Sex Educated is the title of a brand new handbook for young people with a mission to answer all of their questions about sex. The book is the product of a collaboration between author Grace Alice O’Shea and a team of Irish sex educators and it aims at helping teenagers and also their parents navigate increasingly complex sexual lives.
With its 440 pages, Sex Educated is an ensemble of all possible questions that teenagers want to ask today. The questions then find their answers through the voices of sex educators working for the West of Ireland Sexuality Education Resource (WISER), which is part of the Galway-based organisation Sexual Health West.
Author Grace Alice O’Shea, who worked at WISER for six years before setting up her own business as a sex educator and intimacy coach, catalogued the questions and arranged them thematically to then assemble the nine chapters that now form the book.
The handbook addresses a variety of questions that range from the practical (“Who puts the condom on the penis?”) to the philosophical (“How much arguing is normal in a relationship?”). Each one of these questions was asked to the WISER staff during sex and relationships programmes in schools.
Sex Educated is intended for 13- to 18-year-olds, but it can also be a guide for parents and teachers to help them nurture healthier conversations around sex. O’Shea talked about her work on addressing the questions in the book saying: “The way I answered them was as if I was sitting in a class of young people; this is the language and the information I would use”.
The mission of the book is to provide an answer for all the questions today’s teenagers are asking about sex so that they won’t need to find those answers in other inaccurate and possibly harmful ways. According to the author, no other book of this kind has ever been produced in Ireland. Only last year, the country witnessed a debate on sex education sparked by a non-inclusive programme for Catholic primary schools.
“The history in Ireland around sex is dark,” O’Shea said “It’s intergenerational shame that has been passed down unintentionally”. Her book aims at being part of the process that will hopefully lead the country to a more sex-positive outlook on interpersonal relationships.
In explaining the message of Sex Educated to the Irish Times, O’Shea said that the book “gives factual information but it is rooted in empathy and inclusivity and kindness and open-mindedness. That is so important,” she continued, “not just about sex but everything in life. As long as everyone is fully and happily consenting, it is really not our place to say how people experience and express sexuality.”
The author also talked about how labels on gender and sexuality fit into the current times. “When we label something, it gives us a sense that we understand it better. If we understand something better, there is less to fear from it.”
However, at the same time, labels can also be reductive and can limit our understanding of very complex experiences. “I would always say that sexuality is so, so fluid.” O’Shea said “We can be attracted to people romantically, attracted to people sexually and we can be attracted to people and don’t quite know why, we just want to be around them. It is not necessarily something we need to label.”
“Some people find labels very affirming; it gives them a sense of identity and community. Then a lot of people don’t want to label their sexuality because whose business is it, why does it matter?” she concluded.
If you’re interested in purchasing this book, you can find it here.
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