DUGES and the fight for Sexual Empowerment

Alice Matty explores how Trinity’s own gender equality society is breaking down boundaries and tackling stigmas surrounding sexual empowerment

Sexual empowerment and women — Until recent years in modern society, these two concepts have not particularly coexisted harmoniously. Now conversations surrounding feminine empowerment are frequent and familiar, and the stigmatisation of feminine sexual topics is rapidly declining. 

The Dublin University Gender Equality Society (DUGES), is Trinity’s own gender equality society. DUGES create a safe space for the women and gender minorities in college to engage in the crucial ongoing conversation around gender politics, sexuality and feminism. They aim to educate women, men and the queer community on the importance of safe sex practices; with partners and sex toys alike. Weekly coffee hours and closed spaces encourage open discussion, seeking to foster social change and student activism. An exceptionally informative sit-down with DUGES’ Chairperson, Leah Downey, firmly established the society’s aim as a direct “commitment to intersectional feminism” which seeks to analyse the interaction of various modes of oppression, further stimulating discussions about women’s rights.

Sexual empowerment is a fundamental tenet in feminist principles, and a “cornerstone of DUGES’ values as a society.”

Feeling liberated in one’s sexual preferences is a central part of discovering and shaping self-identity
; further enhancing fulfilment in all aspects of one’s personal life. Yet the sexual freedom to express is not always an avenue that is available to everyone for the majority of individuals, it can take years of self-discovery before exploring these sexual encounters, with boundaries and no limitations. However, society as a whole should be willing to support women on this journey.

Whilst there is an abundance of encouragement regarding sexual empowerment in Trinity, a lot of work relating to feminine sexual empowerment is linked to the work surrounding “eradicating feelings of shame and societal standards for female sexuality,” Downey details. The TCDSU work alongside DUGES for the facilitation of condoms and information regarding STIs and safe sex practices, with committee members noting that many students are “too embarrassed or shy to take the condoms.”

Although DUGES aim to sexually empower students, the mental health aspect of sexual relations is also a priority for the committee to preach about.

Even though women have come a long way from the Catholic Ireland that prohibited contraception and shamed female sexual practices, these experiences have become embedded in our culture
. DUGES aim to destigmatise female sexuality and the feelings of shame that often accompany sexual exploration, facilitating women in the process of unlearning and deviating away from our sexual biases.


Although an inescapable stigma surrounds many female activities, these issues are accentuated within the realm of sex. Society differs its stance on masturbation from gender to gender, with male masturbation often a topic of open conversation amongst peers — It is seen as a standard aspect of adulthood and puberty, free from the indignity associated with masturbation among women and gender minority groups. Successful masturbation and reaching a climax is often more complex when you have a vagina than with a penis, and involves more mental stimulation. These added elements can be intimidating and cause stigma between women also: “It’s a multifaceted issue that we hope to make students more comfortable discussing and exploring,” shares Downey. 

From a feminist perspective, DUGES assists in supporting women in relationships outside the public sphere, decondemning these discussions and “lifting the barriers that subjugate women and the LGBTQ+ community” thus eliminating the positive bias towards male sexuality and the objectification of women through avenues of sexual emancipation.


This year, DUGES have already held a plethora of empowering social and educational events; with the inclusion of a closed space, a poster-making workshop, and a vigil for Mahsa Amini, additionally attending protests (in solidarity with women in Iran) and a March for Choice, amongst many other events. DUGES’ events are constantly adapting, catering to the needs of its members, and directly linking to students’ demands of feminist representation on campus. 

This year’s upcoming DUGES events aim to provide a safe space for individuals to learn more about the cultural and political elements of gender representation. In order to provide a network for those looking to engage in feminism on a wider scale, DUGES recently collaborated with the SU during Sex Week — Sex toy bingo, a queer safe sex talk and a kink workshop were all on the agenda. These were accompanied by many more events, including those that addressed other sociological concepts that interact with gender, such as class and race, and the exploration of how these elements can aid us in understanding the feminist world.

The most effective way to erase stigma and create open, shame free discussions is through education. With sexual health and sexual empowerment always a high priority for the committee, DUGES is a society you can always rely on to care for and empower absolutely everyone in Trinity.

Alice Matty

Alice Matty is a Sex and Relationships Deputy Editor and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying Economics and Business.