This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 20 January, 2019
Advertisement

Opinion: Let's talk about sex and pornography - like adults do

Now is the time for a mature and sensible discussion about sex and porn. We really need mandatory modern sex education introduced in schools too, writes Caroline West.

Caroline West

TWO YEARS AGO the then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny called for a national conversation on pornography.

I wrote at the time that we needed to have an open, sensible and rational conversation about porn, but sadly it didn’t happen.

At DCU we recently published research examining how the Irish media addressed Kenny’s call. Unfortunately, we found that it was met with commentary that was far from calm and rational.

Many media platforms approached the issue in a sensationalist way and so failed to produce a meaningful conversation on how to engage with pornography and how to educate young people on it.

There is a lack of thorough research on pornography in Ireland on any level. We do know that there is a large Irish appetite for porn but we lack in-depth knowledge of public use and attitudes to pornography.

We know that Ireland is a changing society on so many levels but these gaps in information leave a lot to be desired.  This is a society which does not have a history of open conversation around sexuality, especially around any pleasurable aspects of sexuality.

Thus, nuanced research is needed to address universalistic statements positioning porn solely as a source of harm in Irish society, in order to navigate more effectively through ideology, sensationalism and shame. 

Changing the Conversation

But on a more positive note, it appears that the release of our study and report sparked a more reasoned conversation about the issue of pornography, this time around. 

Many local radio stations, from Castlebar to Kildare were keen to address the issue and newspapers mentioned it calmly rather than salaciously.

The launch of our report coincided with a report in the Daily Mail regarding concerns about teenagers using porn, that was framed through an addiction lens. However, it is worth remembering that the science behind porn addiction and sex addiction is still very much conflicted.

In fact, porn addiction has been rejected as a diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organisation and the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

What is needed now is a calm conversation about levels of use of pornography, and how the individual feels affected by what they see, rather than simplistic definitions and diagnoses that don’t take a nuanced approach to human sexual desire and sexuality.

Irish society has changed a lot since 2016, and issues such as reproductive rights and sexual consent have gained a lot more media attention, especially since the protests after the Belfast rape trial.

Consent classes are now being rolled out across third level institutions, with a 50/50 gender split between participants often present. The numbers of participants have increased significantly, with DCU having to turn away hundreds this year due to classes being full. 

The Science Gallery is currently running a 4-month long event with talks on porn, sex, pleasure, sex robots and more, and this has proved so popular that they too had to turn people away from the launch.

I recently spoke on RTE Radio One’s Ray Darcy show on the topic of sex and parenting and many other shows have supported my call for better sex education that includes porn literacy skills. In this context, we can see a clear thirst for healthy conversations about sex, porn, pleasure and consent in Irish society.

Sex Education

Where does that leave us when it comes to sex education in Ireland?

It is not enough to bury our heads in the sand – young people are going to watch porn whether we approve or not, so let’s give them the skills to approach it in a way that makes sense to them. 

Some people might believe that it is primarily up to parents to deliver this type of education but many parents also received poor sex education and they probably grew up with much less access to pornography. 

Many parents may feel anxious about educating children on this topic so support and training for parents need to be made available. Likewise, teachers are expected to roll out sex education but often don’t have the skills, training or up to date knowledge they need. 

That is why we should all back the Solidarity People Before Profit bill, calling for objective and factual sex education in all schools regardless of their religious ethos.

Sex education would cover topics like contraception, pornography, different approaches to sexual activity and crucially consent. 

The government appeared to support the bill last April when it passed the second stage in the Dail. However, the Taoiseach then stated in the Dail in June that he does not believe legislation is the way to address the issue of the provision of objective sex education. 

But legislation is required because this education needs to be mandatory in all schools, leaving it up to the school to decide has not worked in Ireland and will not work due to the religious ethos of most of our schools. 

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said recently that the government is blocking the bill from proceeding to the next stage and that she expects Fianna Fail and Fine Gael TDs to block it in the committee stage. 

We urgently need this legislation to be introduced. When children are reporting watching porn from at ages 10-13, we need modern, inclusive sex education to counter this and to provide a space to talk about porn without shame and stigma. 

I would urge you to contact your local TD and ask them to support the bill.  

We have a chance to take a healthy approach to sex in Ireland, let’s make it happen in 2019.

Caroline West is a PhD researcher in sexuality studies at Dublin City University. Her work focuses on porn and feminism, and the relationship between power, sex, and knowledge. She also holds an MA in Sexuality Studies.

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Caroline West

Read next:

COMMENTS (48)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel