherine Heaney, “while some opposition has been voiced about these booklets, the reality is that schools and youth groups have been ordering them from Britain since they were first published. There is a clear demand and need for them in Ireland and the North Eastern Health Board deserve congratulations for helping to instigate their publication here.

“Later this year, the IFPA will pilot the booklets in other areas throughout the country. In addition to the 4 Boys, 4 Girls and Periods booklets, plans are underway to introduce booklets on STIs, sex and pregnancy.

“These booklets, we believe, if complemented by comprehensive in-school programmes around self-esteem and tailor-made health services, will result in young people taking more responsibility in sexual relationships,” she added.