There was, famously, no sex in Ireland before television. But since Oliver J Flanagan's pronouncement about TV debasing us all, we’ve been busy catching up. The latest step in this rear-guard action is the government’s plan to provide free contraceptives to women between the ages of 17 and 25. Is this because women over 25 haven’t watched TV yet? We don’t know. And, since it takes two to, well, have sex, why is it just young women who are getting access to free contraception? On Liveline, Eileen made the point that the Budget plans once again place the burden of responsibility for contraception solely on women, while allowing men avoid any share of that responsibility:
"Of course women should be given free contraceptives. But it was a good opportunity to move with the times and give a very clear message to all men that they and only they are responsible for their sexual conduct and the consequences of it."
Eileen put her case pretty convincingly, arguing that women have always been the ones who are ultimately left to deal with the natural consequences of coupling:
"We have lots of stories – like we have the Magdalene Laundries – of women always holding the baby, always getting blamed for sexual activity and the results of it."
The fact that there hasn’t been a Normal People-like uproar on Liveline about the government’s plans suggests to Eileen that we’ve come a long way since the days before TV:
"We have accepted that there’s sex going on in Ireland and I suppose that is one big step for us all. But the next is saying that there’s two in a sexual relationship and both have a responsibility for it."
Eileen doesn’t know why it’s confined to under-25s – it's a start, Joe says. Well, it’s a good start then, Eileen says, except confining it to women is a bad start. It should have been, she says, all under-25s. There’s been a rise in STIs, Eileen points out, as has been reported as recently as July, so men need condoms and they need to use them when they’re being sexually active, rather than leaving all contraceptive matters to their sexual partners.
"There’s no education in this. This is keeping the status quo. And surely we should be moving on from the 60s at this stage."
Surely, indeed. And when Joe suggests that parents of, say, 19 year old males tell their sons when they’re going out to make sure that they’ve got their phone, their card and some condoms, Eileen is immediately on board:
"I think, isn’t that an excellent way of changing perspective and pushing responsibility very gently back on someone, to say, 'Have you got your keys, have you got your money and have you got your condoms?’ [...] And I think if every mother and father said that as they were going out the door every single day, at the age of 16, 17, 18, 19 – and I’ve said this before – that then by the age of 20 they would never think about going out without a condom."
We need to move on and men need to take responsibility for their sexual behaviour. That’s Eileen’s message. And it’s hard to argue with it. You can hear Joe’s full conversation with Eileen – and listeners’ reaction to it – by going here.