In the final issue of Sexpress for this year, we’re going to go back to basics, something that Sexpress even (hopefully) helps to alleviate in some form or another and that is addressing whether sex, and everything that comes along with it, is still a taboo subject.
How do we even talk about sex? It’s been shown through research that we first ‘learn’ about sex through porn and popular media. Other times it’s through stories from friends or tipsy conversations after a few drinks, sometimes it’s through social media.
The point I’m trying to get at is that at some point sex sneaks its way up, whether you welcome it with open arms or not depends on circumstance.
Within Ireland in general, up until quite recently, sex and sexuality have been something that was essentially outlawed either through legislation or through societal culture, from the illegality of merely accessing contraception, the criminalisation of homosexuality, right up to the 8th amendment – they all signal to a wider cultural and societal stigma around sex and sexuality as something to be ashamed of, something that was impure and wrong.
This in particular has been highlighted in the quality of sex education given in primary and secondary school, which in recent years has been met with calls for reform to include more than just the heteronormative biological aspects of the purely physical aspect of sex, but to also take into account consent, relationships, wellbeing and health, sexuality and gender identity.
This stigmatization leads to silence and to the absence of open discussion and conversation which in turn can prove to be harmful later on.
Unless individuals go out of their way to find information themselves, providing they know where to get it, young people in particular are left in harm’s way, uninformed about how to have sex safely, feeling broken or wrong for not understanding why or how they feel the way they do, and more. From my own experience as a young queer person questioning their sexuality, I didn’t have a clue about STI’s and I didn’t know about how to practice safe sex with a person of the same sex – and this was in the early 2010’s!
With the internet, information is just a google search away with loads of reliable resources available for people regardless of gender, experience or sexuality and that is incredible! There are a plethora of blogs, social media accounts and even YouTube channels accessible through the click of a mouse. Throughout all of this slowly comes the normalisation of conversations around sex, that can, and do, spill over into real life.
For me, it was LGBT+ Tumblr blogs and YouTube channels like Sexplanations and Hannah Witton, who were just in the early beginnings of online sex education, exploring topics like anatomy, pleasure, toys, and consent. Now we’ve got podcasts left right and centre and even instagrammers like @SexSiopa having regular ole conversations about getting some, discussing pleasure and sex as an enjoyable activity in and of itself that should be embraced and I can’t be anything but delighted about it! Not only does it normalise this conversation but it encourages curiosity and it’s incredibly empowering.
In the last number of years, the tides have begun to turn, especially in light of #Repealthe8th which opened up a wider national discussion around the sexuality and autonomy of Irish women and non-binary individuals. But, as always, we still have a ways to go in terms of discussion representations of the sexuality of people with disabilities, members of the queer community, substance abuse, better access to healthcare and resources outside of Dublin and so on.
Openly having conversations around sex, whether online, with friends or in educational settings, actively challenges the idea that sex is something ‘dirty’ or shameful, it encourages others to have conversations with their partners, to share their worries with a trusted friend or access services for support or help when necessary and all of those things are incredibly important and valuable in an age where it’s getting easier to access sexual content for folks as young as 10 years old. We owe it not only to ourselves as individuals working through our own culturally imposed shame and embarrassment but also to the next generation to continue to talk and discuss sex as easily as we would discuss last week’s celeb goss.
It’s been a pleasure. Rían xo