It’s no secret that the sexual education students receive in secondary school is far from complete. Comprehensive instruction about sex and the prevention of STIs, as well as teaching about signs and responses to potential dating abuse, are scarcely found in the current sex and relationships curriculum.
With regards to sexual health, TCDSU is far from incompetent, but there is still work to be done. The offering of free lube and condoms from House 6 and the College Health Service is a signifier of an adapted attitude taken by Trinity administration that is fitting in the current climate of youth-led sexual liberation in Ireland and abroad. International students comprise one-third of the total student population in Trinity, and this degree of adaptability from TCDSU to the needs of those coming from abroad is essential.
The extensive influence of the Catholic Church on Irish education remains to have a tangible and damaging impact. An article written for The Irish Times in 2019 provided data stating that, as it stands, 90% of primary schools are still under the organisation of the Catholic Church, which corresponds with the statistics in an article written eight years earlier by the Irish Examiner. Far from progressing beyond the past, Ireland has become educationally stagnant due to the persistent and pervasive presence of religious authority in what should be State-led curriculums.
“Ireland has become educationally stagnant due to the persistent and pervasive presence of religious authority in what should be State-led curriculums.”
This doesn’t even take into consideration the difficulty for students identifying as LGBTQ+. The sex education offered in schools, to whatever limited extent it does exist, is entirely focused towards heterosexual relationships. Learning how to put on a condom and the easy infectability of STIs was the extent of the sex education offered to me as a teenager, with methods of female contraception such as the pill or femidoms being almost entirely absent from the offered curriculum.
Universities openly facilitating safe sex is great, but for any LGBTQ+ students coming from a Catholic school, where the sex education curriculum inherently omits information on same-sex intercourse, douching and other MSM/ WLW or aromantic needs, further infrastructure needs to exist to facilitate disadvantages. This is especially true for a university such a Trinity, with such a growing culture of diversity.
In a survey conducted in 2019, the implementation of sex education was described by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment as follows: “For most students their experience of RSE can be summed up as too little, too late and too biological…The dominant approach is concerned almost exclusively with the risks and dangers associated with relationships and sexuality and does not allow for discussion of the positive, healthy and enjoyable aspects.”
Any university that offers free condoms and openly recognises that its students are sexually active implicitly takes on the responsibility of making sure that sex, when it is occurring, is done responsibly. While Trinity is not responsible for every sexual encounter undertaken by its student body, students deserve to have unbiased support for all aspects of their sexual health. Trinity chooses to provide free contraception and encourage healthy, non-judgemental sexual activity, and thus should also be in a position to offer free STI tests, as well as free abortions per the repealed constitution of Ireland. If Trinity’s response to COVID-19 is anything to go on, it’s that the resources do exist in Trinity for the rapid prevention and control of infection, but only when the college sees fit.
“While Trinity is not responsible for every sexual encounter undertaken by its student body, students deserve to have unbiased support for all aspects of their sexual health.”
College offers a confidential sexual health clinic service, as well as providing useful information leaflets in its health service. An impressive initiative, and one which is needed, is the introduction of posters around campus. However, when attempting to access the pages on Trinity’s “About Safer Sex” page online, links to their specialised links page provided only an error message when I tried to access their information.
Often in sexual health, there is a focus on preventing pregnancy as opposed to the promotion of good general sexual health. In a poll conducted by Trinity, though this data should be considered in the context of the 2002 poll, only 50% of the students interviewed used condoms always, 25% sometimes did, and, to quote Trinity’s sexual health page, “an alarming number” never used them at all. This lack of specificity isn’t the main issue here: Trinity is cognisant of the number of students on campus engaging in regular sexual activity, but hasn’t bothered gathering data for public consumption since 2002. Especially in the context of the cultural push for sex positivity, Trinity’s apathy in its approach to the comprehensive sexual health and knowledge is especially surprising given the funds dedicated to the post of Welfare Officer. This data is reused on the page of the STI Clinic, but is described as “recent data” to indicate levels of sexual activity in Trinity.
One week a year, SHAG week, is dedicated to the spread of information about good sexual health. With the college being cognisant that 80% of students were sexually active in 2002, this week is a necessary initiative, especially considering that the number of sexually-active students has likely risen since 2002 with the increase of the Sex Positivity movement. Considering this, the College’s approach to reporting and dealing with sexual assault shows a visible fault in its sexual health administration.
Visible in Trinity’s “Dignity and Respect Policy” is the negligent proceduralism of the process when being reported within college. Following the recommendation that cases be referred to An Garda Siochana, Trinity’s procedure involves reporting the crime to your tutor, or another contact person in college. Afterward, interviews will be conducted on the victim’s behalf to ascertain further information about the cases. The lack of insight into the necessities of victim welfare, and the general requirements in terms of sexual and mental health, show a clear schism in the College and its relationships with students’ sexual health.
For advice about sexual health and to learn more about the services Trinity offers, please visit https://www.tcd.ie/healthytrinity/sexual-health/.
This article was written with assistance from Dearbhail Kent.