02 Jul 2022

Editorial: The birds, the bees... and then consent

This week's editorial

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Parenting has changed a great deal - even in the last ten years alone.

The prevalence of smartphone technology and social media fashions mean a child’s parents are forever tackling new challenges as part of a lifelong battle to keep their children safe.

Understanding consensual sex is an integral part of protecting men and women, boys and girls. Relationships and sexual education were always an uncomfortable topic to discuss in many household and in many classrooms too.

The birds and the bees talk is an idiom often used in the lead up to parents delicately telling their young children about sexual intercourse.

Those conversations are likely to have begun with: “When a man loves a woman very much...and a woman loves a man very much...sometimes...” and we all know the rest. It was too simplistic a tale.

Consensual sex requires more of an understanding than that antiquated analogy.

The newly passed Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 says a person consents to a sexual act “if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act”.

The definition should become as familiar to children as the birds and the bees - not an easy message to convey - but achievable through teaching and informed parenting.

It’s the reality in Ireland today, that consensual sex has had to be defined in law, as well as what is not consensual sex.

Primary school children are to be taught about sexual consent under a major review of sex education in schools. Good.

Schools should be taking the lead in such important and challenging conversations for parents.

The birds and the bees was a pleasant narrative for parents to spin around sex when they have “the talk” with youngsters.

The birds the bees...and then consent is a more complex narrative to communicate. But the consent condition before and during sex must be instilled into the mind of every child - both male and female.

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