Negative online response to SHAG Week advertisements

Image Credit: Sinéad Mohan

UCD Students’ Union has received multiple negative comments in response to Instagram and Twitter advertisements it shared promoting Sexual Health and Guidance (SHAG) Week events.

One tweet, promoting the SU BDSM Workshop received a particularly strong response. The tweet read “While this workshop is designed with those who'd like to explore kink based relationships in mind, there are lots of tips for even the most vanilla among you.” While some Twitter users poked fun at the SU in response, others took issue with their use of the word vanilla, and the implication that those not interested in BDSM were “boring”. 

In response to the criticism, Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Leighton Gray has said that part of the goal of the workshop was to educate and move away from the unhelpful perception of BDSM in mainstream media. “The aim behind SHAG Week events, as it is every year, is to educate people on consent, safety, and sexual health. The BDSM workshops are important in particular, as although a somewhat taboo subject, it is a very popular sexual activity. BDSM has become popularised in the recent decade, possibly due to ’50 Shades of Grey’ and its discussion in mainstream media. The BDSM community has been vocal that this franchise is a gross misrepresentation of BDSM, and following its footsteps could lead to serious injury, abuse and even death. It is our responsibility during SHAG week to provide students with the tools to protect and empower themselves in their sexual encounters. Our workshop focused on consent and safety within BDSM, and how they could experience pleasure through this lens”.

Despite the negative comments online, the uptake of SHAG week events has surpassed the SU’s expectations. The first BDSM workshop had more than 160 people on the waitlist with a second workshop scheduled for next week. Over 150 people also attended a workshop with sex and relationship expert, Dr Caroline West. The workshop covered the topics of consent, STI prevention, and safe sex practices. Welfare Officer, Ruairí Power was keen to emphasise the importance the SU are placing on the topic of consent this year and expressed his delight at the Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment in Third Level Education (ESHTE) committee’s decision to endorse the SU’s calls for the introduction of mandatory consent training for students. Currently, sexual consent classes are offered to first-year students but the classes are not mandatory. 

Speaking to The University Observer, Power said, “Moving SHAG online has been a big challenge but engagement has been fantastic so far. We're also working with the Association of Medical Students in Ireland on their ‘Let's Talk about Sex’ Symposium, a DRAG workshop with our LGBTQ+ Campaign Co-ordinator Josh, an anti-HIV stigma video campaign, a panel discussion on the review of the repeal legislation and have been lobbying TD's for the re-opening of the Gay Men’s Health Service [and the] provision of home STI testing kits.”

More information on all of these events is available from @UCDSU on Twitter and Instagram.