In a major survey it emerged that while 98 per cent of the mothers and fathers said schools should have a role in teaching children about sex, and more than 70 per cent thought parents and teachers should share equal responsibility, many had not discussed sex at all with their children.
Almost one in three of the 780 parents interviewed thought sex education topics such as reproduction should not be taught in primary schools.
Taboo subjects for parents with children of all ages were the meno-pause, which 22 per cent thought should not be taught at all, lesbianism and homosexuality (21 per cent) and abortion (13 per cent).
The research, carried out with parents and schools of both religions by the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland, was intended to help the development of a shared framework for action on sex education.
Only 13 per cent of the parents surveyed thought religious education to be the best subject in which to teach sex education. Yet sex education was most likely to appear in RE classes for older children, with 92 per cent of secondary schools and 82 per cent of grammar schools admitting this was their policy. The next most popular slot was in biology lessons, followed by general science in grammar schools or personal and social education in secondary schools.
By contrast, almost 40 per cent of parents thought sex education should be taught as a subject in its own right.
Most teachers surveyed said they needed more training for sex education. Eighty-one per cent of those teaching it in primary schools said they had received no specific training, compared with more than half teaching children over 11.
Although a 1987 Department of Education circular said that every school should have a written sex education policy, 78 per cent of the primary schools and 35 per cent of secondaries and grammars had no such document.
Sex Education in Northern Ireland: Views from Parents and Schools is available from the Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland, 18 Ormeau Avenue, Belfast BT2 8HS