Our Different Perceptions of What Sex Should Be

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Ireland has been at the forefront of social and political change in the last ten years, and it is due to the most recent referendums in 2015 for introducing equal marriage and 2018 for repealing the 8th amendment.

In 2015, same-sex marriage was introduced to give LGBTQI+ couples the choice to marry each other. The 34th amendment to the Irish constitution, which was introduced in 2015, which allowed two people irrelevant of their sexual or gender identity to become married. Before the introduction of the 34th amendment to the Irish constitution stated that it was not permitted for anyone who wasn’t in a heterosexual relationship to become married within the Irish state—the vote in favour to allow same-sex marriage won by a vote of 62%.

And in 2018, the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution which recognised the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn which outlawed someone from seeking a termination of pregnancy was repealed by a countrywide referendum in favour to remove from the Irish constitution by a vote of 67%.

Before I continue, I want to dedicate this article to the people who without their sacrifices neither of these social changes would exist today in Ireland.

Declan Flynn, an Irish gay man who was brutally murdered by a gang of young men in Fairview park on the northside of Dublin. His death is seen as the eruption of the Irish LGBT+ modern movement in the Irish state. The men who murdered him were caught and found guilty but were set free with suspended sentences of manslaughter.

Savita Halappanaver who died in 2012 after medical complications and denied a termination of pregnancy. Her sacrifice played a vast and significant part in the movement to remove the 8th amendment for the Irish constitution and the introduction of the 36th amendment, which allowed a person to seek a termination of pregnancy.

I mentioned the immense social and political change in this article about sex positivity because among LGBT+ and feminist community groups they are continuing to strive to break the stigma attached to having an open conversation about sexual and relationship education in hopes that young people like myself are informed and feel comfortable about their sex lives.

I think the majority of people who see the term ‘sex positive’ would initially think of a person who enjoys and has a lot of sex. Still, it’s really about having a positive and open attitude to talking about sex and willing to not only be educated about sex but also inform others about having a positive attitude towards sex and most importantly ready to respect the privacy of other people’s relationships. These two inter-connected communities are at the front of breaking the stigma of intolerance of bodily autonomy.

So, what is the link between activism and creating a more positive conversation about sex in Ireland? The best answer to this question is to recognise the work of ACTUP (The Aids Coalition To Unleash Power) Dublin chapter.

We are a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the HIV crisis. 

Photo credit: Act Up Dublin

Act Up Dublin is 1 of only a few advocacy organisations to lobby and demand more action to combat the HIV crisis in Ireland. According to ActUp Dublin, there is a new HIV diagnosis in Ireland every 18hours!

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Picture Credit: Act Up Dublin

The group was set up in 2016 to combat the ever-worsening HIV/AIDS crisis happening within Ireland.

In January of this year 2020, the HSE (Health Service Executive) launched their national campaign to combat stigma related to HIV. This was afoot in the right direction to see the Irish government take action to combat the stigma and lack of information surrounding the HIV crisis in Ireland.

HSE launches national campaign to address HIV-related stigma - HSE.ie
Poster Credit: The Health Service Executive of Ireland

The poster campaign by the HSE was to bring attention to the importance of the U=U messaging, ‘’ Undetectable equals Untransmittable! Effective treatment keeps HIV at an undetectable level in your body. This saves you healthy and means the virus can’t be transmitted to sexual partners’’.

The work that Act Up Dublin is about recognising the problem that the majority of society doesn’t understand and the only way to combat this ignorance is to educate people, that if you are HIV positive or have become infected that there are supports for you available. Your life doesn’t end just because you have become HIV positive.

‘’ PrEP is available in Cork from the STD clinic in the South Infirmary Hospital, but you do have to pay for it, last time I checked the cost was 60 euro. I was shocked and saddened last year when after a lot of hard work on the part of ACT UP Dublin and ACT UP Cork, the PrEP program when it was finally run out, the service was not available in Cork’’- WIll Kennedy a member of Act UP Cork and HIV Positive gay man from cork talking about the PrEP rollout programme in October 2019.

As a young person, it’s great to see all this change happen in such a short time. I try to be open and not judge other people when it comes to speaking to my friends about these kinds of issues because I feel the same way, and we all go through them at some point. I sometimes think I have become an unintentional sex educator which sounds very weird, I know. Still, I want to be informed about all aspects my health because I do worry about that aspect of my life and if I was to ever to be in a long term relationship with a woman I care about and have a genuine connection with because with the rise of social dating apps it can be hard not to be swept into that sort of thing.

I’m at a point in my life where I have given up on using tinder or bumble because I felt that not getting matches it affected how I see myself as a young person in modern Irish society, I see myself as less than when I’m using dating apps, and it affected my mental health so after deleting the apps week after week I decided It isn’t worth it to feel that I had to change myself to fit other people’s expectations of what I should be like, so I  just stopped using dating apps. 

You can never be too safe when it comes to hooking up with people you meet over these apps and be aware that these apps can affect your self-esteem if you are targeted by online hate that might happen if you match with someone who says some hurtful things because it occurred to me and it might happen to you.

I found my way to being more open and sex-positive through thinking to myself who am I to judge other people about who they want to have sex with because at the end of the day we’re all human. We all have as my urges as my SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education) teacher in 3rd year in would say.

I had a significant influence growing up about how we should treat others, and I think that we need to get a better understanding of ‘not to judge the book by the cover’, what I mean by that is we shouldn’t prejudge people by what they’ve been through. We shouldn’t automatically presume someone homeless is lazy or doesn’t want to work, and it can be said about people who are HIV positive, they weren’t being irresponsible and not wearing a condom… the condom could’ve broken because condoms are only about 85% effective. As a young person, I found the most important thing is to say to yourself ‘Shit happens, and we can’t predict the future’, do you understand where I’m coming from?

If you have been affected by any of the issues above, please contact HIV Ireland for support: HIV Ireland.

Shawna Scott owner of SexSiopa.ie and Devina Devine, one of Ireland’s most famous drag queen performers.

Dublin Lives: Shawna Scott, creator of Sex Siopa, explains what it's like owning a sex shop - Dublin Live
Picture credit: SexSiopa.ie

‘My name is Shawna Scott, and I own and operate an online sex toy boutique in Ireland called SexSiopa. i.e’.

How can we change societies perceptions about being optimistic about our sexuality?

I think the media probably has the biggest role when it comes to shaping society’s attitudes towards sex – whether that’s how it’s portrayed in fictional stories in movies and television series or how its discussed in news stories and on chat & panel shows.

 ‘’It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario because the media is reflecting the popular views of the time, but it also wields a lot of power to shape those views subtly. That’s why it’s so important for writers, researchers, and presenters to be informed and careful with their language. As an example, we can look at the headlines around rape cases. When national newspapers frame stories in such a way that puts responsibility and blame on the victim, it tells the reader that it’s ok to do that, which contributes to the cycle of victims choosing not to come forward’’. 

Shauna continues by talking about the importance of sex positivity, ‘’Being sex-positive is important, not because it means you’re down for any kind of sexual act – quite the opposite. It means you are confident and not ashamed of the things you enjoy, and you are respectful of your boundaries and the boundaries of others’’. 

In your experience, is there a right way to express your sexuality?

‘’No, because you can express your sex-positivity in lots of ways. In a more personal sense, you can express it in the bedroom with your partner(s). But you can also do it in your day to day life by supporting and advocating for bodily autonomy through volunteering and protest. You can be a sex-positive role model to your friends and family by gently and compassionately shutting down slut-shaming and the various LGBT-phobias where you see it’’.

All our toys are made of body-safe materials – see https://sexsiopa.ie/pages/body-safe-toys.

Winner of the 2015 & 2016 Black night SME Award for Best Online Retailer (Irish Market).

Winner of the 2013 Realex Fire Web Award for Best e-commerce site in Ireland).

‘’Sex Siopa™ – Ireland’s favourite sex toy shop’’: sexsiopa.ie

‘’My name is Davina Devine, and I am a Drag artist, DJ, model and Host of Davina’s Thirsty Thursday that happens in the George bar every week’’.

‘’I think Ireland is getting there, each generation is becoming more open and progressive, but the more people talk and open up about it, it has a knock-on effect…

‘’There was a hilarious school sex education video knocking around from the early ’90s by a catholic nun on YouTube, it was so blunt with an Irish tone, and delivered so comically I had to quote it & incorporate it into a routine, a routine I still do today that has people in stitches. Because of the context, very matter of fact sexual intercourse language. I’ve performed this around older people many times, particularly women and I feel when they hear sex being described in the context I deliver it, it makes them laugh out loud and not feel so uptight about it usually, so yes I have! Lol’’.

How gay bars survived the 'Grindr effect' - Independent.ie

(Photo credit: Kevin Ferguson)

Davina talks about how LGBT+ people have always been open to having conversations about sex in a positive context, ‘I think the community, especially gay men have always been honest about their sexcapades with each other for years… being shunned by society for many decades forced them to rely on each other for support’.

I ask Davina her opinion on if she thinks Drag queens and their performances could be form activism, ‘’I think it can be perceived like that. I always shy away from getting too involved in serious matters because I’m an entertainer that’s what I do I perform I take people away from the struggles or misery of day 2-day life. However my existence as a drag queen and being unapologetic about who I am and what in do is on the other hand constant activism telling people it is ok to be yourself, do what you want, and live life the way you want. So I’m not standing on a pulpit giving speeches with my fist in the air. Still, me being me so publicly changes and affects people’s lives usually without me even knowing I’ve done anything, which in itself is very powerful on a human level’’.

What would you like young people to know about being sex-positive?

‘’I think the same thing I’d like them to know about everything that a lot of them take for granted… it was not always this open, This free, and I still think there’s a long way to go, we have “equality” yes but I still don’t think we have full acceptance. I would say you have the luxury of being so open now, but others, even a 1/2 or 3 generations right behind you still struggle, so don’t be selfish. Be respectful, educate yourself, show some compassion to those who need it and do not take for granted what you have for a Lil gay second!’’.

In 2015, The Irish Times ‘’let’s talk about sex survey’’ which received 12,639 responses from people across the gender and sexual preference of Irish society about what ordinary people like and don’t like in the closed doors of their bedrooms.

 

Aoife Murray a Peer kink educator about the modern ways people in Ireland experience and engage with kink (a non-traditional sexual method and fantasies related to sex) and BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism)

To find out more about kink and BDSM, please follow this link to Aoife’s Instagram page or contact her directly to ask here (aoife.murray.education@gmail.com) about her work that delves into everything from safety while engaging with your partner in kink and BDSM, to the culture of non-traditional methods of sex and the stigma related to people who engage in kink and BDSM.

How does stigma/shame in society about our sexual pleasure affect us as individuals? 

‘’Well, I speak to people almost daily about the stigma and shame surrounding kink culture. Some relish in certain acts being taboo. However, many tell me about the feelings of deep shame they have because of their sexual desires or the kind of relationships they crave. Our sexuality is a core part of our identity; however, society views certain acts as immoral, and so people internalise those judgements. “Why do I enjoy causing my partner pain? There must be something wrong with me”.  I always tell people that their sex life doesn’t change their worth as a person. Whether you have a very active sex life and multiple partners, or you’re waiting until marriage to have sex, your choices are valid’’. 

How can you talk to your partner about trying out a Kink you like? 

‘’In my experience, most people have a kink, but it can be so difficult to talk about. Having an open discussion about your desires and don’t pull out a sex toy in the heat of passion and hope for the best. One thing I think we can all borrow from BDSM culture is the emphasis on negotiation. Tell your partner what your kink is and explain how you’d like to incorporate it into your relationship. If you can, provide them with sources so they can look into it themselves. Give them time to explore the idea and come back to you on it when they’re ready. Also be sure that you’ve created an environment where it’s okay for them to say no, there shouldn’t be any consequences for them turning you down. Be prepared for the possibility that they just mightn’t be into it, and just because they find your kink unappealing doesn’t mean they find you unappealing. If you’re both on board with the idea, you can start slow, maybe incorporate your desires into dirty talking.’’ 

Do you think that the media negatively represents Kink and BDSM in Tv and social media? 

‘’On one hand, it’s great to see kink and BDSM being portrayed in tv/film. While those of us with some BDSM experience may roll our eyes at the mention of 50 Shades, you can’t deny that it made discussing kink more socially acceptable. But on the other hand, inaccurate and sometimes unsafe messages are rampant. There’s the classic trope of the BDSM-er who only likes it rough because they’re suffered trauma. The young, beautiful woman who just needs a corset and a whip to be a world-class professional Dominatrix. Mostly it’s the misinformation that worries me. I fear that people will watch a kinky sex scene and try to recreate it home, not realising that those who wrote and directed the film may not have any knowledge of kink safety. It’s fine to find those things erotic, but if you want the real deal, you’ve got to investigate the risks. No sexual or kink activity is ever completely safe, but we should strive to mitigate the dangers as best we can. BDSM is 90% negotiation and 10% play, but that mightn’t make for such steamy watching’’.  

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to explore kink and BDSM culture? 

‘’Unfortunately, there’s no one definitive guide to BDSM – but there are many valuable sources. I’m reading Bow Down by Lindsay Goldwert at the minute for example. She discusses what we can learn from professional Dominatrixes about exerting control in our daily lives. 

‘’There’s a strong culture of more established members of the BDSM community passing on what they know to other people interested in engaging in BDSM which is quite normal to learn from someone who is. Some people seek out that community and mentorship at their local munch. Others feel more comfortable looking online or reading books when they first get started. From YouTube videos, Facebook discussion groups, to educators like myself – you can start learning in the way that fits you best; there is no one right way to learn about BDSM because all we need to do as a society is create a space where people can talk openly and create a dialogue about whatever is troubling them, stigma is the most dangerous thing for anyone to experience irrelevant if it is about their mental health or sexual fantasies’’. 

 Could you tell me about your Kink education workshops? 

‘’I’m passionate about giving people access to reliable kink information. As the Gender Equality Senator at Maynooth University, I wanted to do some work on sex education. So with the backing of the wonderful SU sabbatical officers, I ran kink workshops during SHAG week in February. I was lucky enough to have a selection of bondage equipment donated by Play Blue (an adult toy company), allowing students to handle some toys they’d only seen in the movies before. It was nerve-wracking to talk so publicly about BDSM in the place I studied and worked five days a week. But not only was I treated with huge respect from my peers, but the classes were also so popular that I had to schedule two additional slots to accommodate everyone who wished to attend. Students have an appetite for learning about alternative relationships and sexual expression and, Covid allowing, I’ll be back next year to continue this education. I’d love to visit other campuses too if the opportunity arises. The workshops themselves are a crash course in BDSM terms and common forms of play. They’re based on the philosophy of ‘risk-aware consensual kink’. I encourage students to develop their risk profiles to determine what play is and isn’t for them. I can’t give people all of the tools they need in 60 minutes, but I can share some guiding principles, tips, and vocabulary to make doing their research that bit easier’’. 

 Aoife finishes by saying; ‘’I’m sure that even at this point in the article some readers are questioning if they can have the sex life or power exchange relationship they want. I understand that feeling, and I’ve faced many of the challenges I mentioned myself. If you told me a few years ago that I’d have the experience, I do now and found in BDSM as a place to challenge myself and reimagine intimacy I wouldn’t have believed you. And if you’d said that someone would regard my opinion in this area as important enough to feature me in an article? I’d have said you’d completely lost it’’. 

While writing this article and reaching to the participants who took part to speak on behalf of being sex-positive inclusive, there was an advertisement banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) due to the nature of the ad containing ‘’graphic’’ and ‘’unsuitable’’ conversation for children to hear.

The ASAI stated that ‘’the ban was upheld due to complaints that said the advertisement caused general offence but did not uphold complaints which claimed it was demeaning to women, contained sexual innuendo, or was unsuitable for children due’’.

Eighty-two individual complaints were filed to the ASAI regarding the ad being inappropriate to be viewed by young children.

It’s not easy to have a conversation about our private lives, especially about our sex lives. I mentioned at the start how Ireland has been at the forefront of change in the modern world, but even with all this change, we are still struggling as a country to ensure the rights of individuals are protected and improved. That can mean the abolishment of the direct provision system, the lack of available healthcare for transgender people and the lack of legislation to outlaw hate crimes. Even with all this awareness about social injustice have we each done enough to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

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