COLETTE BROWNE: Threesomes are sleazy, but let’s not get our knickers in a twist

WITHIN 24 hours, Health Minister James Reilly had responded to concerns about threesomes in an article on a HSE-funded website — if only every problem in the health service was dealt with so swiftly.

The article, by SpunOut, an organisation for people aged 16-24, sat alone and unloved on its website for three years, before it ended up on the front-page of a Sunday newspaper, and hysteria, predictably, ensued.

The frothing at the mouth has come from every direction — from those defending, and criticising, the group. The combativeness of SpunOut belies the fact that, despite its protestations, it has substantially altered the article in response to the furore.

The tenor of the original piece was suspect. Instead of providing facts, it made value judgements that endorsed threesomes as “pretty exciting sexual adventures” which “people usually really enjoy”. “It spices things up. Some couples say that even one threesome experience injects serious passion into their bedroom shenanigans.”

Sounding more Cosmopolitan magazine than educational site, the article advised young people: “don’t just concentrate on yourself and your own pleasure”, but “give equal time to the other people in the threesome”.

One could forgive parents for having a fit of the vapours as they read this steamy how-to guide over their cornflakes on Sunday morning.

I’m no prude, nor moralising zealot, but I would question whether most people who have threesomes enjoy the experience or are reluctantly making up the numbers, having been pressured by an eager partner.

Vulnerable young women, desperate to please an overbearing boyfriend, are at risk of doing something they’ll later regret. While SpunOut briefly alluded to this concern, it was lost beneath the Fr Trendy-type backslapping bonhomie.

The concern is that jocular articles could normalise threesomes and give the false impression they are widespread.

If I were to offer advice to teens about threesomes, it would be ‘DON’T DO IT’, delivered at a loud decibel, followed by a demand that they break up with whomever requested it.

But patronising young people, and ordering them to do the sensible thing, is the best way to ensure they’ll wake up bleary-eyed and regretful in a squalid den of iniquity.

While the SpunOut article was ill-advised, the reaction was equally absurd.

Last seen labelling mere twosomes before marriage as “fornication”, Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin called for the HSE’s funding of €124,000 to SpunOut to be cut off.

Not to be outdone, a caller to RTÉ Radio 1’s Liveline on Monday, a public health nurse, broke down on air as she intimated the article was one of the signs of the coming apocalypse. “What chance have our children got?” she wailed, as she exhorted the “mothers of Ireland” to come out on the streets and protest.

Callers were suggesting that SpunOut was encouraging 14-year-olds to have threesomes, despite the website being geared to older teenagers, not to mention that any sex of any kind at that age is illegal.

Of all the problems facing young people in Ireland today, including record unemployment levels, crime, drug abuse and obesity, threesomes are pretty low on the list. That the moral fabric of the country hasn’t riven into tiny pieces in the three years the article has been hosted, unnoticed, on the website should provide succour to the highly-strung.

But SpunOut hasn’t done itself any favours with the strident manner in which it has defended the piece.

Spokesman Ian Power said that while minor amendments were made to the article, its “substance has not changed, it will not change and it will remain on the website”.

This is rubbish. The revised version of the article, now available on the website, is wholly different to the original, after vast tracts of questionable text were rapidly deleted.

Instead of endorsing threesomes as a way to spice-up sex lives, or unequivocally stating that most people enjoy a trip to the debauched wild side, SpunOut now simply says, “some people find threesomes to be enjoyable, for others it is an uncomfortable or upsetting experience” — a statement of fact to which no one could object.

Gone, too, are the trite ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of having a threesome, while a warning to young people, who may feel pressured to partake, is now featured prominently at the top of the page.

There are tips for “keeping it safe”, but these are the same tips that teenagers are taught about any sexual activity, namely: using contraceptives, respecting their partner and only doing something with which they’re comfortable.

Despite Spun Out’s stubborn ineptitude in its handling of the media spotlight, it would be a travesty if the furore over a couple of hundred words jeopardised its state funding.

Threesomes may be a dubious topic with which to launch into the public consciousness, but SpunOut has existed for eight years, doing sterling work for young people, particularly in the area of mental health, which is chronically under-resourced in Ireland.

GIVEN that one of the most popular books of all time, 50 Shades of Gray, is an erotic romp about BDSM (short for ‘bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism’), it’s a bit twee to get all hot and bothered about one article about threesomes.

Rather than pretend sexual acts do not exist, or refusing to discuss them with young people, the best possible way to protect them from future harm is to arm them with information.

Research has shown that teenagers who receive comprehensive sex education are 60% less likely to get pregnant, or get someone pregnant, than those who receive no sex education.

If Ms Mulherin is looking for a soapbox to stand on, instead of targeting SpunOut, maybe she could train her crosshairs on the gross sexualisation of children.

I didn’t hear any howls of protest when the Daily Mail’s website recently branded the eight-year-old daughter of model Heidi Klum “a leggy beauty” or described 13-year-old actress Elle Fanning as “all grown-up”, a common euphemism used to intimate that girls are now at an appropriate age to be unapologetically objectified.

Meanwhile, advertisers selling any old tat will rarely baulk at the opportunity to use a bikini-clad model to market it, knowing that newspapers are more likely to publish the resulting pictures.

Instead of mass hysteria because of one article about threesomes, of far more concern to parents and TDs should be society’s insidious sexualisation of children, in which, via our consumption of media, we’re all complicit.


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