Ah yes, I remember it well. I was twelve. A Catholic priest brought me into a private room, on my own, and showed me a photograph of a naked boy.
The boy was standing on some rocks by a river bank. He was trying to spear a fish with a stick, his tiny penis dangling between his legs made up of barely a dozen pixels. But it was there. I could see it. That was the point.
The priest used the tip of his biro to point it out to me, to make sure I knew what he was talking about. Judging by the swarm of blue ink-spots hovering around the boy’s genitalia, the priest had biroed this penis many times before.
I give you sex education, folks, Catholic-school style, in 1980s Ireland.
I don’t quite remember what the priest actually said about this boy’s penis. I just remember the biro, and the boy, and the feeling of intense discomfort at having a priest try to explain the facts of life to me.
He kept things simple. There was no mention of erections, ejaculations, or contraception, and certainly nothing about masturbation or fellatio. He was also quiet on the matter of positions — no doggy style, or missionary, or reverse cowgirls here.
Nor did he mention Alabama Hot Pockets, flying camels, bukkake, chili cheese dogs, golden showers, butt play, eating at the Y, Eiffel Towers, slurping of the gherkin, threesies, tongue-punching, watersports, Houdinis, happy endings, or furburgers.
And he made no reference at all to finger banging, snarfles, sixty-nines, rusty trombones, salad tossing, clam eating, chocolate cha-chas, barebacking, manwiches, smoke poles, facializing, cabeza, pillow-biting, carpet-munching, bob-knobbing, blumpkins, Hershey highways, punching of the starfish, playing of the skinflute, skiing, scissoring, rainbow kissing, muff-diving, dookie love, butt diddling, snowballing, handjobs, or anything to do with Abe Lincoln.
No, all there was was a general warning not to put my penis inside a lady. Ever. He was hazy on the reasons, but I remember that quite clearly.
Hey, if I kept my penis out of ladies, I could be cool, just like him!
Oh, don’t worry, he covered lady-parts as well. In that he literally covered them. There was no photograph of the female body, no actual vaginas per se, just one of those cross-sectional diagrams of a uterus that you see in anatomy textbooks.
You know, the one that looks like the logo for Dodge Trucks.
I can’t remember where he put his biro this time, but it was clear the priest had only a little knowledge, which of course he used to take him a long way.
And there was nothing about consent. I mean, we were boys. Why would we need to know anything about consent?
Ah the 1980s. Times were different back then. This was all the sex education we needed. What harm did it do? It’s not as though the Irish lack a mature and respectful approach to sex, sexuality, contraception, reproductive rights, or sexual consent, now, is it?
So guess what. Fast forward to 2018 and — drum roll please — nothing much has changed. In fact, the Catholic-school lobby want to take active steps to keep everything this way, with right-wing conservatives actively speaking out against the ‘undermining’ of ethos that might result from modernizing sex education in Catholic schools:
Fianna Fáil [the lead opposition party in the Irish parliament] will oppose legislation which provides for factual objective sex education without regard to the ethos of a school.
The party’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said he was concerned that the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill would result in changes to the “characteristic spirit of schools” and had been drafted without consulting education partners.
In other words, the church was not asked first. You know, they might not want ‘factual objective’ education. Did you ever think of that?
Mr Byrne insisted that Fianna Fáil supported the call…“for improvements in sexual health and relationship education in schools, youth clubs and other settings”.
The Meath East TD said “we have a principled objection to this Bill on the basis that Ireland has never legislated in law for a curriculum of any type”.
You see? It’s a free speech thing. Shame on you for thinking it was something to do with religion.
He added: “We have never put in law what should be taught in our classes. We have left it to teachers and other experts to decide, and politicians have not got involved.”
Yes, experts. Like priests. With their biros.
Thankfully, these bozos are in a parliamentary minority and so cannot prevent the new law being passed. Soon our nation’s schools will be mandated to teach facts, for a change. How modern. The next thing you know, we’ll have computers.
We are soooo twenty-first century now.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.