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SpunOut.ie and the threesome advice that shook Ireland

apple and booksThis article originally appeared in the University Observer, Volume XIX, 3rd April 2013.

On 24th March 2013, the Sunday Independent published an article concerning a page on the part government funded youth website, SpunOut.ie. The page in question was one relating to threesomes. As a part of the website’s sexual education and health articles, information was given about how to partake in a threesome whilst keeping it ‘safe and enjoyable’. It was not until Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin raised issue with the article that the full severity hit the national media.

Since the article’s publication, there has been public outrage, both from concerned parents and worried politicians about the effects information like this could have on the website’s audience of 16-25 year olds. Minister James Reilly has said there will be an investigation into the article, and also said that he believes it is ‘not the appropriate sort of information that the state should be putting out there.’

Likewise, in her article in the Irish Independent of 26th March, Miriam Donohoe believes the article glamorises group sex, and is therefore dangerous for ‘vulnerable’ teens. She believes that sex should be between ‘two responsible, loving, consenting adults.’

But why is it that in a time when we are finally seeing an end to state sexual oppression, people object so strongly to the concept of a threesome? In fact, rather than objecting to the concept of the threesome, most critics of the article are simply objecting to information about threesomes being provided to 16-25 year olds. As with all debates about the state’s place in people’s sexual affairs, we must examine the question: does the state have a role in the sexual choices of its people?

The question itself gives the answer, in the word choice; sexual choices are precisely what they say they are. They involve one person’s decision to engage in a sexual activity with one person, or two people, or three people, or however many people they want, of whatever gender they desire.

The outrage expressed by many parents is often unquestioning disgust. This outrage occurs in a state where, according to the 2012 Durex Sexual Wellbeing Survey, nearly a third of Irish people have not received any form of sexual health education in secondary school. And wherever there is a silence as resounding as the one around sex in Ireland, discomfort and misunderstanding will be at the core of public discussion. Perhaps it is this squeamishness that still surrounds sex in Ireland that is at the core of the controversy, rather than the information about the threesome itself.

The criticisms from most people, who are perhaps of a generation who never received sex education at school, seem to centre on the fear that the information encourages young people to have threesomes. While some of the language of the original article (which has since been edited) was perhaps too light-hearted, the article, in essence, is unbiased and gives purely factual information.

Most importantly, it offers extremely important advice to teenagers who may be considering taking part in a threesome on the use of contraception. Information is also given on the potential emotional impacts, such as the break-up of a relationship and jealousy from a partner. They also warn teenagers not to allow themselves to be pressurised into a threesome by a partner; they warn that it must be the individual’s own choice, and not somebody else’s.

But if this kind of information is not provided for teenagers by the State, where will they get it? Most teenagers will be reluctant to ask parents, schoolteachers, friends or siblings – so where will they turn? In Ireland, a culture is already emerging of teenagers turning to pornography to get their education. In a 2011 UNICEF online survey of 509 young people, 54 per cent admitted to watching porn, with 36 per cent believing what they had watched was ‘accurate and/or educational’.

These are facts that Minister James Reilly and TD Michelle Mulherin cannot, and must not ignore; in an increasingly sexualised world parents must be prepared for the inevitable: their children will have sex, whether that be when they are sixteen, seventeen, or much older. It is this, along with peer pressure amongst teenagers, that means that information like that provided by SpunOut.ie is essential.

In many ways, this controversy shows the ever widening gap in the Irish education system, and in particular, sex education in schools. It is disappointing that teenagers must still feel ashamed of their sexuality to the extent that they cannot discuss it with their peers and teachers in a comfortable, safe environment.

The attitude young people have to sex, as a result of their lack of education on the subject, is what creates a sense of shame. Some parents and politicians may believe that providing information on threesomes normalises the practice for young people, however it is clear that lack of discussion breeds fear and misunderstanding. This is the sad reality for many young people today, who, as a result of controversies like this one, will continue to view their sexualities as something they should fear and hide. They will no doubt continue to receive their education from unrealistic pornography.

If we are to form an inclusive, open and honest Ireland, we must accept the realities of sex, and with acceptance must come education and growth. Those in government must face the facts of a modern world. One would think that rather than criticising the information provided, they would rejoice that somebody is providing it, as their education system is clearly failing to do so.

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