News Analysis: All fun and games?

With sex becoming less taboo within society, Katie Hughes questions if events like SHAG week properly reflect this

It is astounding to look at how much things have changed in the past 30 years with regard to UCD’s view on students’ sexual health. Today, we can sing and dance about sex with no hindrance, whereas in 1979 a condom machine lasted less than a week in UCD before being removed by university authorities.

UCD Students’ Union runs many themed weeks throughout the college year. These include Irish Week that raises awareness of the Irish language, Environmental Week that encourage us to live sustainably and Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance (SHAG) week which promotes the idea of safe sex.

While the SHAG week campaign is an international one run by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), it has never been big in UCD according to Students’ Union Welfare Officer Scott Ahearn. Perhaps rightly so, given that the majority, if not all, of college students have at some stage had a sex education class in secondary school or a conversation that ran along the same lines with their parents.

A decrease in the stigma associated with pre-marital sex has lead to teenagers being provided with a much more comprehensive sexual education. This all-encompassing teaching results in students entering college with the idea of using protection, from a condom to the pill, deeply ingrained in their heads if they choose to have sex.

Sexually transmitted diseases are no longer a mystery to the student population. Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and syphilis are not just words but infections to be avoided, and avoided by using a condom.

While Environmental Week encourages sustainable living, it brings to our attention what we are not doing: do we recycle, do we waste energy needlessly? Similarly, by putting such a massive emphasis on sex, is the campaign not in fact putting pressure on students and encouraging them to engage in sexual intercourse?

By dedicating a week to sex and safe sexual practices, are we not insinuating that sex is a casual everyday occurrence? We must ask ourselves whether by putting so much emphasis on the act, we are in fact diminishing its magnitude in the eyes of students.

While some can describe SHAG week as a great week, it makes others feel uncomfortable. Not all students believe in the pre-marital sex that they are so widely assumed to be partaking in. Be it a deeply rooted religious belief or the direction of one’s own moral compass, we must remember that there are students out there who don’t like or appreciate having sex thrown in their faces.

When SHAG week was first run a couple of years ago, it was a step in the direction of fully educating young people about the benefits of sex as well as how to avoid the unwanted downsides. However, a week dedicated to sex is no longer considered a novelty in a world where we are bombarded by sex and sexual innuendoes from every angle. Perhaps the Welfare Officer’s attempts to make it a bigger week in UCD this year than it has been in years past is a step in the right direction; it may also be the case that SHAG week is an outdated idea that needs to be replaced.

Some would argue that a week dedicated to sex, while too crude for some people’s taste, is a blessing in disguise. Though it can hardly expect groundbreaking results, that extra reminder of the consequences of unsafe sex and that condom squeezed into your hand by the chirpy member of the Welfare Crew may in fact serve a purpose – namely, as a reminder to all sexually educated students out there that condoms need to be used or the end result may not be as pleasant as the act itself.

The media is today flooded with post-watershed advertisements for using contraception. Advertisements for crisis pregnancy helplines such as Positive Options have a student focus and are not only advertised through the media, but also on campus itself. It could be argued that the addition of SHAG week is a type of overkill in terms of getting the message across.

When it comes down to it though, condoms can be given out, students can attend workshops on contraception and have a laugh watching people dressed as giant sperm walk around campus. But in the end, such choices are down to a person’s own common sense.