Innovative new sex education programme fills education gap, new study shows

Foróige-Notinuse's picture
Foróige-Notinuse September 24, 2014
  • REAL U Programme developed by Foróige, Ireland’s leading youth organisation, delivered to more than 10,500 teenagers nationwide
  • HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme funds national roll out
  • Launch of REAL U research findings alongside HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme’s re-developed website

An innovative new sex education programme delivered to more than 10,500 teenagers nationwide is ‘filling a gap’ in relationship and sexuality education for young people in Ireland, a new study has shown.

The 12-month research into youth organisation Foróige’s Relationships Explored and Life Uncovered (REAL U) programme also found that young people’s attitudes to LGBT issues and knowledge about the facts of sex improved significantly as a result of taking part in the 12-week programme.

REAL U is a comprehensive relationships and sexual health programme designed to delay the onset of early sexual activity and reduce teen pregnancy. Funding for the roll out of the programme nationally came from the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

Foróige’s Dr. Susan Redmond welcomed the study findings:

“Young people are living in an increasingly sexualised world and teenagers need the tools to navigate through this world effectively.

“What this programme does is equip teenagers with the confidence and knowledge to cultivate healthy relationships, develop their confidence around expressing their thoughts and feelings, while also being aware of the risks that early sexual behaviour can have.

“It also allows for the subject of sex to be discussed in a frank and honest way which enables them to develop behaviours that nurture positive relationships in all aspects of their lives.”

Body image, emotional well-being, healthy relationships, gender and sexuality, media messaging, pornography, contraception, unplanned pregnancy and STIs are just some of the topics addressed in the innovative programme.

The ‘RealCare’ Baby infant simulator, which makes it possible for teenagers to practise caring for an infant for 24 hours, seven days a week, is also offered as an additional element to the programme in Foróige’s Centre in Blanchardstown, Dublin.

The study into the REAL U programme, which was undertaken by the UNESCO Child & Family Research Centre, NUI Galway over a 12 month period, was launched this morning at Pearse St Library in Dublin.

Teenagers who took part in the programme said they were better informed and more aware of the consequences of their actions, with 98% of those evaluated rating the programme highly.

Almost all of the teenagers evaluated said the programme should be widely available to young people to ensure they are informed and empowered to make the right decision for them.

To date, 440 facilitators have been trained in the programme, with more than 10,500 young people completing the programme nationwide.

Foróige also offers training on the programme to external agencies for free through funding from the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme. To date, training has been provided to 43 different agencies including the Child and Family Agency Túlsa, Focus Ireland and Barnardos.

Wayne Deegan, a 16 year old from Blanchardstown in Dublin who is taking part in the programme, said:

"Talking about relationships and sex isn't easy. I really like this programme though because you can speak up and ask questions you wouldn't feel comfortable asking your parents or teachers without getting embarrassed. It's good to talk about it out in the open."

Dr Bernadine Brady of the UNESCO Child & Family Research Centre at NUI, Galway, who conducted the study, said:

“The findings show that young people and youth workers really value having a comprehensive, youth friendly programme of this nature. There is clear evidence that the REAL U programme can improve young people’s knowledge and awareness of sexual health and relationship matters.”

The event also saw the launch of the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme’s re-developed website. The website aims to delay early sex among adolescents 14-16 years old by providing them with all the information they might need before making any big decisions about relationships and sex.

The website features new quizzes and polls, video interviews with young people talking about their experiences, real life stories from teenage parents, a ‘Relationships’ section that provides information on building healthy friendships and relationships and a section called ‘The Facts’ that deals with the age of consent, contraception, STIs and crisis pregnancy.

Dr. Cate Hartigan, Assistant National Director, HSE Health Promotion & Improvement said: “The HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme’s Strategy 2012–2016 recognises the vital work that youth organisations play in ensuring that young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills to develop positive and supportive relationships.

“The website delivers ‘The Facts without the Lecture’ to young people and assists youth workers in the provision of relationships and sex education (RSE) in youth work settings. These important initiatives that aim to improve the provision of RSE to young people fit within strong Government commitments to improve health and wellbeing of the population and improve outcomes for children and young people.”


For further information please contact:

Cathy Gray, Foróige Marketing Communications Officer

086 807 5332 / 01 630 1732

Notes to Editor

Context for developing the programme:

Although the legal age of consent in Ireland is 17 for boys and girls, almost one in four of 15-17 year olds in Ireland report having had sexual intercourse (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2012), while research indicates that most young people had some sexual experience in their teens (Crisis Pregnancy Programme, 2012).

Those who had sex before the age of 17 were less likely to have used contraception at first intercourse than those who first had sex after the age of consent. The number of births to teenagers has declined from 3,087 in 2001 to 1,639 in 2012, which represents a 47% decrease (CPP, 2013). In 2011, there were 443 abortions to women aged under 20 giving Irish addresses in UK clinics (UKDoH).

The REAL U Progamme

The REAL U programme engages young people aged 12-18 years in developing and building positive relationships. The programme is set out in a comprehensive manual, designed for use by a trained facilitator leading a group of 10-15 participants aged between 12 and 18 years old.

It is recommended that the programme be delivered over 12 weeks for one hour and 30 minutes every week, drawing on modules appropriate for younger and older age groups.

Two days training in delivery of the REAL U programme is provided by Foróige staff for youth workers both within and outside of Foróige.

Foróige received funding from the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme to fund the design, print and roll-out of the manual beyond the Foróige organisation over a three-year period.

Main conclusions of the UNESCO Child & Family Research Centre, NUI, Galway Evaluation:

The study concluded that the REAL U programme is filling a gap with regard to relationship and sexuality education for young people in Ireland. This study has highlighted that the REAL U programme is seen as effective in engaging young people, responding to their needs and impacting on their knowledge and attitudes in this area.

The availability of a comprehensive, flexible programme of this nature in youth work settings represents an important development in the move towards comprehensive sex education for young people in Ireland.