Thursday 23 February 2017

'Without the support in schools and home, teenagers think it's the norm to have sex at a young age' says president of Trinity College's student union

Sasha Brady

Lynn Ruane (31), president of Trinity College Dublin's student union
Lynn Ruane (31), president of Trinity College Dublin's student union

The proposed introduction of sexual consent workshops in Trinity College has many people wondering if we should, in fact, be having these conversations with our teenagers before they start university.

If the workshops are introduced, students will take classes modelled on "compulsory consent courses" from September, which are currently in place for first-year students at Oxford and Cambridge universities.

The proposed landmark decision has sparked debate across the country on what consent means and whether we should be having the conversation with our teenagers sooner rather than later.

For Lynn Ruane (31), president of Trinity College Students' Union, the workshops and the conversation surrounding the workshops is both positive and progressive.

Read more: Rape victim: sexual consent is a problem in universities

"The question of consent is not just about rape. It's about both sexes being comfortable with their decision to say no when it doesn't feel right," said Lynn when speaking to Independent.ie.

Lynn lost her virginity at 13 to an older man and said that the experience had negative consequences on her teenage years, setting up an expectation that sex is required of her.

Of her decision to engage in sex for the first time at 13, Lynn blames it on a "lack of information" available to her at the time.

Former TCD student Megan Nolan went public about her rape
Former TCD student Megan Nolan went public about her rape

"If you don't have the information and education, you're definitely not empowered to be able to make an informed decision. These types of conversations aren't happening in schools and in most homes," she said.

Read more: Are sexual consent classes a step too far?

"Without having the conversation and support in schools and home, teenagers think it's the norm to have sex at a young age. It becomes a cultural thing.

"They're in these large social settings and alcohol is involved and they think everyone else is fine with it so it must be okay.

Lynn's experience is similar to those of many Irish teenagers and the introduction of consent workshops in Trinity College has many people wondering if we should start this conversations with teenagers before they go to college, while they're still in secondary school.

"I have these open conversations with my teenage daughter all the time," said Lynn.

Lynn Ruane and daughters Jordanne (15) and Jaelynn (9). Photo: Arthur Carron
Lynn Ruane and daughters Jordanne (15) and Jaelynn (9). Photo: Arthur Carron

Read more: Youngsters most at risk of sexual abuse by children the same age, say experts

"From a very young age I spoke to her. First it was in terms of kissing boys and then it moved on to, if she thought about having sex, could she come to me first? I spoke to her about how important it is.

"Once you engage in sex for the first time, it's gone then. You can never undo it, you can never change how it happened. It isn't something that can be undone. So it's about being really sure and really certain about why you're doing it and when you're doing it."

Lynn said that although the conversations can be awkward, it's vital that teenagers have someone mature who they can access the right information from.

"I'll be honest, the first conversations you have with your child about this subject can be really awkward. I had to fight past that and pretend that I was 100 per cent okay with having this conversation because if you approach it awkwardly your child is going to think that this isn't a normal chat to have - you want them to feel it is."

Read more: ‘Perpetrators are out there seeking vulnerable people on Tinder’ - Warning over dating apps as sexual assaults rise 33pc

Lynn acknowledges that these lines of conversation aren't open within a lot of families so there's a need to have the "option for that discussion in the classroom".

"There are very grey areas that need to be addressed when it comes to consent. It's about people knowing their boundaries, not overstepping those boundaries," she said.

"The exposure to sex now through social media... there's much more added pressure. It must be much harder now for teenagers to have these conversations.

"If we could integrate these talks within sex education workshops in schools, it could make a big difference."

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