Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

13.49 1 Aug 2021


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It's important to move away from a "finger-wagging" approach when talking to young people about consent, Richie Sadlier says.

He says many courses use "courtroom language" and "moralising" to teach teenagers about the issue, but he believes there's a different way to help young people talk about relationships and sexuality.

The psychotherapist and former footballer recently launched SHARE, an online sex education course he created along with NUIG academic Elaine Healy Byrnes.

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It aims to provide "relationship and sexuality education that is objective, fact-based, inclusive, and comprehensive", and support young people to have "healthy, safe and enjoyable experiences in their personal relationships".

Richie spoke to Alive & Kicking about why he believes a new approach is needed.

Richie Sadlier: 'Finger-wagging approach' isn't the way to talk to teenagers about consent

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He said: “A lot of the conversation [around consent] is fraught - there’s an assumption that we’re talking about sexual assault or something even more serious. It’s a crime scene or an alleged crime scene… it’s legal language and moralising.

“If you can broach consent in an entirely different way in a classroom or with young people… consent is about you and your partner being on the same page, and having as much pleasure and enjoyment as you can. Teenagers hear that and go ‘OK right, the more I get into this consent thing the better the sex is going to be’.

“If you go into a classroom with a finger-wagging approach… [they might think] ‘I’m being shamed here’. That’s one of the big things we used to hear from students.”

He said the approach and tone of these conversations do matter.

For Richie, the important thing is to have conversations with teenagers about how these issues are applicable to real-world relationships and encounters.

He said: “When you’re in a room where you tease that out… you’re moving away from courtroom language or legal language.”

"It’s about empowering young people, not just educating and informing them - about creating an environment where talking about relationships and sexuality is normal."

He noted it's about empowering young people, not just educating and informing them - about creating an environment where talking about relationships and sexuality is normal.

Richie also said the consent conversation also needs to focus on the impact of alcohol on sexual decision making and behaviours.

He also said online porn is also a big issue for teenagers these days.

He explained: "You go into a porn site now... the algorithms will take a teenage brain from a relatively normal, healthy sexual encounter... to more extreme scenes.

"By the time they have actual sexual experiences, they think what they've been seeing are the scenes that need to be replicated. It's not just boys - it's girls as well.

"In a lot of scenes, the word 'no' is ignored or completely rejected, or a woman is an object to be aggressive and violent towards. In a lot of scenes, the woman appears to find that pleasurable."

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Stuart Corlett/Zuma Press/PA Images

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