by Liza Kelly, Committee Member


The Irish Sex Education Network (ISEN) was founded in September 2002. ISEN is an independent, non-denominational, ‘nationwide’ multidisciplinary group comprising of members from voluntary and statutory agencies, parents of people with a disability and people with a disability.

The Irish Sex Education Network aims to promote the highest professional standards and best practice in the area of sex education and relationship training with an emphasis on people with disability. Sex education in this context encompasses personal development, self-esteem and relationships. It includes rights and responsibilities and risks and protection issues for young people, adults, their carers and staff. The ISEN will act as a voice for change in respect of the rights for people with a disability to experience appropriate sexual expression.

In order to achieve this goal the ISEN aims to implement the following measures:

  • Inform and organise training for its members through regular meetings, training seminars and a membership newsletter and website.
  • Support its members by creating a forum where they can ask questions, exchange experiences and learn from each other as well as from guest speakers.
  • Establish a database of members areas of expertise.
  • Develop a resource bibliography and (possibly) a library.
  • Promote contacts with other similar networks and professional organisations nationally and internationally.
  • Advocate the development of policies and guidance documents for this area within services and nationally.
  • Lobby politicians and professionals for support and the financial resources needed for research, training and development projects (i.e. teaching and training resources) as well as administrative support.

2004 proved to be an exciting year for the ISEN, with membership expanding and excellent attendance at a number of informative training days and seminars. The principal aims of the training seminars are to support the development of skills in teaching sex education to people with a disability and to support the sharing of good practice nationally and internationally.

There is a strong sense that Ireland is ‘turning a corner’ in relation to recognising the rights of people with an intellectual disability to sexual expression and to relationship and sexuality education. Moreover, there is a growing confidence in professionals, family members and individuals with a disability in embracing the topic of sexuality. Policy development that is rights-based and sex education programmes are certainly more evident than ever before. There is great satisfaction in knowing that the work of the ISEN has contributed significantly to these developments and that the ISEN is fully committed to continuing its work.

The ISEN has been involved as a partner in a European-funded project entitled ‘The development of supportive structures to facilitate adults with intellectual disabilities to express their rights as sexual beings’. The project was led by KARE. The project began in April 2003 and was completed in March 2004. The aim of the project was to develop guidelines for an agency in supporting relationships and sexuality of people with an intellectual disability.

In the coming year ISEN hope to publish a template of policy guidelines for sexuality and relationships for service providers. They will produce an extensive report on current sex education practice in Ireland that will identify the competencies and training needs of sex educators for people with an intellectual disability.

On 25 November 2004, ISEN launched a database of books, articles, teaching resources and other publications, along with an extensive list of suppliers and links. The database is available in print and on the ISEN website, The database was compiled by Gert Job as part of a research project sponsored be namhi. Comhairle also provided support in developing the ISEN website and the printed database.

All members of ISEN will receive a copy of the database. For information on training issues, meetings and conferences, or to join the ISEN network, contact Fiona Coffey (chairperson) (email: