Sunday 24 June 2018

'Consent isn't only about sex'

Case study: Niamh Scully (18), Dublin

Student Niamh Scully. Photo Damien Eagers
Student Niamh Scully. Photo Damien Eagers

Kathy Donaghy

Niamh is from Clontarf in Dublin. She is sitting her Leaving Cert this year and hopes to study English, classics and history at UCD.

"I'm in a different school this year from my first five years in school. My old school was an all-girls Catholic school and we didn't get any sex education.

Our RSE (relationships and sexuality education) was all about alcohol, drugs and bullying - we never talked about sex at all. There was a piece about contraception and our teacher just skipped over it.

There's so much shame and stigma around sex - even in fifth year, girls couldn't talk about it in science class even though our sexuality is something we should be proud of. You can never fully love your body properly until you understand how it works.

I came out when I was 16 and I identify as a gay woman. When I went to BeLonG To (an organisation that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans young people in Ireland) I got really involved and I applied to be on the peer educator panel. Workshops there are given by peers.

I wish I'd known consent was a part of my entire life and not just about sex. It usually comes up in the context of a rape case, but it's so appropriate in lots of different things in life.

I wish I could have taken control earlier to know that you can stand up for yourself and say 'I'm not comfortable with that' in various contexts. That's why it's so important to teach consent to young people.

It's not all about sex but it will help you when you get older. People have to figure things out and they can expect things to happen, that it's the norm. But you don't have to do anything that doesn't make you happy.

People should feel comfortable to talk about sex and not feel embarrassed, but we are so held back by it. It should be normal for everyone and it should be inclusive. Knowing your sexuality is important not just in terms of who you're attracted to, but being comfortable in yourself. That ties into body image and into social media.

Because we have so much stigma and shame in this country, it's so important for people to have a space that empowers them. I have a great group of friends.

Sex education must be relevant to everyone - trans people and gay people - I would have loved to have had that experience. We need to get away from people caring only about people like themselves and being aware of things that are only relevant in their bubble.

I think I'm sad for my younger self - there was a whole world of things I didn't know about."

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