Under Pressure

In light of the SU’s latest sexual health campaign, Philippa White asks whether sexual liberation has gone too far

The moral climate in our society has changed significantly over the past few decades. The once penetrating scent of post-colonial Catholic guilt concerning all things sexual no longer lingers; sexually active single women (and indeed men) are not publicly decried and our generation, and that which went before us, have collectively mastered the intricate manoeuvres of the walk of shame home on any given morning.

Not only have most, if not all, forms of sexual behaviour been liberalised and liberated from taboo, but sex has become ubiquitous, commonplace and present in many aspects of our daily lives. Indeed, a recent campaign run (and then subsequently withdrawn) by the UCD Student Union undoubtedly confirmed the accuracy of the above statement in my mind.

The campaign originally aimed to distribute one thousand condoms to one thousand UCD students. Aptly named ‘1,000 Condoms, 1,000 Stories’, it was then planned that each condom recipient would be asked to anonymously post online the intimate details of their sexual exploits, after said condom was put to use.  So in other words, the campaign intended to not only educate students about contraception and safe sex, but also to encourage one thousand students to enjoy some nice, Union-endorsed love-making.

I would not class myself as an old-fashioned moralist or even a social conservative by any means, but something about this whole concept sends a slight but very real wave of unease all the way to my liberal core. A campaign that casually downplays all sexual behaviour, tries to tell me that “sex is for everyone” and therefore I should “JUST DO IT” is a risky endeavour with which I am not totally comfortable.

Consider the average group of first year students on campus. For the most part, they are an impressionable bunch, intoxicated by post-Leaving Cert freedom and independence, lapping up the half-truths and promises hurled at them in the Freshers’ Tent like it was a smooth bottle of Buckfast. If they are lead to believe that casual sex abounds on campus, they are more than likely going to believe it. Alas, giving naïve eighteen year-olds this impression is one thing, giving them a condom and urging them to take part in all this supposedly rampant sex is another thing altogether.

It seems both reckless and dishonourable to put unnecessary pressure on first year students, or students of any age for that matter, to have sex. However, my reluctance towards campaigns such as this stems from the wider message that they send out to society. Ultimately, these types of campaigns convey the message that sex is meaningless. Sex is everywhere. Sex is cheap.

Since the dawn of the Sexual Revolution in the 1960’s, any stigma surrounding sex has dissipated. No boundary remains uncrossed, no territory uncharted, and what is left is an arguably over-sexualized world. Suggestive images are used every day to sell all sorts of products, from chocolate to cars, from soft drinks to body wash, and everything in between.  Pole-dancing kits for kiddies may have been removed by a familiar supermarket giant in 2006, but aggrieved parents need not look far in the search of clothes for their children that could easily be mistaken for shrunken pieces of Christina Aguilera’s wardrobe. In short, the omnipresence of sex on the market and in the media has transformed it into something as ordinary as another consumer product.

Simple economics tells us, however, that when a product does become more widely available, its price drops. This is exactly what has happened to modern day intercourse. Yet devaluing sex benefits nobody in the greater scheme of things. If sex is just a casual thing and if one divorces intimacy from sex, then this leads to the erosion of relationships and the bond between the two people involved can be no more meaningful than a sandwich.

Yes, it is unquestionably a good thing that sex has been liberalized and is now a source of enjoyment rather than shame. Nonetheless, there is a difference between liberalizing sex and trivialising sex. The ‘1,000 Condoms, 1,000 Stories’ campaign went a step too far in portraying sex as something as special and as important as buying a take-away or going to Coppers. Some people may always view sex as whimsically as this, but for others, sex is intrinsically linked to profound intimacy and fulfilment.

Running the risk of sounding like a humourless prude, I believe that it is unwise to coax and encourage students into copulation. If all taboos about sex have been expelled, then what is left to prove? We live in an era when any kind of sexual behaviour is accepted and we no longer have to fight for our right to coitus. Students should therefore be free to make mature decisions about how, when and if and why before they “just do it”.