Safe sex and a healthy mindset when it comes to sexual intercourse are topics more and more discussed in universities across the country. Events such as Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance (SHAG) weeks are becoming traditions among campuses in attempt to educate and normalise sex and sexuality.
SHAG week in NUIG aims to tackle the simple questions like what is meant by sexual health and why is it so important? Sexual health refers to many factors – physical, emotional and mental – which impact sexual function and reproduction. Disorders affecting any of these factors can have an impact on the physical and emotional health of a person, as well as their relationships and self-image.
Although we have established the importance of looking after one’s sexual health, at the same time one might wonder why the university should promote it? Isn’t it part of a person’s own responsibility to look after their health? The important thing to understand is, that in order for a person to flourish in an academic environment, where lots of people are crammed into a lecture hall and spend lots of time together and sexual activity occurs, certain standards and rules have to be drawn to secure the safety of all parties involved. As our Student’s Union Equality Officer Clare Austick put it, “it is a student’s issue, and the #metoo movement has shown it is a global one too”.
Irish students are also critical of the Irish sex education they receive in school. Clare Austick and Welfare Officer Megan Reilly both agree that the sex education received in secondary school is not very good, lacks inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks and in a lot of other areas. In conversation with Megan, she adds that in secondary school, “it’s all about ‘the mechanics’ rather than the romantic issues”. She wanted to bring more sex positivity into the college and start a discussion about the relating topics in a fun way, instead of only talking about ‘scary STIs’.
SHAG week at NUIG is held once every semester and offers workshops, events and free STD and HIV tests. Examples of events include sex toy bingo, disclosure training and a comedy sex hypnotist. ‘The sex toy bingo was the idea of a volunteer and when tried out for the first time this year, nobody seemed to be interested on Facebook, yet that evening it was packed,’ Megan says. This shows that while people are not often openly ‘interested’ in such matters, they will show up in the end.
But is one week enough? Can five days of events really have an impact on students? Aside from SHAG week, the university has a free STI clinic open and events on safe sex and workshops find their way into the year as well. As Megan informed me, “the SU gives their platform to different sex positive organisations and is happy to support them throughout the year”. Both Megan and Clare said the most important thing is to spread the message, to give people who need it the support. Nobody is forced to attend but if even one person can be helped, it is worth it.
Considering this, the fact that this year’s SHAG week was on during RAG (Raise A Grand) week, where students are partying and mostly not even in university is not ideal. However when talking to a few students, only few of them had attended more than one event. RAG week is not recognised by the SU, so no comment was made by the SU regarding it. But Megan was very content with the outcome of the activities.
In the end, SHAG week is a great way to spread the message of sex positivity and pride over one’s sexuality in a country where sex ed lacks inclusion and detail. Even though there can be obstacles to reach lots of students, the ones that do attend make it all worth it.
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