Teenage sex: it's time to end the drink link


Brian McFadden’s new song is about taking advantage of a drunken woman. It’s a sad summation of attitudes to alcohol and sex

PERHAPS inadvertently, Brian McFadden has done social discourse a favour this week with the release of his new single, Just the Way You Are (Drunk at the Bar). The song, which includes the lyrics “I like you just the way you are / drunk as shit dancing at the bar” while also expressing a desire to “take you home so I can take advantage and do some damage”, has met with a storm of criticism since its release a week ago.

In response to the criticism the former Westlife star has decided to donate all profits from the song to victims of sexual assault and try to prevent the single from being played on radio. He continues to defend the song and its lyrics, though, denying it has anything to do with drunken sexual activity and portraying it instead as a “tongue-in-cheek song about how [I] find it cute when my girl gets drunk. I am not promoting date rape.”

But, taken literally, McFadden’s lyrics give the distinct impression that taking sexual advantage of a partner who may be in inebriated is something to boast about. It’s not. It is sexual assault, plain and simple, and if it takes an ill-advised four-minute pop song to raise awareness of this issue, then maybe some good will have been served.

Far too often, when we discuss date rape, the associated image is of pills or powder being dropped into unattended drinks. The focus is rarely on the alcoholic drink itself, which is in effect the biggest date-rape drug in Ireland.

A study by Rape Crisis Network Ireland found that alcohol is a factor in more than half of sexual assaults on adults in Ireland. Other studies have shown that 88 per cent of rape cases that ended up in court involved alleged perpetrators who had been binge drinking, and more than 10 per cent of victims said they were too drunk to say no. Research has also shown that alcohol increases aggression in men and reduces men’s ability to understand a refusal when it comes to sex.

There is a widespread unwillingness to fully recognise the harmful side effects of irresponsible drinking, particularly among males.

When young Irish men and women engage in formative or initial sexual activity, alcohol often plays a role. The relationship between alcohol and sex in Irish society is deeply embedded from a young age.

I have visited secondary schools throughout the country and tried to have a dialogue with Irish teenagers about alcohol. It was this experience that piqued my anger when I listened to McFadden’s single because for every pioneering school chaplain or progressive parents’ council attempting to address the issue, there is a groundswell of cultural associations with alcohol that makes the task seem overwhelming.

At times I’ve felt utterly redundant speaking to a roomful of Irish adolescents without their parents present. Unless all of generations address our dysfunctional relationship with alcohol, it seems futile to talk solely to our teenagers about the issue.

It is also depressing that in the two decades since I left school the debate about issues such as alcohol and sex remain infrequent and sometimes superficial. Teachers feel it is parents’ responsibility to prompt debate; parents feel the school should teach responsibility with alcohol.

I’ve been to schools where strict guidelines are laid down about what can and cannot be discussed with students. I have been asked to restrict my conversation about aspects of alcohol. There is a reluctance to allow open discussion. Naturally, some subjects need to be tempered, but surely we adults have a duty to ensure teenagers get to question the national stereotype of the drunken Irish?

In question-and-answer sessions I have with students, teenage boys speak with bravado and openness about their sexual exploits while drunk. Sometimes, when I challenge them about their feelings and emotions when sober, or about how exactly they feel alcohol affects sexual performance, their bravado and openness disappear.

It’s the same old story: alcohol overcomes our residual national sexual awkwardness but is an uncomfortable subject in the sober light of day.

The link between erratic or uncharacteristic social behaviour and alcohol is often underplayed by Irish teenagers and, if truth be told, by Irish society as a whole.