On October 16 th , the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) and the Irish Department of Health released The Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships. The Chairwoman of the CPA, Olive Braiden explained that the study, which is the most comprehensive survey to date on sexuality education in Ireland, will “inform the strategic direction of the CPA's work in reducing the number of crisis pregnancies.”1 The results of the study are especially meaningful because they provide the first detailed analysis of the behavioral and educational trends since the introduction of Ireland's Relationships and Sexuality Education Program in 1997.
The Study of Sexual Health and Relationships collected data on a wide array of issues related to sexuality through telephone interviews with over 7,500 people throughout Ireland. Participants were asked questions relating to their opinions, knowledge, and experiences with sexuality and sexuality education. The survey covered such topics as beliefs about contraception, sexual identity, attraction, and experience; age of first intercourse as well as reactions to first intercourse (i.e. regret, guilt); experience with commercial sex; and experiences of crisis pregnancies and abortions.
Respondents were also asked to disclose their history of sexuality education including such things as where they learned about sex, what topics were covered during sexuality education, and their interaction with parents on issues relating to sexuality. Participants were also asked to answer health questions about Chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, fertility, and their use of contraception or the morning after pill.
The study reported that overall, 53% of men and 60% of women had received some sexuality education. Most of these respondents reported that their main source of sexuality education was schools and was limited to biological information about intercourse.2 Younger people, ages 18–24, were much more likely to have received sexuality education with 88% of women and 93% of men reporting that they had received some form.3 The study also found a dramatic difference in the topics participants reported learning about. Older respondents were more likely to report learning about sexual feelings, relationships, and emotions, while younger people, ages18 – 24 were more likely to have received information about STDs and contraception.4
Overall, study participants had a positive opinion of sexuality education in schools with over 92% of respondents saying that they supported programs that discussed sexual intercourse, sexual feelings, contraception, safer sex, and homosexuality.5
Results regarding sexuality education in the home were markedly different. Most people surveyed had either not had experiences talking about “sexual matters” with their parents, or had found the experience to be “difficult.” Twenty-five percent had never discussed sexuality with their mother while 36% said they had never spoken about sexuality with their father.6
Over 90% of participants believed emergency contraception should be available in Ireland and a total of 52% said it should be available over the counter. Cost was found to be a significant factor in the use of contraceptive pills and condoms with 32% of women reporting that the cost of the contraceptive pill would discourage them from using it and 15% of both men and women reporting that the cost of condoms would discourage use. In Ireland, condoms have a 21% value-added tax that classifies them as a “luxury item.”7
The authors came up with numerous recommendations based on the study results. One of the CPA and Health Department recommendations is that affordable contraceptive choices, especially condoms which “suit the sexual lifestyle and beliefs of individuals,” are made widely available.8 In addition to the call for affordable condoms, the CPA and the Irish Health Department released 14 other recommendations which, among other things, encouraged fostering “more responsible public attitudes to individual planning for safe sex, including consistent use of effective methods of both contraception and protection.”9 These groups also suggested “a holistic program of relationship and sexuality education . . . as appropriate in all primary and secondary schools.”10 The Minister of Health, Mary Harney echoed the recommendations, declaring sexuality education to be essential both at school and within the home and promoting additional resources be designed to aid teachers and parents.11
- “Irish sex education in crisis; 66% given no contraception advice. Under 17s at most risk of infection,” The Mirror (London, UK), 17 October 2006.
- Richard Layte, Amanda Quayle, and James Williams, Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships (Dublin: Crisis Pregnancy Association and Ireland Department of Health, 2006), 6.
- Ibid, 6.
- Ibid, 6.
- Ibid, 9.
- Ibid, 8.
- Eithne Donnellan, “Study finds dramatic changes in sexual behavior,” The Irish Times , 17 October 2006, accessed 19 October 2006, <http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/front/2006/1017/pf1160606697344.html>.
- Layte et al.,, 61.
- Ibid., 60.