Liveline discussion on HSE sex advice was too like Jerry Springer Show

We’re all having to change the way we do things during this pandemic. The Government’s advice now extends even to sex, which probably makes sense, seeing as it is a bit difficult to socially distance when ‘in the act’.

If your sexual partner lives in the same house as you, then you’re in the clear. But if your would-be sexual partner lives outside your household, what do you do? Well, if you are sticking to the Covid advice, then you should not have sex with them, full stop, according to a new leaflet from the HSE which was the topic of a discussion on RTE’s Liveline last Wednesday,

But the leaflet actually goes on to give advice to those who insist on breaking the guidelines and want to have sex with someone from outside their household anyway.

It says: “If you decide to the sexually active with someone living outside of your household, limit it to as few sexual partners as possible, preferably one regular partner.”

That would seem to sharply compromise the first bit of advice to “Only be sexually active with a partner living in your household”.

It then adds a bit more advice: “Consider masturbation or remote sexual activity (e.g. online) as alternatives to physical sexual activity with others”.

This is the portion of the leaflet that attracted most of Liveline’s attention last week. The show had a fellow on the line called ‘Kevin’, and ‘Kevin’ held to a very traditional view of sexual morality and defended that view to the hilt. (Kevin appeared at 48 minutes, You can listen back here).

Unfortunately, he also sounded very foolish and, without meaning to, ended up holding his own views open to ridicule and he was ridiculed on the show by other callers.

Social media also lit up, needless to say. People had a great old laugh at the expense of Kevin and his clumsily expressed Catholic views.

It was taken as another reminder of how far we have travelled from the bad old days when the Church’s view of sexual morality held sway and how liberated we are now by comparison.

The level of liberal smugness on display on social media was even more off-the-scale than usual.

It didn’t matter to them that Liveline had basically taken advantage of Kevin’s total lack of self-awareness the way shows like Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle do to their guests.

If a Muslim man or woman come on the phone with exactly the same views as Kevin, I would say Liveline would have protected that person from themselves and would have been very slow to see Islam held up to ridicule.

Needless to say, an opportunity was missed to properly and intelligently discuss the worldview that underlies the advice given by the HSE leaflet.

Obviously the HSE has thrown right out the window any idea that sex should only take place within marriage, but along with that, it has chucked out the same window the notion that sex should ideally take place within a close relationship. To do anything else would be deemed ‘judgemental’, ‘moralistic’ and ‘sex negative’.

So that leaves only health and consent as the guiding criteria. If you consent to any given sex act, and it is done in a hygienic way, then a relationship is simply an optional extra.

But we need to ask once again whether this is an adequate view of the role sex plays in human life, or is it too reductive? Does it leave people more vulnerable to feeling used and instrumentalised? Is it really so easy to detach our emotions from what we do with our bodies?

Is porn bad in itself? If it isn’t, does it do more harm than good? Is it changing the way men in particular think about sex and how they regard women?

These are questions that are not properly tackled in public discourse today, let along on a show like Liveline. We are too busy congratulating ourselves on our ‘escape’ from the strictures of traditional sexual morality. We’re too busy laughing at people like Kevin to really interrogate what is happening today, except in ways that don’t challenge the dominant liberal view that consent and hygiene are now the only real and remaining prerequisites of a proper sexual morality.