“Don’t have sex as you will get pregnant and die;” a humorous line said by the gym teacher in the teen flick Mean Girls – but terrifyingly not that far removed from the sex education provided in Northern Ireland.
Having gone to Catholic schools since the age of five, I – just as thousands of others – have had the same, tired old message forced down my throat. Sex is bad. Sex leads to terrible life-ruining consequences. However, what if you were told that sex is natural and these consequences can be minimized and almost eliminated? We are repeatedly told that abstinence is the only option yet a world of other options is hidden from us. Things are little better in many schools outside the Catholic sector.
If you take biology you might hear the phrase contraception thrown up once or twice, but how can this possibly suffice? How can schools sit back and look in disgust at the incidents of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases when they have have done next to nothing to prevent them?
The most horrendous display of irresponsibility regarding sexual health in Northern Irish schools is that Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life is still allowed to cross the threshold, never mind speak to the pupils. This is a women convicted of harassment of women outside abortion clinics and actively adds to the stigmatisation of women who seek abortions. When she spoke in my school, she gave ridiculous arguments such as, “women who have abortions are more are more likely to commit suicide.” There is no credible evidence to support this claim, but labelling women as “murderers” is certainly not likely to help.
As if this wasn’t a wasn’t a major enough misdemeanor on the school’s part, when we asked the principals for a pro-choice speaker from ROSA to balance the argument we were given given nothing but silence. In keeping the facts regarding sexual health from students, our schools are failing us.
Imagine how a girl in that audience could have felt if she was one of the 106 young women who opted for a private abortion in England last year. What could that have done to her self-worth to be called a child-murderer? Bernadette Smyth claims to value life, but does that exclude the lives of women who are living, breathing individuals with rights, reproductive rights included, that need to be protected?
Bullying tactics are not going to reduce unplanned pregnancies or abortions. What will however, is improved sexual education and easier access to contraception. By allowing Bernadette Smyth to speak in such a way to our young people, it shows how backward our education system is and this has to change!