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Why doesn’t she just leave him?

In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature in support of the 16 days of action campaign  Donegal local Jenna talks about the issue of domestic abuse, highlighting why it’s so important to understand the realities of victims and survivors.


Did you know Ireland is currently taking part in the annual International campaign known as the 16 Days of Action? This internationally recognised campaign runs from 25th November (UN Day For the Elimination of Violence against Women) to 10th December 2020 (International Human Rights Day). It is a campaign used to highlight the issue of gender based violence and an organising strategy by individuals and organisations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. (UN Women)

Gender-Based Violence refers to “violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex and includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other denials of freedom” (cosc.ie)

And while both men and women can experience gender based violence the reality however remains that in 2020 it is women and girls who are disproportionately affected by this violence. With 1 in 4 women in Ireland having experienced domestic abuse by a current or former partner. (Women’s Aid)


Why doesn’t she just leave him?

By nature people are quick to form judgments. Have you ever sat just drinking a coffee and watching strangers pass by as you contemplate what kind of people they may be? I think it’s normal for us to create stories in our minds now and again about the lives of others and the characteristics they may possess.

Or maybe you can think of a time when you have read or watched a news story on television and had speculated about those involved and how they might have found themselves in a certain situation.

We take in what we can see in front of us and somehow our brains begin to connect the dots and form opinions about people. Maybe in some cases we judge correctly but in others we are just guessing without any real depth of knowledge.

Perhaps it is something we can teach ourselves to refrain from doing. Maybe sometimes we need to take a step back and really truly think about the person we are making the assumptions about.

“Before you judge my life, my past or my character, walk in my shoes, walk the path I have travelled, live my sorrow, my doubts, my fear, my pain and my laughter” – Unknown

After my sister’s death last year I learned a lot of life lessons that I’d never imagined I would have to. I had to face things that I would never have dreamed could have happened to our family. I definitely learned that we don’t know what is going on in other people’s lives and the difficulties they face.

Since Jasmine died I think that people feel as though they can talk to me about their own problems more so than a person who hasn’t experienced this tragedy. Through this difficult journey I have had several women talk to me about their past experiences with domestic violence or the current situation that they are in.

I truly don’t think that enough people are aware of the extent of people who are having to deal with gender based violence in their lives. So many of the victims who I have spoken to are probably the women who society would ‘never expect’ would find themselves in a situation like that. But unfortunately this type of violence is happening more than we think.

Why doesn’t she just leave him? A question that has probably been asked a million times. Maybe to some people this is a logical question. Just walk away. Simple? Every million times this question is asked there are another million responses as to why this question isn’t in fact helpful or logical.

When I was asked to take part in 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence I knew that I had to take this opportunity to share some of the reasons that the women I have spoken to share with me.

One of the reasons that came up over and over again was because of the children.

“A mother will do almost anything to protect her child and I stayed because I didn’t know what could happen if I tried to leave.” – Lady 1

“I felt as though I was trapped and if I moved then my children would be in danger” – Lady 2

Another reason that we discussed was the guilt that the victim is made to feel.

“I stayed with him because he said he was going to kill himself and it would be all my fault ” – Lady 3

This type of threat was also used against a victim but while adding the extra danger by involving the child. “I stayed with him because he threatened to kill himself or run away with our daughter if I left” – Lady 4

Other reasons why these women stayed included an immense sense of fear. A feeling of shame about the situation they are in and also financial constraints. If they left, where would they go, how could they leave without the money to escape.

But all of the victims I spoke to did express something that it is so important, that gender based violence becomes something that people are more aware of. That questions and judgmental statements aren’t helpful in preventing it from happening. Awareness is key and in order to help these people we must understand that everything isn’t always black and white and there are so many factors involved in these extremely dangerous circumstances.

So why doesn’t she just leave him? It’s most definitely not that simple.


Please know you are not alone, there are people you can talk to. If you or any one you know have been effected by domestic abuse you can find support with the following services;

Local county wide support in Donegal 

Donegal Women’s Domestic Violence Service is a frontline service providing crisis accommodation, 24 hr helpline, support (1800262677) and information and outreach service throughout the County to women and their children who are victims of domestic violence.

Donegal Women’s Centre operate a domestic violence counselling service delivered in the Donegal Women’s Centre with outreach centres in, Killybegs, Ballyshannon, Falcarragh, Dungloe and Carndonagh. Call 074 91 24985 for appointment or more information


National support in Ireland

Women’s Aid Ireland Freephone Helpline (1800 341 900) operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and provides support and information to callers experiencing abuse from intimate partners.

Safe Ireland You can find a list of County services across Ireland here.

Men’s Aid Ireland is a service for men who are experiencing domestic violence. You can call them on 01 554 3811or email hello@mensaid.ie.
Their helpline is open Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.

The National Office for Victims of Abuse provides assistance, support and advice for people in abusive relationships. Freephone 1800 252 524.

Anyone who may wish to report or discuss an incident of Domestic or Sexual Violence can contact 112/999 or their local Garda Station.


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

A Life Transformed From The Soul

In this Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices feature, Donegal Town Local Theresa Morrow, wife mother and grandmother speaks about her faith and how she has found peace and joy from within amongst the most challenging and arduous of times.


In the midst of life’s trials and with the added unexplainable Covid-19, I want to share with you a beautiful story of Love, Forgiveness, and Faith.

As women we seem to be relied upon by others and carry the heavy burden of responsibility, caring for children, husband, parents, friends, career, home, school, etc.

I have been blessed in so many ways, but if I am honest there were times when I would have loved to run and hide from it all, hoping to escape the entire world, so I would for once not feel responsible for any of it.

Four years ago, this January, our Grandson was born with congenital heart defect, this is a life-threatening condition. Between life’s trials and total helplessness in the current situation I literally fell on my knees one night and sobbed to God  “ If your there God show me the way, Please God show me the way” at the same time repenting of things I felt may have offended God in  my life, I got up washed my face got on with my day, not realising what God was about to do in my life.

I met a lady a few days later that told me God had changed her life through spending time in scripture reading and studying The Bible. I immediately was drawn to this Bible study, where remarkably to me I got such peace from the promise and assurance that God had heard my cry. As I read the scriptures it made sense, Jesus died for me and was alive in heaven waiting on me to invite him into my heart to have a relationship with him, now it must be my move, as he had given us free will to follow him or not our choice. As soon as I asked him to be Lord of my Life, and when I let the barriers down and opened my heart, he filled me with The Love of God and in turn that love in me radiates out to others, I feel joy and a peace as he promised, compassion ,kindness, better able to understand the struggles people carry, and wanting them to receive this wonderful free gift of Grace from God in his son Jesus Christ.


Life still holds its daily struggles, but there is a great comfort of walking with The Saviour daily. His love is there from the beginning and will be there for all eternity. He says he comes to heal the sick, mend the broken hearts, give comfort and an abundant life. My Grandson still had hospital appointments, surgery, but whatever happens God used him to bring Light into our hearts where there was darkness and fear for his future and ours, now I know we are held in God’s love.

I now see the fruits of how faith has transformed the life of others, also family members who believe and have surrendered to the Saviour of The World. We may blame others and their short comings for our own utter despair, not knowing what is missing until we receive it. This gift of Grace has been given to me by God our creator and Heavenly Father, it is by asking that we receive it is by listening that we hear.

Most of all I feel a deep sense of Peace, Joy, Trust and Faith. I am divinely led and feel divinely protected on my daily walk in this world.

God gave us eternal life through his son Jesus and promised to send all who receive and walk with him His Holy Spirit. When The Holy Spirit connects with our spirit we are then complete in person and are now his children, all his Blessings pour into our lives on earth also the gift of assurance of salvation in death. In Christ I have found what was missing in my life, an emptiness that no one or nothing else could fill.

It didn’t happen overnight it is not a sprint but a beautiful marathon of learning understanding and knowing, that will be with you for the rest of your life.

We can have all the religion in the world and still not know Our Heavenly Father and Saviour. This is the power of God at work in our everyday lives all that is required is an open heart and a seeking soul. Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life nobody comes to the Father except through me”.


If you feel inspired by what I have shared, there is a number of Bible readings, studying the word together and growing in understanding of God. Bible Study takes place in The Mustard Seed Donegal Town, Ard na Breatha Donegal Town, Community Centre Ardara, Bride Church Bruckless, Ballintra, Donegal Town, Letterkenny, Donegal  Group of Parishes etc.etc.

There are numerous Bible studies available on zoom during Covid 19, details through email address below, also Alpha Course by Nicky Gumbel available as group studies.

I also made a CD of my experience to glorify God and help lead you to this gift of Grace, it is free for anyone who would like a copy. You can email me at info@ardnabreatha.com for more information.

Thank you

Theresa x


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Improving Mental Health by keeping nature in mind

In this Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices feature, Inishowen woman Michaela Mc Daid shares her extensive personal and professional experience of mental health and how this led her to Ecotherapy.  She also outlines Nature in Mind courses and why the facilitation she provides in Ecotherapy is so popular in the North West.


It’s Personal

Mental health has profoundly impacted all areas of my personal life.  At 16 I lost my only sister Katrina to suicide. She called me and I resuscitated her, but she still died.  She was 18.  By age 20 I still hadn’t grieved the loss of my sister, or talked about the trauma and tragedy of her death. When I sought professional help, I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed anti- depressants.  This made it easier not to talk, and just keep going.  So, that’s what I did.

In the 20 years that followed I moved house 11 times between Donegal, London, Derry and Donegal again. Teenage pregnancy, single parenthood, financial pressure, an abusive relationship and addiction were all life experiences that layered stress on top of my vulnerable emotional health.  There was also more grief; I lost my Mum in my 20’s and Dad in my 30’s.  My constant underlying feeling was of being utterly alone.

During this time, ‘depression’ was a very private battle. I was consumed by self loathing, often numb with sadness and felt completely disconnected. But I only ever cried inwardly, screamed silently and hurt myself in secret.  To the outside world, I was a bubbly fitness instructor, motivating others through high energy aerobics classes with a wide smile and perfect physique.  I also returned to education and excelled academically, graduating top of my class and earning a scholarship for post graduate studies.  I was a loving and conscientious Mother, managing a well kept home. I was also a sociable and popular friend, always the ‘together one’ that others came to for support.    

As a patient of mental health services, I was compliant and co-operative. I took medications as prescribed and engaged fully with psychiatrists, psychotherapists, mental health nurses and counsellors. I attended support group meetings and educated myself with countless self help books.  I fully accepted that I was ‘unwell’ and would have done anything to get better.

Then, in my 30’s I experienced elation and psychosis, was re-diagnosed bipolar and prescribed lithium.  With this diagnosis came a sense of relief that maybe I had previously been misdiagnosed, so now things would get better.  Things got worse; the highs got higher and the lows got lower. This intensity coupled with sheer exhaustion, resulted in more frequent and commanding suicidal thoughts. Twice, I was hospitalised for my own safety. My ever changing prescription now consisted of daily anti-depressant, mood stabiliser, anti – psychotics, anti- anxiety and sleeping medications.  I wasn’t forty yet.


It’s Professional

Running parallel to this personal experience was a very successful career, being described as ‘high functioning’ meant both were possible.  I knew my calling was to work in mental health, but wasn’t attracted to psychiatry, nursing or clinical settings, I was equally unsure of a role in psychotherapy or counselling.  My heart was in the community and I believed passionately in education as empowerment.

I worked throughout Northern Ireland and Donegal for Aware, Action Mental Health, National Learning Network and freelance; devising and delivering educational programmes, facilitating support groups and voluntarily advocating for other service users.  In these various roles, I was privileged to work with the broadest cross section of our society;  urban and rural, all age groups, in schools, universities, community settings, churches, ethnic minority groups, traveller projects, LGBTQ+, the prison population, disability groups, domestic violence survivors, sports clubs and businesses.  

The appetite for knowledge on the subject was striking, and listening attentively to peoples’ experiences of mental health and illness meant that I learned as much as I taught. ‘Being heard’ and ‘feeling connected’ were the most common responses to the question ‘what helped?’  This resonated deeply with me.  There was another theme that I heard over and over again:    “Gardening . . . . pets . . . .fishing . . . . the park . .. the beach . . . outdoors.”  It was nature. Without direction, irrespective of background, people repeatedly told me that they were drawn to nature for easing mental and emotional distress. 

I reviewed my own mental health history and the correlation was equally strong.  When I struggled in London, I went to Hampstead Heath. When I struggled in Derry I walked my dog on the country roads outside the city.  Even when I was an inpatient on suicide watch in Gransha, my greatest motivation for discharge was to get to the woods beside the hospital!  The more dis-eased I was, the stronger the pull to be in green outdoor spaces. 

Having exhausted every external treatment available to me, I chose for the first time to consciously tune in to my intuition, and let it guide my healing.  I moved to the countryside and immersed myself in nature; gardening, hill-walking and sea swimming. I didn’t know then that what I was doing had a name; Ecotherapy.  The results were incredible.  Within three years I was entirely medication free, with no depression, elation, anxiety or psychosis. I was enjoying better mental and physical health than I had ever known, or thought possible.

I was mindful that my experience was unique to me and that medication and talking therapies were beneficial for many. But remained convinced that reconnecting with nature is a powerful, accessible and free way to improve mental health, yet this value isn’t reflected in services.  

With serendipity I found Solas Donegal, a HSE mental health recovery programme using a model of walking, talking and listening in green spaces.  Having operated successfully in Falcarragh for many years, Solas opened a part time service in Buncrana in early 2019 and I was employed as a peer support worker.  Completing Ecotherapy training gave me the history, framework, references, evidence and language for what I already knew; nature heals.  This isn’t some hippy dippy, tree hugging nonsense, or just something that works for me. This is an evidence based, globally recognised approach to mental health care that predates both psychotherapy and the medical model.


It Just Makes Sense

Through Solas, I attended the Critical Perspectives in Mental Health Conference in University College Cork which brought together pioneering projects offering user centred, non – medical, context and trauma- informed ways of helping people experiencing mental distress and crisis.   These projects were centre stage instead of being sidelined as ‘alternative’, as they had been in the countless conferences I had attended throughout my career.  As well as the personal stories, I was captivated by the multi – disciplinary, world renowned specialists presenting academic research, irrefutable evidence and statistics that challenged the current system and dominance of the medical model.  The language was that of education, empathy, compassion, holding space, co-production, peer-support, creativity, community and open dialogue.  All that I had felt, experienced and believed was not only being taken seriously, but was recognised as an effective approach to mental health care.   Now I had a clear direction for my purpose and passion.

The success of Solas further underlined my learning.   Participants are referred to the programme from within the HSE mental health team, so are already ‘in the system’ receiving treatment and support for (often chronic) mental illness.  Without a doubt; walking, talking and listening in green spaces was having a hugely positive impact on their mental health.  My background in the community sector meant my focus remained on a proactive and preventative approach through education, empowerment and building resilience, before a person became unwell, and before they were in the system.


I devised ‘Nature in Mind’ courses with a view to supporting people with Ecotherapy, no matter where they were on the mental health spectrum.   A person with good mental health, taking the initiative to apply self care, or a person with a diagnosis of a mental illness and currently using medication and/ or talking therapies would both benefit, so why make a distinction? There is no waiting list, assessment, analysis, diagnosis or side effects.  These courses are not support groups, counselling or psychotherapy.  It is much simpler than that. It is human connection, stillness and creating time and space for the healing power of nature and the outdoors.

I’m not the therapist – nature is! The relationship between participant and nature already exists, but may have been ignored or undervalued. As a facilitator, I highlight and strengthen this relationship in three ways: education, experience and connection. I provide mental health education and a broad knowledge of Ecotherapy in a relaxed and informal way, without a PowerPoint presentation!  This explains why nature is good for us.  How nature is good for us is highlighted through the experience of forest bathing, sea swimming, hiking, guided walks and woodland retreats. 

For longer courses I also connect groups with co- facilitators who have a deeper knowledge and expertise in a specific area such as horticulture, foraging, animal assisted therapy, fly fishing, care farming and bushcraft.  Courses for specific groups are imbedded in their local community, forging relationships that are sustainable after the course has ended. Long term attitudinal change is also supported through the ‘Keeping Nature in Mind’ element, which gives advice, discussion and practice to encourage small and practical ways of embracing nature every day, in an urban environment, and in participants own homes. 

Group connection happens very naturally in the right environment, with the right facilitation. Time and space is held for participants to talk to each other and me, because simply having your voice heard is a vital part of emotional wellbeing. This is increasingly lost to hectic lifestyles, technology and social isolation.  Within mental health support services, a ‘listening ear’ is often devalued in pursuit of analysis, record – keeping, diagnosis and intervention.  A group dynamic is even more powerful when balanced with time for safe solitary reflection and an atmosphere contusive to participants only ever contributing as much as is comfortable for them. 

Respectful that for some people, a group setting is always difficult, I also offer one to one sessions.  These can be used as an introduction prior to joining a group, as extra support whilst part of the group, or as a preferable alternative.  Meeting people wherever they are up to is not only critical for meaningful engagement, it is also kind.

For many, the experience of corona virus and lockdown has led to a renewed appreciation of the simple things in life.  Ecotherapy celebrates simplicity by stripping back the layers of our lives that can be so stifling, allowing us to breathe deeply.  I believe that the hugely positive interest in Donegal is partly due to the accessibility of beautiful outdoor spaces. It is also the ‘common sense’ part, that connecting to nature, each other and ourselves makes us feel better. What could be more important than that?


Contact Details

Email:          michaela.ecotherapy@gmail.com

Tel:               (0044) 7517936613

Facebook   https://www.facebook.com/MichaelaMcDaid.Ecotherapy

Instagram   https://www.instagram.com/withnatureinmind/


Remember you are not alone, there are people you can talk to. If you or any one you know needs some support for your mental health, please know you can find support with the following services;

Pieta House

24/7 Freephone Tel: 1800 247 247  or Text HELP to 51444

Professional one-to-one therapeutic service to people who are in suicidal distress, those who engage in self-harm, and those bereaved by suicide. All services are provided free of charge and no referral is needed.


Samaritans

Tel: 116 123

Email: jo@samaritans.ie

Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental support, 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Sexual Health Matters

Copy of you define yourself (1)

In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Eilish Mc Art, Coordinator of the Sexual Health Education Programme at the Donegal Women’s Centre in Letterkenny, talks about the education and training programme she delivers, highlighting the topic of sexual health and the importance of including and discussing sexuality + health to support our health and wellbeing.


 

Donegal Women’s Centre Providing Sexual Health Services

Donegal Women’s Centre has long been associated with health care provision and began in 1989, providing a ‘Health and Family Planning’ clinic, one of the first in Ireland, in a community setting. In more recent years a Sexual Health Project for young people began, initiated by an insightful colleague and I became the Sexual Heath Project Coordinator, this was followed up with a Young Women’s Sexual Health Clinic in Donegal Women’s Centre, which is one of only two in Ireland in the community settings, funded by HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

logos she info & DWC


 

Sexuality Health not just Sexual Health and why it matters

I have always felt challenged that Sexuality Health is not given more recognition by society as a primary element of Health & Wellbeing, particularly the ‘BEING.’ Other areas of health are discussed in open forums, but the mere mention of sexuality, and social response is a nod to it (and possibly a wink!). This is rooted in our attitudes and values, garnered by our generational, historical and religious systemic culture.

But, yet is sexuality not at the very core of who we are, from birth until death, how we identify to ourselves and to others, how we connect spiritually and physically. We cannot merely reduce sexuality to a discussion on contraception, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI’s), and gender identity, although essential to holistic sexuality health provision.

 

The World Health Organisation Statement on Sexuality

‘Sexual health cannot be defined, understood or made operational without a broad consideration of sexuality, which underlies important behaviours and outcomes related to sexual health. The working definition of sexuality is:

“…a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.” (WHO, 2006)

I would also include the capacity for sensuality. It is within this statement I consider my testimony to sexuality to be true, it is in sync with my beliefs, but also from years of working with the subject, agencies and people.


 

The Power Of Sexuality

I would not underestimate the power of sexuality. Sexuality transcends differences and divides of culture and politics, it is a bio/physiological condition familiar to all humans. Sexuality is not defined or confined by issues of, or consequences of being gay, gender identity, race, marginalisation by any factors such as economic class, education level, religious practice, ethnic group, migrant, traveller or settled, prisoner or free, ability or disability, or age, no, it is a behaviour common to all, it is mutual and unifying. Nor is it the domain and responsibility of the female of the population groups. The power of sexuality has had a place in history and many fabled and real political liaisons and strategy.

I recently carried out a scoping exercise for HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme titled ‘The Sexual Health Needs of Marginalised and Migrant Communities’. Women refugees who had been displaced due to war, through direct provision and in resettlement programmes in this county and women from Irish ethnic minority communities.

This was a gift that enabled me to have privileged access to work with women. I have also worked with women and men from disability sectors in programmes and training in sexuality, and throughout my career in wellbeing and sexual health, which includes people from LGBT, gender identity, those from socially, emotionally and economically marginalised, and privileged areas, they have been my tutors, and I have learned that sexuality and the issues from sexual health are common to all.

It is the glue that binds us as Humans. It is our inherent need for connection, bonding, and sensuality, the need to give love and receive love, feel and be desired, ecstasy, fulfilled, and attraction, and the gift of humanness. The soul of human sexuality is Powerful, and full of affirmative Power.


I do have to mention, negative use of sexual power, for the greater part in the setting of domestic violence. This is an area that needs to be addressed. The issue of domestic violence rightly has been given a respectful setting within the political, community, and funding sectors, but, discussion of the relevance of sexual control is a developing awareness, and programmes are being created to address this. I tried to research this issue for work, and it is limited in terms of information in this country, with one cross border community group and local support group, including this issue, and doing excellent work in their training in domestic violence.

In war, sexual violence is one of the conquering, degrading demeaning and divisive tactics used by marauding nations.  This is one of the underlying experiences that the women who participated in the scoping exercise experienced. This awareness and visioning was provided by the most eminent of project workers who provided me with a deeper awareness of the impact of the ravages of war, refugee camps, displacement and direct provision have on men and women. The ugliness of emasculation for the men and that impact for women, the war that is unspoken, struggles of need – the silent war shaped by despair.  Where can that anger and rage go? There are consequences and this impacts on sexuality and sexual behaviour for men and women.


Irish women from ethnic minorities experience hardships and vulnerability that are further exacerbated by levels of education, issues of residence, alcohol, homelessness and mental health.

One common experience for marginalised women highlighted to me in the focus sessions was the inability to relate to ‘white middle class services and leaflets on sexual health’ and the non-familiar language, women cannot identify with it. The research highlighted that a patriarchal system was evident, and was mentioned, and had an impact on women’s’ experiencing of safe sexual encounters, and attending for health care.

When we experience assault, any assault, we separate ourselves from our sexuality self, but it is an innate part of who we are and that means being separated from our soulful self. It leaves a gap, an emptiness.

I don’t wish to dwell on the negative elements of sexuality health, for to do so is sad, but I don’t apologise for including the issue, not to do so would be remiss and insulting to all the women and men I have worked with.


 

The Relationship of Sexuality with Mental Health

To discuss sexuality, we cannot neglect the fundamental component of self-esteem. Self Esteem underpins our sexual health choices, and our sexual health behaviours, and this links sexual health to mental health. Without the inclusion of self-esteem then any discussion on sexual identity, contraceptives, STIs, abortion or signposting to sexual health services is less effective.

Consent is a major issue in sexual behaviour and it is relative to self-esteem, and this is largely dependent on having experienced the 3A’s, Affirmation, Approval, and Acceptance from an early age and throughout life. I call it the AAA battery for a positive life experience. Having or acquiring healthy self-esteem, enables us to make healthy decision, and choices with partner behaviour, recognise difficulties, and act for a better way, recognise or wonderful connections, and grow with that.


 

Sexual Rights

There is a growing consensus that sexual health cannot be achieved and maintained without respect for, and protection of, certain human rights. The working definition of sexual rights given below is a contribution to the continuing dialogue on human rights related to sexual health (1).

“The fulfilment of sexual health is tied to the extent to which human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognised in international and regional human rights documents and other consensus documents and in national laws.

  • Rights critical to the realisation of sexual health include:

  • Rights critical to the realisation of sexual health include:

  • the rights to equality and non-discrimination

  • the right to be free from torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment

  • the right to privacy

  • the rights to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and social security

  • the right to marry and to found a family and enter into marriage with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, and to equality in and at the dissolution of marriage

  • the right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children

  • the rights to information, as well as education

  • the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and

  • the right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.

The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others.

The application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health constitute sexual rights. Sexual rights protect all people’s rights to fulfil and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health, with due regard for the rights of others and within a framework of protection against discrimination.” (WHO, 2006a, updated 2010)

 

(1) It should be noted that this definition does not represent an official WHO position and should not be used or quoted as such. It is offered instead as a contribution to ongoing discussion about sexual health.


 

Safe Sex

The physical act of sex, is often talked about under healthy and unhealthy headings. Literature on safe sex is available, and it is important to recognise the value of promoting safe sex, the correct use of contraception, information on STI’s, crisis pregnancy supports and services. There is also safer sex, and that is about responsibility in safe sex practice, respect for self and others. It means seeking consent, using contraception as directed. It may also include using visual aids, stimulating aids, where consent is agreed and partners are the legal age to use.


 

Reduce the risk of coronavirus during sex

It is not always obvious if someone has coronavirus. Being sexually active with another person involves some risk of getting the virus. There is a need to reduce this risk by following the advice below. 

  • Only be sexually active with someone you live with who does not have the virus or symptoms of the virus.

  • Avoid being sexually active with anyone outside your household.

  • Avoid kissing anyone outside of your household and anyone with symptoms. Kissing can easily pass on coronavirus.

  • Taking a break from physical and face-to face interactions is worth considering.

  • Consider using video dates. Make sure to disinfect keyboards and touch screens that you share with others

  • While the current advice is not to have sex with or kiss anyone outside of your household, if you do, it is important to limit it to as few partners as possible. Remember close sexual contact with anyone you are not living with can put you and others at risk of coronavirusUse condoms and dental dams to reduce contact with saliva or faeces, especially during oral .

  • Wash before and after sex. This is more important than ever. Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.

The Donegal Women’s Centres, Sexual Health Information Project has compiled some useful advice about keeping on top of your sexual well-being now that it’s easier to get out and about and meet people. To find out more please visit here.


 

Training in enabling the normalising of sexual/ity health discussion for professionals.

I have the honour of working in partnership with a wonderful talented young woman from health promotion and improvement delivering training in Sexual Health Promotion, a national training programme funded by HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme. At the outset of the training the professionals often state that they seek confidence in discussing the subject, and indeed that is part of the design of the programme. It is often noticed that by the end of the 10 days the participants have achieved that confidence through discussion, heightened awareness of the relevance to human wellbeing, but also that taboo around the normalising of sexuality discussion has diminished and is joyful to witness.  The days are challenging and full of new consciousness of the positive value in sexuality health provision. It is emphasised to participants, nationally, to be inclusive of the affirmative element of pleasure, ecstasy and joy in sexual participation, and the benefits of self-satisfaction and connection, to the individual’s health and therefore societal health. When humans are happy, they are mostly in a healthy state of Being.

This does not direct that people have to be sexually active to achieve wellbeing, that is a choice. Rather, is it about the relationship with self to begin, an interpersonal connection, and that which achieves an ability to sense the higher self, fulfilment, it is sensuality, and knowing the components of and experiencing joy for self. Sensuality is the pleasure that we derive in being with someone, by choice, and that changes with age, ability, health, life events but the joy and pleasure remains in being a tuned with that core component of sensual pleasure.


 

The ‘Taboo’

Donegal Women’s Network invited me to contribute an article to the women’s lives, Women’s Voices series, an opportunity to address the taboo on the subject of sexuality, knowing that I am passionate about the subject, and also about putting across the relevance of Sexuality Health within general health provision, my view is, it has to be included to achieve Well-being.

I wondered how do I address ‘taboo’ part of the challenge. For me it is about making the subject acceptable, normalising the issue. How do I do that? – it concerns YOU, EVERY YOU. It matters to YOU, it is WHO YOU ARE in your world, how you choose to project yourself, and, your wellbeing.

So, in my processing world Sexuality and Sexual Health Care, cannot be separated from general health care, to do so, leaves out a core element. Sexuality Health is, will always be relevant, a priority, and core contributory factor to humans being and societal well-being. 

 

Thank you

I am grateful to all the women of the Donegal Women’s Centre who support me in doing the work of the Sexual Health Project, in schools in the community and delivering the national training, and also to HSE Sexual Health & Crisis Pregnancy Programme who fund the Project.

 


NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.