Teach teenagers about sexting and not how to preserve their virtue

Casual sex is the new normal and teenagers are not being armed with the tools to deal with it

Netflix and chill, shift, dank, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, bae and fam: buzz words for the modern teenager. The language is changing so rapidly that parents are googling the urban dictionary But how different is 2016 teenage etiquette?

The mechanics may remain the same but common sexual practices and the age group engaging in them are evolving. Yet our education system seems to ignore the social shift in attitudes towards sex and the infiltration of modern technology and porn culture in western homes. It appears our education system is standing still as technology speeds forward.

A recent study has shown Irish teenagers are some of Europe's most prolific sextors, and estimated to be the fourth-highest in Europe. Dr James O'Higgins-Norman, director of the Anti-Bullying Research Centre in DCU, attributes this to "a lack of a coherent relationships and sexualities education (RSE) programme in schools".

O'Higgins-Norman believes up to 50 per cent of schools in Ireland do not deliver appropriate RSE and, when they do, it tends to be "formal and focus too much on disease, crisis pregnancy and other negatives"; instead of the real complexities of sexual activity.

The Irish education system fails to acknowledge the increasing normality of this “Netflix and chill culture”; casual sex is the new normal and teenagers are not being armed with the tools to deal with this. When the proper knowledge is not provided in schools or at home, the hyper-sexualised media of today become the stop-off points for sexual education.

How can we expect young people to engage in safe sexual practices when they are provided with two extreme examples; the overtly sexual media juxtaposed against conservative and profoundly negative teachings.

Mechanics of sex

While the mechanics of sex and contraception are taught in Irish schools, the system is riddled with flaws and gaps. There is no concrete guidance about the use of technology as a tool for sexual expression or the dangers and pressures that come with it. A survey of UK parents carried out by YouGov indicated 78 per cent were perturbed by sexting. Nine out of 10 families feel more education is needed.

What seems to have passed many is sexting could be consider child pornography and those who do it liable to prosecution. I recall my introduction to sex via the Irish education system. A specialised group was hired to provided sexual and moral education for my class. We were told to lengthen skirts for “our friends” who were boys, hold on to our virtue and, when the time came, to start praying God would find a husband.

One must think about all the sexually transmitted diseases and ask is this man worth losing our capacity to bear children. There was nothing about sexual pressure or technology, let alone how to ensure safe and enjoyable sex.

“Always think contraception, butyou’ll never find a condom for your heart.” This was a quote in a pamphlet distributed. Our education system informs us about contraception, however, mostly in the guise of how it can and will fail you. Condoms break, the pill when taken correctly is only 99 per cent effective, you can always be that 1 per cent and there’s always a risk of pelvic infection with the coil. Most importantly, no contraception can fully protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. Next thing you know you’re 40 and because of adolescent promiscuity can’t get pregnant.

Perverse and hazardous

It was shrouded in denial – shock tactics and pictures of urinary tract infections would eradicate libido. Sex is not treated as normal and natural but perverse and hazardous. It was engulfed in a cloud of Catholic guilt and a refusal to engage in a mature dialogue.

Sexting is often a response to one’s aversion to physical sexual activities. Instead of saying “no”, some teenagers consider sexting a method of appeasing a sexual partner, a bargaining chip of sorts.

If we normalise proper sexual dialogue – including sexting – by providing an open and non-judgmental sexual education for young people, they will be properly equipped. Many of our youth consider practices such as sexting a “normal” part of growing up. While it can be an appropriate activity within a mature relationship, it is not a healthy way introduce anyone to sexual activity, particularly considering the legal implications in terms of minors.

As technology advances, it is our responsibility as young adults to push the higher authorities to implement change. Sexting is merely one of the many problematic side-effects emerging from our inability to properly educate young people about sex. Our technology may be advancing but our communication skills seem to be still rooted in the archaic ideology of old Ireland.

Anna Joyce is the outgoing gender equality co-ordinator with UCD students union