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Column: Young people deserve education on all sorts of relationships - threesomes included

Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin has expressed outrage over a youth health charity offering advice on threesomes – but young people deserve access to open, balanced information on all types of sexual relationships, writes Genevieve Shanahan.

Genevieve Shanahan

GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR youth health charity SpunOut.ie is under threat from Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin as a result of her “outrage” that the organisation provides information on threesomes.

The page in question, published earlier this year, outlines the pros and cons of having sex with two people at once and gives a number of tips on how to minimise health and emotional risks for all involved. This advice focuses heavily on practising safer sex and ensuring that one is engaging for the right reasons, rather than as a result of peer pressure.

An article published in the Sunday Independent yesterday morning quoted Mulherin as denouncing the service. She claimed “there is nothing right about this” and advises that she will be questioning Health Minister James Reilly on the funding of the charity. The organisation quickly issued a defence, emphasising that “SpunOut.ie believes in the ability of young people to make the right decision for themselves once they have access to quality and reliable information.”

‘Incredibly regressive’

What reason does Mulherin have for labelling the provision of information on threesomes “incredibly regressive”? Taking her claim at face value would suggest that we’re somehow returning to a time when all types of sexuality were openly discussed and consent was taken to be of paramount importance. I don’t know about you but I certainly missed that boat, and wouldn’t mind another chance to hop aboard.

To approach her comments more charitably, we might think Mulherin is concerned about young people having sex without romantic involvement. It’s true that Spun Out focuses on couples introducing a third sexual partner for a once-off ‘bit of fun’, and therefore suggests not involving anyone someone might have feelings for in order to avoid jealousy. If this is Mulherin’s issue, then she would similarly object to the provision of information and advice on sex outside of relationships – with friends or one-night stands, for instance.

This seems pretty plausible since in the past she has voiced her disapproval of ‘fornication’. Presumably, however, a campaign to remove all state funding for organisations that discuss sex outside of marriage would be even less popular than this one. We as a society have spent a long time battling the authoritarian imposition of a heterosexual relationship ideal that denigrates sexual pleasure, and we’re unlikely to give up the progress we’ve made any time soon.

Informed choice

We might also ask, if Mulherin’s problem is with sex-sans-love, whether she’d be willing to accept a revised piece which advises young people on how to navigate a polyamorous relationship, in which more than two people love, make love and are committed to one another. We can probably make an educated guess at the answer, but these relationships exist in Irish society, and to deprive young people of education on them for ideological reasons is arguably discriminatory.

Who, in any case, is Mulherin to define what love is? Or what a healthy relationship is? One can love one’s friends, and fancy then enough to share intimacy with them, without thereby wanting to commit to each other romantically or exclusively. It may well be the case that any particular young person, upon examining these various possible ways of loving, decides that she’s happiest with sexual and romantic monogamy. In the process she probably learns much more about herself than she would have if she had never known alternatives existed.

It seems likely that any resultant relationship would be more secure for that informed choice. If a youth information service can aid in this sort of development, then I am excited for my government to support them.

Genevieve Shanahan is an Irish Philosophy student living in London. She blogs about feminism, class, pop culture and more at ShowMeTheHegemony.

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Genevieve Shanahan

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