welcome to the jungle

31Aug11

I’ve been watching the unfolding drama around Sinead O’Connor’s recent venture into the world of online dating with interest. It started out harmlessly enough… a column in the Independent about how she missed male company (and sex!) and was inviting emails from potential suitors in order to possibly meet someone.

Quite sweet and charming, it was all in good fun… until of course, she mentioned that she likes anal sex. And so the media circus began. Oh isn’t she so outrageous and daring and edgy, is she mad altogether talking about that, she’s a slut, she shouldn’t say such things when there are people being abused in the world (I didn’t quite understand this one myself), etc etc etc. Radio slots and newspaper columns were devoted to the discussion of the idea that an Irish mother of a certain age likes anal. ANAL! Imagine! *blesses self*.

It was around this time that I noticed she was on Twitter and followed her. I admired her bravery and wit in dealing with the whole thing. She wasn’t taking anything too seriously, just reveling in her sexuality and all the newfound attention. Great, I thought, perhaps she might open peoples’ minds a bit.

But then it started to go to shit, if you’ll pardon the pun. Inundated with messages from married men and “fetish freaks” (ahem) she started to tweet about the negative attention she was getting — people calling her insane for saying she liked anal — and declared Ireland as anti-sex; vowing to address this in a Late Late Show appearance this coming Friday.

The appearance has now been cancelled (for reasons you can read on her site), but there was something about the whole charade that had been bothering me. I thought, perhaps, it was some measure of jealousy… I mean, here all us sex bloggers are, typing away fervently about things much more depraved than anal or a bit of light spanking, and yer wan just has to say the words “back door” and the Irish media fall over themselves to denounce her.

Perhaps it was irritation at the idea that Ireland being sex-negative is somehow some sort of revelation, uncovered by Sinead herself, the pioneer of bumsex, when we’ve known this for years. But it was when I read her explanation of why she cancelled her Late Late Show appearance that I realised what had been bugging me.

She cancelled because she found that the researcher was very hostile towards her and her back-door revelation, and considered her to be insane because of it. And this obviously hit a very vulnerable space in her, as the whole “Sinead O’Connor is crazy” shtick has at this stage practically been added to the Constitution.

And I thought… welcome to my world. If I were to tell the world that I let me boyfriend make all the decisions in our relationship —  and more than that, that I let him physically beat me if I disobey him, or that I wear a collar to signify his ownership of me… Well, I’d be called insane by a lot of people. I’d probably lose my job, my family, and some friends.  I would be regarded as a “fetish freak” as Sinead herself so kindly put it. That’s not even mentioning what would happen to my partner.

In the few weeks I’ve been on Fetlife, I’ve met others whose entire lives would be ruined if people were to find out what their (entirely legal, safe, sane and consensual) sexual preferences were. It’s not that nobody in Ireland is talking about kinky sex, or that nobody in Ireland is having kinky sex — we’re doing an awful lot of both, online and offline. There is a massive kink community in Ireland that seems to be going from strength to strength.

There are tons of fantastic ambassadors for sexuality in this country who are working every day to make a place for kinky people in our society. Sinead O’Connor is by no means the first person to ever discover, talk about, or be persecuted for her like of unconventional sex. The reason you don’t hear about it because the ramifications are so dire for so many people that they don’t dare speak about it.

It galls me that someone who is in a position of such safety — in that she relies on her strong, eccentric personality and opinions to make a living, and is well known for it — is shying away from addressing this on national TV because someone’s going to imply that she might be nuts for liking what she likes. That’s the very worst that will happen here… no loss of income or family support, no social stigmatisation (or at least, no more than she’s already suffered.)

Far from compassion at someone in a similar situation, I’m furious that she came out, all guns blazing to fight sexual repression in Ireland… and then just gave up at the first sign of said repression.

We NEED to start a discussion about sexual freedoms in this country, and this was a perfect opportunity. Instead, it’s been thrown away in the face of the exact oppression she was complaining about to begin with.

I don’t think Sinead O’Connor owes us anything or is obliged to lead the charge by any means… but if you’re  going to declare yourself a rebel leader, you’d better understand what it is you’re fighting against — in this case, hundreds of years of religious conditioning and masses of ignorance, prejudice, malice and fear. It’s going to take a lot more than “I like anal” to combat that.

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