Irish Catholic Sex Education – sound like an oxymoron? Well for a long time in Irish schools – for decades actually – it often was.
Witness this Irish Catholic Sex Education For Girls video from the 1980’s. Recently posted on internet’s storehouse Reddit, this cringe-inducing how-to for young ladies has elicited howls of laughter from appalled readers, the majority of them writing “Oh, weren’t they innocent times?” responses.
But the thing is, they were not innocent times. In fact, they were cruel, conformist times.
Anyone who lived through that recession-filled decade in Ireland, the last hurrah of the old Catholic theocracy, will recall the quiet religious fanaticism informing many of these “your body is a temple built for marriage alone” sermons masquerading as instruction.
It becomes clear just a few minutes into the second video that Irish girls are being asked to surrender all their difficult questions about love and sex and replace them with God’s simple answers, and, wouldn’t you know it, He happens to agree completely with the Catholic Church about all matters relating to love, sexuality, and the human body.
It’s the educational equivalent of a pat on the head. In the video the profound mysteries of love, sexuality, human desire, tenderness, lust, and romance are reduced to one finger thrust into a clenched fist. It’s all about the plumbing in the 1980s; there was nothing else to contemplate.
Anyone who was a pupil in an Irish Catholic School of the era will shudder at the memory of how often short, awkward conversations with their Sex Ed teacher usually followed these screenings.
The discussion, which was usually much more of a monologue, would usually focus on accepted Catholic teaching about what was permissible for a young Irish person to do – and along the way, girls would discover just how weighted the scales were in favor of the opposite sex.
In this Sex Ed video the boy’s job is to produce sperm. It is the girls' job to be its mute receptacle. If there’s any more to their exchange you won’t find evidence of it in 1980’s sex instruction.
So the truth is these were not “innocent times” at all. They were deliberately obfuscating times, where information was usually indistinguishable from proselytizing.
Of course, love and sex are about much more than just your basic plumbing, but back then once you were married and impregnated all your bets were off.
Meanwhile, gay Irish people, willfully invisible to the Church, were forced to grow up alone in those days, citizens of a country that made no room for them anywhere. Their realities were not addressed. Their hopes and dreams were not alluded to. They were non-people, literally unspeakable.
I have often wondered where they all went, all those thwarted Irish LGBT conversations that were never had, all the passionate declarations that were never made, all the connections that were not shared, all the vows that were never spoken.
Everyone knew that Irish reality was more complex than we would let on, but most of us did as we had been instructed to and marginalized the misfits, willingly writing them out, until they had been pushed into the shadows or someplace worse. It was don’t ask, don’t tell on a national scale. It was done without a thought for the consequences.
Nowadays, the roof has blown off the repressed and repressive Irish society that produced these videos and blunt questions can be asked and common sense answers sought. Now we can even laugh at what we once were awed by.
The irony is that it was love and desire that finally freed us. By repressing how we loved and even dictating who we could love, the religious forces that created our cruel and conformist society also unwittingly created the conditions that would blow it to kingdom come.
*Originally published in July 2016.