The conversation on sex in Ireland has changed drastically over the past twenty years. Sex is no longer as taboo as it once was and in this country. You are free to be with whoever you want without discrimination. Our culture has shifted from the overwhelmingly heavy influence of the Catholic Church.
However, as a society I think we are still prudes. I am not speaking for everyone when I say this. There are the liberated few who are extremely vocal about how they feel (particularly online). I am speaking about the majority that I think aren’t uncomfortable, but are nervous about discussing it. It can be a naturally awkward topic of conversation for people. But the negative ideas that still exist around sex and the embarrassment that accompanies it can stop much needed conversations about sex in Ireland.
The syllabus for sex education in our schools has not been updated for over twenty years. Basic sex education is introduced at the age of ten/eleven/twelve in primary school. The bulk of sex education is centred around heterosexual sex. This might have been down to the Catholic ethos of many primary schools in the country. I remember getting “the talk” in primary school. I distinctly remember the reasoning behind sexual urges was the sentence “When a man and woman love each other very much…”
Aside from neglecting people of different sexual orientations, this statement does not allow for proper conversation on the reality of sexual relations. Sexual education classes never seem to fully talk about important issues such as consent, LGBTI+ sex and relationships, masturbation, sexually transmitted infections, oral sex, pleasure or other issues that are crucial to a well-rounded sexual education.
Of course, the responsibility for sexual education is not solely on schools, but on parents. But if you are a child that is living in a house where your parents have not discussed basic sexual education, where do you go? A lack of information ultimately leads most children to the internet to answer their questions.
According to a Youth Work Ireland poll in 2018 of more than 1,000 people aged 14-24, one-in-five young people believe porn is a useful source of information. This is hardly surprising as it is easily available to those who seek it thanks to the internet and its wide variety of content.
Porn is not meant to be informative or educational. There is a lot of highly explicit sexual content meant for fantasy and sexual pleasure. What is soon forgotten is that the context of the videos are fake, a fantasy and do not provide a ‘how-to’ guide to sex.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a porn-bashing article. There’s no question that it is easy to turn to porn for sexual gratification. It’s easy to find and is widely available. But its use as a source of information rather than entertainment is dangerous for everyone. It has been reported that there is an increase in rough and violent sex which has been linked to violent porn. Objectifying sexual partners is not what young people should be learning. We need to have proper conversations about consent and respect in sexual relationships.
Starting a conversation
Today, there are more resources than ever to educate and inform people on sexual health and wellbeing. Thanks to modern medicine, most sexually transmitted infections can be dealt with effectively. But the general conversation is still lacking in our society. The conversations we have about sex are either highly dramatic or extremely serious; ‘the talk’ you have with your parents or the stories you share with your friends. Sex is a normal part of many people’s lives and it’s important for us to get to a middle ground of discussing it openly and honestly.
When I was in my second year of college, I was doing a radio show on student issues and on one particular show, I had decided to focus on Trinity College’s decision to introduce Sexual Consent workshops to first year students. When I enquired whether my college was considering introducing consent workshops to our campus, the general feeling from faculty was that it was a personal matter and did not need workshops. One senior member of the faculty even claimed that it was a matter for students’ parents to discuss with them.
I was shocked that students were not even given the option to discuss holding workshops in our college, and how the college was avoiding even engaging in a conversation on this topic. I think this shows the responsibility we all have individually to create a healthy and open dialogue about sex.
Ireland has proven itself to be a progressive in its attitudes in recent years, but when it comes to sex education and open conversations, we may not be as progressive as we would like to think. As we begin this second decade of the twenty-first century, open and honest conversation about sex are needed in our society.