A Bill to prevent schools from using their religious ethos to avoid teaching fact-based and responsible sex relationships education to their pupils, is currently at the second stage of debating before the Dáil. The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill is designed to prevent denominational schools teaching sex education based on their own views of sexuality and intimacy. This Bill was developed to ensure that all students regardless of their religious backgrounds are provided with an understanding about consent, contraception, abortion, sexuality and gender issues in a non-bias, objective manner. If successful, this Bill will further sever the grip the church once held over family life in Ireland.
Practice what you Preach
One does not have to look too hard to see that while the catholic church where preaching the virtues of chastity, abstinence and celibacy, they themselves, where in large numbers following a different set of rules. Not only have we seen several priests in relationships with members of their congregation, ignoring their own promise of celibacy, but more alarming is the large percentage of priests engaging in the rape and sexual abuse of countless numbers of innocent children.
When I was young the catholic church had a lot of power over our daily lives. Irish people trusted the church completely and considered them above reproach. We respected priests and believed they acted as god’s representatives here on earth. For most Irish families it was considered an honour to have a priest in the family. Whatever the priest advised us to do, was done without question. They owned our hospitals and schools, giving them control over our medical care and our education. This provided the church with the power to rule over every aspect of the general populations lives.
Sex is a Sin
The church intruded self-righteously into every aspect of Irish citizens development with special attention to their sex lives. They preached that sex was only for procreation, even if married, it was not intended to be enjoyed. They taught that masturbation was sinful and that your body was something to be ashamed of.
The scars from this form of thinking are still being felt today. They managed to destroy so many lives through their teachings around sexuality. They made us believe that God apparently didn’t mind us having sex, but we certainly shouldn’t want or enjoy it.
We believed and trusted them. They set us up. We couldn’t win. We were destined to live a guilt-ridden existence for feeling something we are hardwired to feel. It is a perfectly normal human reaction to feel sexual desire. Even animals have that. It ensures that life goes on and we don’t become extinct.
In recent years, so many sexual abuse crimes committed by members of the church have come to light. It seems that every week there is yet another priest or bishop in the media accused of either committing or covering up sexual abuse against a child. It is incredible to me that it is taking us so long as a nation to break free of the churches misleading guidance and utter brainwashing around our sexuality but most importantly our children’s sexuality.
There are many well-meaning parents out there who are still under the church’s influence, conditioned to believe that early sex education for our children is not a good thing. The belief is held that teaching children about their bodies and sex will destroy their innocence. That the child’s happiness will somehow be compromised. Can they not see that the people who initiated this opinion had their own agenda and did not love our children as we do?
I was groomed from birth leading up to full penetrative sexual intercourse at age four. I am not unusual in terms of the age the grooming process can begin. For me there was huge confusion surrounding my abuse because I did not know what sex was and I was never told that no one should touch my private parts. Sex was not something that was ever openly discussed either at home or in school. I had no opportunity to understand what was happening to me. Because I didn’t know what sex was, I hadn’t the language or understanding to describe even to myself what was happening. This is what we need to consider when we talk about teaching sex education in schools. Everyone thinks it will never happen to their children, because they would know, they would spot an abuser and stop them getting near their child. Everyone thinks that, but that’s not the way it works.
Things could have been different
If I had been told in school, through the media or at home that sexual abuse happens, and that if anyone touches your privates or makes you do anything you don’t want to do, it is wrong and that I could tell someone who would help it stop. If I had been told that if this happens to you, you did nothing wrong and it is not ok, no matter who it is abusing you, my life could have been so different. There is nothing wrong with age appropriate sex education. It doesn’t damage the child, it protects them. Ignorance does not equal innocence.
Change is Needed
We have a job ahead of us to attempt to undo the damage to our own sexuality and body shaming which was imposed on us by the catholic church’s teachings so the sooner we get started the better. We need to do this for several reasons, (1) you cannot give what you do not have, and we won’t be able to help the next generation develop a healthy approach to their sexuality if we don’t heal our own wounds first. (2) We need to act now because the church has lost control and the younger generation need some guidance in this area of their lives. We need to replace the lessons we learned with promoting a positive body image and healthy self-esteem. We also need to teach a guiltfree approach to accepting themselves for being sexual beings. Can you imagine?
As the numbers of young suicides continue to grow, it is important that we do not leave our young turning to the internet for answers. They will be no better off than we were if their education takes place alone in front of a screen. With such easy access to porn we can be sure using this option can only lead to further confusion, self-hatred and pain. We need to build up our children. Provide them with the tools they need to navigate this new world we find ourselves in. Times are changing, and we need to educate ourselves before we do any more damage to our children.
We need to encourage emotional wellbeing in our sons and daughters. Teach them how to communicate, talk about their feelings. These life skills will help them work through their issues. Introduce meditation and yoga in the early stages of school, promoting good mental health and a healthy body image. We need to recognise the gaps that are occurring in our children’s lives and address them.
We will all pay the price of not taking the appropriate actions. We already are.
June Kavanagh -14th June 2018