| 10.9°C Dublin

David Quinn: What did we lose when we cast off our sexual taboos?


'There appears to be a coy reluctance to tell people to cut down on the number of sexual partners'

'There appears to be a coy reluctance to tell people to cut down on the number of sexual partners'

'There appears to be a coy reluctance to tell people to cut down on the number of sexual partners'

THE 'Late Late Show' celebrates its 50th anniversary tonight and what's the betting there will be a reference to The Bishop and the Nightie Affair?

That took place in 1966, early on in the show's run. Most people know the story, but briefly, Gaybo was interviewing recently married couples and asked one woman if she remembered what she wore on her wedding night.

To general laughter she replied that she mightn't have worn anything at all. Outraged by this display of 'prurience' a bishop contacted the show to tell it he was "disgusted with (such a) disgraceful performance".

The incident is now seen as emblematic of the sexual prudery from which many people at the time longed to escape. The 'Late Late Show' is presented, and presents itself, as one of our liberators, as the programme that helped highlighted the way to the escape door.

The 'Late Late' is obviously entitled to a bit of a knees-up tonight, but is what lay beyond the escape door quite what it or we expected?

A few days ago Dr Fiona Lyons of St James's Hospital was interviewed on Newstalk's 'Breakfast Show'. She was discussing Sexual Health Awareness Week (SHAW) which began on Monday and has been hosted by the Royal College of Physicians.

There was much celebratory talk about how much more "open and mature" we have become about sexual matters compared with our poor, benighted forebears. The fact that SHAW is taking place at all was seen as evidence of that.

Dr Lyons spoke about the patients she sees who have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Between 1995 and 2010, the number of cases of STIs contracted annually in the country has increased by 360pc to around 12,000.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not fully convinced this necessarily indicates we're as 'mature' about sexual matters as we like to think.

I'll agree that we're a lot more open, but it's not entirely clear that a bunch more people contracting chlamydia, gonorrhoea, or syphilis is evidence of maturity.

In fact, in this paper the other day, Dr Jack Lambert of the Mater Hospital was quoted as saying that there's an increase in STIs among separated people in their 30s, 40s and 50s because they "are going out and acting as if they are 18 or 25 years old again".

That doesn't sound too mature either. In fact, it sounds sort of like the opposite.

Then again, we mustn't be too judgmental or moralistic, must we? Perhaps that's why the Royal College of Physicians in a 25-page report on sexual health published to coincide with SHAW couldn't bring itself to say that sticking to one long-term sexual partner dramatically reduces your chances of contracting an STI.

This is remarkable. Doctors are supposed to dispassionately tell people about risks to their health. No one thinks a doctor is being judgmental if she tells a patient to stop smoking or cut back on the pints.

But there appears to be a coy reluctance to tell them to cut down on the number of sexual partners.

That doesn't seem even a bit mature to me. That looks a whole lot more like a profession that's overreacting against our repressive past, to the point where it won't tell people what they need to hear for the good of their health.

Surely this dogmatic refusal to tell people that cutting back on their number of sexual partners will greatly reduce their chances of contracting an STI is against good medical practice?

Perhaps the members of the Royal College might like to read a recent book called 'Pre-Marital Sex in America' written by two sociologists.

A study of 18-23-years-olds, it reveals a huge amount of pain.

For example, women in this age group who have multiple sexual partners are three times as likely to have suffered from depression as women who have had only one or two sexual partners (30pc versus 10pc).

That doesn't sound terrible healthy to me and it seems like another good argument for monogamy, even if that means a series of long-term monogamous relationships.

Maybe the Royal College might invite the authors of the book to address SHAW next year?

OR better still, maybe the 'Late Late' might do so? There is absolutely no way the Ireland that exists today is the sexual paradise foreseen in the glory days of the show. There is no way they envisaged such a huge increase in the number of STIs, or older, separated people being as immature as 20-year-olds, or a big incidence of depression among young women with multiple sexual partners, or a dogmatic refusal by the medical profession to recommend sticking with one partner.

The 'Late Late Show' helped to bring about the sex revolution in Ireland. Now it needs to reform it for the better so we can become truly grown up about sex, instead of just pretending we are.

Irish Independent