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PORN: Ireland’s Answer to Sex Ed

Emily Horgan

It seems that we cannot socially approve a new piece of technology these days without confirming it can be used to watch pornography.  

Advances in virtual reality, high speed internet and AI are enriching our sexual experiences and broadening our sexual horizons. But in Ireland, when our sexual education is what can only be described as severely lacking, it seems that pornography is being used as a substitute for proper sex education, which is having huge implications on our sexual relations.

Sex Education was made compulsory in Irish schools in 1985. And despite most of Catholic Ireland’s belief, it wasn’t because this was the year that sex was brought to the country. No, it was in fact due to the worryingly high and rising number of women who had secret or concealed pregnancies that had not been discussed or accepted due to the shame tied with sex outside of marriage. We, as a nation, did not have the vocabulary to discuss what was going on around us. Thus, education was deemed the best way to tackle this.

However, the implementation of this idea was, and continues to be, deeply flawed. Although compulsory, sex education was and still is left to the school’s discretion to tailor towards

Illustration by Emily Horgan
Illustration by Emily Horgan

its ethos, even after the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) program was brought in in 1993. This means that while RSE requires a school to discuss things like Contraception, Family Planning and Sexual Orientation under this program, the subjectiveness of the school ethos leads to a very skewed version of what constitutes as ‘healthy sex’.

Take, for instance, the book On Track: Direction in Your Life, published in 2008 by On Track specifically for the RSE program and used widely by secondary schools throughout the country. It not only claims that condoms have a high failure rate, but also that they provide absolutely no protection against “emotional, psychological, mental, social, and moral effects.

It goes on to explain that having sex before marriage causes many ailments, such as “guilt, shame, broken hearts, shattered dreams, bad self-esteem, lost innocence, bad reputations, family problems, feelings of being used, depression, regret for losing one’s virginity, embarrassment and humiliation”. The book’s’ authors are all connected with the Youth Defense, who oppose abortion, contraception, vaccines, stem cell research and gay marriage, to name but a few.

If you are a student taking Leaving Cert Biology, you will be exposed to Sexual Reproduction as an examinable subject. But this, again, is inadequate as it takes a scientific angle that sells sex as a method solely for reproduction while also, bizarrely, ignoring the existence of the clitoris.

It seems that the closest we get to sex education in school is when someone accidentally says ‘orgasm’ instead of ‘organism’ during class, much to the embarrassment of all parties involved. Red faces, class laughs, teacher hushes, move on.

But it seems that even if we, as students, were subjected to this either heavily censored and intentionally misleading or purely scientific level of sex education, we were the lucky ones. Recent surveys have shown that a lot of students don’t even receive sex education in school. Which not only denies students a basic right under the European Health Charter but means that once students reach the end of second level education, they have no way of knowing to what level they understand sex and sexual responsibility.

Sex Ed is generally given to students around Transition Year, with Mini Company and Volunteering replaced for a one day only seminar, allowing students sit in the school chapel and take a long, hard think about the negative implications of their sexuality on society.

What is clear from numerous surveys, but politely ignored, is that the majority of students take the matter into their own hands (no pun intended) long before this day arrives. It is thought that children as young as 8 years old are seeking out pornography online, while most Irish teenagers are sexually active by the age of 15 or 16.

While pornography has its upsides as a way to explore sexuality and sexual preferences, it is heavily flawed, especially if used as a form of sex education. One issue in particular is the blatant chauvinism around the content produced.

While the women involved in a lot of porn may often be paid, empowered and consenting, the end product often portrays the opposite, with most porn available presenting women as not much more than objects of sexual gratification for men. Mutual sexual gratification is often ignored, or at the very least represented in a completely unrealistic manner.

Porn is also undeniably tailored for men, which is probably why the idea that women use porn for their own pleasure is heavily muted in society.  Most of the articles I’ve found online that actually accept the fact that women watch porn suggest one of two things – that they instantly regret their unthinkable discretion or that they use it as a form ‘research’ to tailor their sexual abilities to meet the expectations of men. This creates an imbalance between the male and female orgasm, seeing the former as a must and the latter as a ‘bonus’ in sexual encounters.

But what is more concerning than the effect it has on the quality of our sexual encounters is the ability pornography has to desensitise viewers to unhealthy sexual activity. Violent pornography or explicit material that portrays non-consensual, coercive and demeaning sexual acts seems to take a up a large portion of pornography online. Without a proper foundation to work off of and paired with a painful lack of healthy conversation around sex and consent in Ireland, this becomes a very real problem.

Although colleges are gradually rolling out consent classes as obligatory for new students, this does not fully counteract the rooted issues caused by a lack of proper education at an earlier age.

Many students have come out in opposition to these classes, claiming it ‘undermines’ their ability to have proper sexual encounters. Of course, this comes from a selfish, narrow minded and purely individualistic stance. But how can we convince someone that they actually do need education in a topic that they have been exposed to for several years of their life already?

Once in college, the ship is considered to have sailed, even though the probability a student on campus could be a product of a Catholic school’s abstinence program is extremely high.

But yet, Sexual Health weeks on campus continue to ignore the different levels of sexual experience of the students and tar them all with one big dildo shaped brush.

Language around campus continues to be littered with degrading porn colloquialisms like “slut,” “banged” and “gagging for it.” Men that fall within the average college going age

Illustration by Emily Horgan
Illustration by Emily Horgan

(20-30) are increasingly suffering erectile dysfunction, which at that age can largely be down to psychological reasons. And what about the young people of Ireland who do not attend

college? Will they continue to be ignored?

There really is only one solution to this problem, and it is changing the way in which we teach the young people of Ireland how to view sex. Of course, the porn industry must change and with women like Emma Watson coming forward recently in favour of more ethical pornography that actually addresses female sexuality as something that exists external to men’s gratification, it looks like this is possible.

But if Ireland is not going to pick up the slack, it’s duty to the youth of this country, to loosen the chokehold that the Catholic Church has put on our sexual education and replace “shame” with acceptance of something that happens, and will happen, and has happened long before 1985, then we will continue to encounter the backlash of a sexually uneducated nation.