Taboo topics women just won't talk about

In the age of Twitter and Facebook where we willingly share our lives with stenagers, Anna Coogan asks if there are subjects that are still off limits

Anna Coogan

'Don't ask a married person about their sex life'

Jennifer Maguire will present the new RTE Two dating show, One Night Stand, from Thursday, November 11 at 10pm

"I think dating, sex and relationships can be fairly taboo in Ireland. Single people will address it and chat to their friends about dates and their sex lives, yet when a person enters a relationship those conversations become off limits.

"When you're in a serious relationship or married there's no sex talk, or date talk or even 'going through a rough patch' talk. Everything is fine and dandy on the outside, no matter what is happening on the inside!

"Suddenly subjects that were previously the centre of every conversation are glossed over with an embarrassed giggle.

"Working on One Night Stand, I was surprised at how open single people are about what they are looking for in a potential partner, whether that be long term or short term. There's a lot to be said for being open and talking about everything, but that said, some things are better kept private!"

'I'd never ask a woman if she's had cosmetic work done, even if it's obvious she has'

Cathy O'Connor, fashion stylist

"Three taboos come to mind. There's the moment you meet a woman and look at her face and go 'Hmm' -- yet I'd never ask straight out if she's had anything like fillers done. I would only ever ask a close friend if she's had work done on her face, and then she'd have told me anyway.

"Another taboo is fur. It's very in, I'm seeing a lot of it around, and I'm not sure people are being very upfront about whether it's real or fake. I suspect some women are wary that they'll be judged if they admit to wearing fur in this day and age.

"As a result there are women trying to pass off the real thing as fake, because they want to wear it yet don't want to be seen to be wearing fur!

"Women are very open about their dress size when they contact me in my capacity as a personal shopper. They'd be wasting my time if they weren't, and hence their own time.

"Yet I'm always surprised at the number of women who lie about their size when I'm doing a fashion make-over. There's one size on the form, and they'll turn up in person and be at least a size bigger. I think it's about actually putting it down in print!"

'Never ask a woman if she has children'

Maeve Binchy's new book Minding Frankie is out now

"I don't think you should ever ask a woman if she has children. She might be trying to have a baby without success. She might have had a miscarriage. She might be in the process of deciding. It could even be the subject of dispute between her and her partner.

"In any event it's a hugely personal thing. Women will tell you what they want you to know about their family situations when they want to. It is not a good idea to ask a question that often has to be answered defensively."

'Nobody talks about how much they earn'

Mari O'Leary, MD O'Leary PR

"I believe money and wealth are still taboo subjects. People are very slow to reveal how much they earn and in my experience, you never ask someone that question.

"Instead we're experts at putting up the facade and exuding a prosperous attitude -- it is almost as if we take the approach 'what you see reflects what you've got'.

"With this comes the inability to talk openly about financial pressures, which in this economic environment has led to some really tragic consequences of late.

"I think people would really benefit and feel supported if they spoke more openly about money, as in what they have and what they owe. They would quickly discover there are a lot of others in very similar situations to them."

'People still hide the fact they're depressed'

Louise Chunn, editor Psychologies magazine

"I think that mental health is a modern-day taboo. The truth is lots of people have weak areas, virtually no one's life is always perfect. It's far better to be able to talk to friends and family, or professionals if necessary, about your fears and worries.

"Keeping them under wraps, because you believe you will be stigmatised is not just sad, but dangerous. And it won't even start to help you face the origins of your unhappiness, and begin to turn your self around.

"Psychologies readers are women (and men) who follow our maxim, 'Know more, grow more'. Life is never going to be certain, and all we can do is try to make our own way without losing our grip on reality. But if you do become lost for a while -- depressed, unstable, mentally ill -- you should give thanks that in the 21st century, there are so many treatments to help you find your way to a better life."

'About the only thing I won't ask is a person's age. There are ways of finding out without asking!'

"My problem is I'll weigh in with the questions anyway, I'm ridiculously curious about people. Yet I'll never ask a person their age, it's one thing I consider to be very impolite to ask a person to their face.

"People will let you know if they want to. If I'm very keen to know there are ways of going about it, like asking which school they went to, and what decade they were there, and if they were a contemporary of so-and-so?

"So older ladies have nothing to fear from me asking them their age to their face! I have no hesitation when it comes to politics though, and will ask someone straight out who they voted for.

If they decline to answer or are evasive, I'll just take it that they didn't vote and are ashamed. I'll be put out because I love talking about politics.

"I learned my lesson regarding commenting on a woman's weight. When I was in college I asked a woman when she was due and she told me she'd already had her baby. Baby weight, or a baby bump or roly poly, I never ask a woman when she is due anymore!"