|Fine Gael's Michelle Mulherin and Irish PM Enda Kenny|
Curiously, the most vocal segment of Irish society in matters of sex and sexuality are also usually the ones who would prefer if matters of sex and sexuality were never discussed, anywhere, ever.
How's that for a bit of Irish irony?
It's because, since the foundation of the state, Ireland has always done a bang up job of providing comprehensive sex education to it's youth.
Choosing traditional teaching sites like tree huts, bike sheds, piers, abandoned council estates, quiet alleyways, changing rooms, porn on the internet, scout camps and all too often local sacristies, generations of Irish boys and girls have learned the facts of life from their informed elders in countless unexpected ways, occasionally involving non-consensual demonstrations.
Because when you don't know the facts, its much harder to make informed choices about anything, isn't it?
But don't tell that to the nations most conservative parents and religious organizations, because they they can't see any sign of failure at all.
A recent poll found that 55% of Irish 18-year-olds left high school without any formal sex education, while a further 15% said they cannot remember receiving theirs. The message to teenagers was: don't ask, because we won't tell.
Fully three quarters of Irish teenagers receive no education in Relationships and Sexuality, according to a 2010 survey of Irish school students. Just 26% of second-level students received sex education in 2009, the survey said.
This didn't happen by accident. It reflects a longstanding silence in the culture regarding matters of sex, consent, reproductive rights and sexuality. It also reflects an enduring conservative discomfort with matters of sex and sexuality that takes us in a time machine back to the faded era of croziers and complete repression.
One need look no further that Fine Gael's latest back-to-the-future model, Michelle Mulherin from County Mayo to see an example of the anachronistic future that some would like to take us back to. Mulherin has been criticized by senior members of her own right of center party as sounding like Tea Party convention member. She has also been referred to as Ireland's Sarah Palin. She's gas.
Although she's 41, Mulherin recently observed that 'fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country.' Non-sanctioned, un-biblical, unmarried sex is the most likely cause of teen pregnancies, not lack of sexual education or lack of access to contraception.
Those are sentiments that would have warmed the heart of the era presided over by the former archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. In his day, Mulherin's shaming words were national wallpaper. She was just one when McQuaid passed away.
The more things change, as they say. Catholic conservatives have long preferred for Irish young people live in near total ignorance of their own sexuality to protect the nations religious values, even if they have sacrifice young people's self-awareness to archive it.
Yesterday the Iona Institute, a relatively new and militantly Catholic organization in the evangelical American style (that already claims the allegiance of many prominent Irish journalists and politicians) released a blanket condemnation of the website Spunout.ie a sexual health website aimed at 16 - 25 year olds.
The website's crime was that it dares to do the job the majority of Irish parents and schools apparently fail to: it give the unvarnished facts about sex and sexuality (including its consequences, good and bad) to the people most desperately in need of it.
But that's an impertinence to the fornication police, to the sex panic crowd, who are apparently unaware that most teenagers would rather spontaneously combust than listen to their parents educate them about sex?
In a delicious bit of Irish irony, Mulherin plans to complain about the SpunOut website to the Irish Health Minister.
But it's quite sad to see mature journalists and politicians take the side of hysteria and shaming over one of knowledge and self-awareness. That's been happening since the story broke. The Sunday Independent wrongly claimed this week that SpunOut received €250,000 in state funding. In fact it received €124,000 in total, which was 20 per cent of their budget. It is not a case of the Irish government promoting 'threesomes,' it's a case of an Irish website addressing the realities of teens lives.
'We advise young people not to be coerced or pressured into having any form of sex,' a statement on SpunOut's web sited clarified yesterday. That's better advice than none at all, isn't it?
The nations most conservative thinkers believe they're already doing a terrific job of educating teens, but the facts, after countless decades of sexual shame and physical abuse that flourished under the national silence they fostered and enforced, simply don't bear it out.
Here's your first clue, SpunOut is very popular with Irish teens. That's the reason why you haven’t even heard of it before now.
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