Liz Madden Co-Organiser of Cork Feminista
[Sexual] Wellness… ‘’The active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life’’ – The World Health Organisation
This June 21 and 22, Cork Feminista will host a Sexual Wellness Conference at Camden Palace Hotel. The conference will comprise of stimulating discussions, presentations, workshops, and artistic performances on various topics surrounding sexuality and sexual health. Everyone is welcome and a donation of five euro is suggested.
As an organiser of the Sexual Wellness Conference, I feel compelled to share with you what I’ve learned about from speaking to sex researchers, recovering sex addicts, sex workers, people working to combat sexual violence and trafficking, public health officials, and people living with HIV, as well as many others who will speak or facilitate a workshop on the topics of sex and sexual health.
We live in an increasingly health-conscious society where many people seek to improve their mental, physical, emotional and social wellbeing. It is most common for people to attend classes on yoga, mindfulness, meditation as well as self-help groups to increase their state of wellbeing. Another type of wellness that is becoming increasingly popular is sexual wellness.
Sexual Wellness is a growing phenomenon and is now being promoted by professionals and organisations who work in the area of sexual heath. Many people are curious to know what exactly sexual wellness is, where it originated and why it is important.
Wellness is a concept that emerged in the 1970’s as people began to explore alternative health, medicines and natural therapies. Wellness later became a ‘movement’, and in 1975 the first Wellness Resource Centre opened in California. The centre claimed its purpose was to ‘’promote self-love, nutrition, exercise and social environment’’.
The terms ‘’Health’’ and ‘’Wellness’’ are very much interlinked and many people question what the difference is between the two words. ‘’Health’’ refers to the state of being, while ‘’Wellness’’ suggests a way of living or a lifestyle. Wellness is about becoming aware and understanding the healthy choices.
In Ireland, people have been slow to adapt to the idea of sexual wellness. We have a long-standing history of sex abuse, body shame and lack of sex education which in effect, has produced a sexually ill nation. Ireland is reputed to be one of the most sexually repressed countries in Europe.
Significant legislative and societal developments occurred in the 1990’s which have shaped people’s awareness, openness and understanding of sexuality and sexual health. In 1990 the first HIV/AIDS documentary was screened on Irish National TV. In the same year, marital rape was recognised and made illegal. Following this in 1993 homosexuality was decriminalised; and, in 1994, Ireland introduced its very first contraception leaflet.
In 1995, sex education was introduced to post-primary schools and promoted as the Relationships and Sexual Education Programme. By the late 1990’s, the Government appeared to be making progress to advance sexual health. However, this positive focus was soon shifted as a series of sex abuse allegations were made against the Catholic Church.
Abuse allegations continue to emerge and the voices of victims who have been harmed by Religious authorities remain to echo. A most recent example being the maltreatment of women who were previously residents of the Bessborough mother and baby home in Blackrock Cork. The mothers who gave birth in the home claim to have experienced abuse and neglect while in the care of nuns.
Ireland’s history of sexual oppression has highlighted the demand for change. There is an obvious need for a space to explore and discuss questions and concerns around sexuality.
In recent years there have been notable developments in terms of sexual awareness and wellbeing. In February of this year, an RTE documentary called ‘Somebody to love’ explored the sex lives of people with intellectual disabilities. The documentary focuses on body awareness, sexual attraction and parenting through the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
Another group who are overlooked in terms of sexuality are the aging population. We live in a youth obsessed culture whereby the sexual needs of older adults are generally ignored. Sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assaults are increasing in older adults their sexual heath is at risk of being ignored.
Sex addiction is another area of sexual heath that calls for serious concern. According to the Rutlans Centre for addiction, there has been a rise in people seeking help for sex addictions. Sex addiction accounts for 5pc of all addictions and there are over twelve recovery meetings throughout the Republic of Ireland.
With the many sexual health problems that continue to face us as a society, I question if we are ready to take the necessary steps to transform from sexually ill to sexually well?
Sexual wellness not only requires us to care for our physical heath, but also to be mindful of our attitudes, ideas, perceptions and behaviours towards all areas of sexuality. We can achieve sexual wellness by embracing diversity, challenging the sexual ‘norms’ and respecting peoples sexual choices.
We can also become more educated and informed through open discussion, such as the one that Cork Feminista will host, which will explore the diversity, positivity, and power of sexual wellbeing through experiential and research-based knowledge as well as artistic expression.
Cork Feminista hopes to attract a diverse audience of women and men of various backgrounds and ages. For the full schedule of time and speakers, please check out www.corkfeminista.com. The event sponsored by Camden Palace Hotel.