Speech by Mr. Micheál Martin, TD, Minister for Health and Children, at the official launch of the “Think Twice Every Time” Sexuality Awareness Campaign

Ladies and Gentlemen, An awful lot of the time, when we talk about 18 to 35 year olds, we talk about them as the breakthrough generation of Irish people:

  • They’re better educated than any earlier generation.
  • They’re more confident.
  • They earn more.
  • They’ve travelled more.

But in one context, that same group could be described as being vulnerable.

That’s the group in which most unplanned crisis pregnancies happen, the group most at risk of sexually transmitted disease. And it’s from this group that a huge proportion of the Irish abortions in Britain are drawn.

In theory, this age group is aware, informed and confident about their sexuality. In practice according to recent research the story is very different.

We need to examine the issues of choice and coercion. Choice, first of all. Informed choice. Informed choice is key to using contraceptives so that they prevent illness and unplanned pregnancy.

In the past, we didn’t have informed choice because of a shortage of information. It could be argued that right now we don’t have informed choice because of too much information. Myth, fallacies, and urban legends compete with real information about contraception and about sexually transmitted disease. So people end up not knowing what to believe.

What I’m saying is that some of our 18 to 35 year olds aren’t in a position to make a fully informed choice on contraception.

One of the reasons may be that many of this age-group will have left school in the years before the introduction of the Relationships and Sexuality Education programme.

But there’s also the complicating factor of coercion. We tend to think of coercion as obvious and overt. It isn’t always either obvious or overt.

Coercion can be driven by peer pressure, by assumptions and by alcohol. Individuals can feel robbed of the right to say No.

We’ve got to help individuals make informed choices and we’ve got to help them cope with coercion.

That’s where we’re going with this campaign. The theme is “Think Twice” and the campaign sets out to encourage men and women to consider the implications of their sexual activity. The implications and the factors that may seem to reduce their level of choice.

But the “Think Twice” theme covers more. It also takes in the fact that two complementary contraceptives are the best option for the sexually active.

Each partner has choices and responsibilities. Each will be best protected by the use of two types of contraception. This approach will protect against both infection and unwanted pregnancy.

It’s an approach that’s based on some initiatives already underway and documented as successful in other countries. But it’s not a simple approach.

It will consist of a range of focused initiatives. These include workshops with social partners, health care providers, consumer groups, trade unions, student unions, voluntary organisations and the media.

A national conference will be held for the social partners, together with international experts to discuss the key issues the campaign seeks to address.

Resource materials will include an information pack for the social partners, an information booklet for the public, a web site and a poster campaign. (I know we have some of that material here, so you’ll be able to look at it, take samples away with you.)

I’m very conscious that I’m talking to people who are already hugely involved in this kind of issue and that success hinges on close collaboration with health boards, statutory and non-statutory bodies, the voluntary sector and other interest groups. I look forward to working with you towards that success.

Having said that, let’s be very clear. What we’re setting out to achieve is a massive attitude and behaviour change.

It doesn’t happen like that and it doesn’t happen easily.

You can’t run a fast campaign, toss out a bundle of leaflets and hey presto: people suddenly manage their sexuality differently.

Attitude and behaviour change take time. Concentrated effort. A wide variety of inputs – all of them supportive and participative. It also requires tight monitoring and evaluation.

In essence, then, what we’re announcing today is the first phase of a campaign which we – all of us here – will develop and refine as we move forward.

Because we want people to make informed choices, without coercion, on an issue so fundamental to self-respect, to general health and to the central relationships of their lives.

I wish the campaign every success.