Last week, an item was discussed on RTÉ’s Liveline, prompted by a leaflet published by the HSE advocating that people resort to masturbation and sexual activity online during this time of social distancing.
The host, Katie Hannon, took calls from a number of people, many of whom expressed concerns at the HSE’s advice. All but one were at pains to say they were not religious, nor were they prudes, while Katie was at pains to link any opposition to the leaflet with Catholic values.
One caller, Mary, described the porn industry as modern slavery. A few others expressed concern that pornography was dangerous, but ultimately conceded that it was fine for people to use it if they wanted to – it was just the young people they were concerned about. No concern was expressed for older people, who, it was believed, could make up their own minds about all this. It was widely accepted that viewing pornography is normal behaviour for adults, not meriting any moral disapproval.
One caller stood out from the rest. His name was Kevin. He introduced himself saying that he was coming from a “Jesus Christ point of view”. He was honest, upfront and unapologetic. He did not try to disguise or sugar-coat his opinions, nor was he afraid of being criticised.
He presented the Catholic Church’s teaching with a forthrightness and a wry wit that I for one found disarmingly charming. He was not looking to be popular (as was evidenced by the coarse and sexually aggressive comments and vitriol directed to him on Twitter). The discussion that ensued was fascinating, not least for what it revealed about the mindset of the RTÉ production team and a young female caller named Sharon.
What exactly did Kevin say to warrant such ridicule on Twitter and cause Sharon to claim that his views were “dangerous” and another caller to label him a “dinosaur”? What he said can be summed up in the following points:
- God made us and gave us certain rules by which to live.
- There are consequences to our actions (including sexual activity) and at the end of our lives we will have to answer to God for them.
- Heaven and Hell exist and which one we go to will be largely determined by our actions on Earth. Just because you do not believe in them does not mean they are not there.
- Not having sex will not kill you.
- Pornography changes the way men view their wives or girlfriends.
- Virginity is something that both men and women should save for their spouse.
- Stating a belief in Catholic values is no good unless you uphold them and live by them.
As against what Kevin was saying, Sharon and another caller, Dan, resorted to every trope about Catholicism from sexual abuse, to sexual repression, to intolerance to the ultimate put-down: “You’re out of step with modern Ireland.”
And yet, Kevin, and indeed a couple of other older callers, thought that things were better in their day. They all survived, had happy marriages, and were content with life. Katie (having thrown in the seemingly mandatory reference to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid) was sure that things are better nowadays. But are they?
If there is a campus epidemic relating to sexual misconduct, its perpetrators are not steeped in Catholic moral teaching”
In one exchange, Sharon – a youth worker who thinks that watching porn is normal for young people and that casual sex is good – suggested that there was abuse in the past because of the lack of sex education. In a brilliant riposte, Kevin answered: “Sorry, just to say to you: has abuse stopped? Did I miss that somewhere? Did it stop?”
During the same week, allegations of sexual harassment in UCD emerged. Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, fresh from the Department of Health, stated recently that there is an “epidemic” around issues of consent and sexual harassment on campus. At the same time the HSE is publishing guidance to engage in masturbation and online activity.
More than anything, what this mindset demonstrates is a complete lack of knowledge or understanding of human nature.
The sexual urge is different between men and women – as anyone who is honest about it and has a little experience of life will attest. Unless young men learn to master their sexual urges, they pose a threat to women, to society and to their own futures.
Contrary to the assertion, often made by feminists, that marriage is about controlling women’s sexuality, it is principally men’s sexuality which is controlled.
All societies historically recognised that marriage was a way to channel a man’s sexual energy in a constructive (rather than destructive) way and encourage him to take responsibility for his actions by caring for his wife and any children that might result from their union.
By contrast, our Government is encouraging men – young and old – to indulge their every fantasy (seemingly no matter how base) and satisfy every sexual urge that occurs to them. Have they stopped to think for a moment what this does to men? Has our Government considered the effect on women and young girls?
If there is a campus epidemic relating to sexual misconduct, its perpetrators are not steeped in Catholic moral teaching. They are, however, steeped from an early age in pornography.
Does the HSE not take issue with the objectification of women by the porn industry, or its links to the truly dark, modern-day slave trade that is sexual trafficking?
If the sexual appetite is an appetite like any other, why, in this context alone, is restraint never advocated? We are constantly berated to smoke less, drink less, avoid sugary foods. But when it comes to sex, the message is: indulge yourself. How can men be expected to exercise restraint and responsibility that they have never been encouraged to practise?
No: modern Ireland has spoken. People like Kevin, who advocate sexual responsibility and condemn pornography, are the danger. I prefer Kevin’s attitude. “I won’t be running with the crowd,” he said, “because there’s a price to be paid for it and that only happens after we die when we have to account to the good Lord himself.
“It’s not only that we have to account, he knows already, he can see, he knows what you’re doing today…you can’t cod him, like.”
As Kevin said, nothing beats the truth.