Hugh Reilly: Lessons required on interpreting ‘no’

Hugh Reilly.   Picture Robert Perry
Hugh Reilly. Picture Robert Perry
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TRYING to lose weight when one has three elderly aunts is impossible. On visits to their time-warped abodes, a cup of tea is accompanied by a plate of cakes and biscuits.

My earnest protestations that I don’t wish to further engorge my frame by eating a fresh-cream-filled chocolate éclair go unheeded; in the minds of the Golden Girls, no means yes.

After some coercion, sorry, helpful encouragement and emotional blackmail – “I limped all the way to the corner shop to buy them especially for you” – my lips are locked on to the high calorie, cholesterol-busting confection.

Since time began, an initial refusal to indulge in an action has not always been accepted by the proposer. For example, Adam made it clear he didn’t want the forbidden apple to be one of his five-a-day fruit regimen. Only after Eve threw a strop did he bite the hand that fed him. God, ever the all-loving deity, castigated the Gala-muncher by way of ill health, starvation, thirst and cancelling his Sky football subscription.

Last week, the Scottish Government published the findings of a survey on teenagers’ knowledge of sex. When presented with the statement: “When a girl says no to sex, she always means no,” 73 per cent of pupils said it was definitely or probably true. For some reason, this response shocked certain feminist groups.

Heather Coady, head of children’s policy at Scottish Women’s Aid, opined that “this speaks volumes about attitudes towards sex that are played out day in, day out, and which normalise all kinds of unwanted sexual behaviour”. Erm, no it doesn’t. Three out of every four interviewees, that is, the overwhelmingly majority, agreed that no means no. Instead of stigmatising all young males, Ms Coady should ask why a quarter of respondees don’t take no for an answer.

And why is Ms Coady not upset that the wishes of boys are less well respected than that of girls? The same research showed that almost 50 per cent of those surveyed didn’t believe a boy meant no to sex when he said it. Clearly, on the issue of credibility, the objective evidence demonstrates that boys are the real victims in the field of unwanted sex.

Nor did the feminist lobby highlight the fact that almost 90 per cent of teenagers interviewed agreed that a person could change their mind about having sex, even after having previously consented.

Some youth industry commentators were stunned to discover that 20 per cent of our young people didn’t know that condoms can help avoid the trauma of a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). Hmm. Approximately one-fifth of the country’s population attends a Catholic secondary school where classroom discussion on the health benefits of using a Durex is as likely as Johann Lamont opening up a debate on Unite’s antics in Falkirk. To be fair, having taught in such establishments, kids are tutored in certain aspects of wearing rubber protection. For example, teenagers are warned that using such prophylactic equipment encourages promiscuity and thereby increases the chances of cervical cancer – feel the Catholic guilt and don’t do “it”.

Around a third of youngsters surveyed stated that they did not recall being taught how to say no to sex. When I was an adolescent lad with my hormones jumping higher than a well-oiled pogo stick, 100 per cent of lassies knew how to decline my advances without the need for a classroom lesson.

In my world of furtive birds and bees shenanigans, the idea of asking for consent was alien. The rules of the game – understood and accepted by both players – were that during the snogfest you pushed the boundaries until a firm no or, more usually an indignant slap, instantly put to sleep any sexual awakening.

Despite the unwelcome early sexualisation of youngsters, I don’t yearn for a return to good old family values when a bride, and often her groom, were expected to be virgins. I don’t see any reason why those above the age of consent should not explore their sexual identity and make that journey with different partners. I find it absurd and a relic of religion’s iron grip on society that monogamy is worshipped as if it were the pinnacle of human behaviour.

Greater sexual freedom for our teenagers does have a dark side such as, on occasion, blurred or broken lines regarding consent. But if we truly want a less sexually inhibited society, we can’t have our cake and eat it.