Sex (& Contraception) in the Pandemic

Written by Maree Rigney - June 2020

From predictions of a baby boom to an obsession with Marianne and Connell’s sex scenes in the popular TV series ‘Normal People’ and advice from the health authorities on limiting sexual partners, it’s taken a pandemic for Ireland to open up on the conversation of sex.


Back in March, there was much speculation of a baby boom similar to WWI with all the newborns set to arrive later this year to be called ‘zoomers’. This was followed by an announcement by pharmacy chain CarePlus that sales of pregnancy test kits across its stores had increased in April while a survey by the Irish Pharmacy Union showed a drop off in purchase of oral contraception and the morning after pill.

The TV adaption of Sally Rooney’s Normal People has made headlines across Ireland, Europe and the US in praise of its cast, evocative storytelling and the obsession with Connell’s chain. However, here in Ireland most of the focus has been on the sex scenes. Joe Duffy hosted a lively debate on the frank depiction of sex between the two main characters while other media outlets praised Rooney’s depiction of consensual sex.

While the topic of sex might be “hot”, casual sex is off the cards as chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan advised the public to limit themselves to one intimate partner to reduce the spread of Covid-19

The pandemic also coincided with the launch of Ireland’s first online service for the morning after pill by ellaOne and McCabe’s Pharmacy.

In advance of the launch, we worked with morning after pill brand ellaOne to survey over 1,000 Irish women and men (aged 18-35) on their attitudes to emergency contraception and their sexual health knowledge – resulting in some startling findings. Almost a fifth of those surveyed did not know how the morning after pill works, with a quarter believing the myth that the morning after pill causes a mini abortion. Most significantly however, almost a third of people surveyed believed that the morning after pill could make you infertile.

On International Women’s Day (8th March 2020), ellaOne launched it’s #FactNotFiction campaign in an effort to dispel these myths and educate young people on the facts! The campaign was brought to life through a series of editorials, videos and social content, in collaboration with, and a media drop that included the Fact, Not Fiction card game, which tested players knowledge of emergency contraception, sex and the female body. The campaign resulted in a reach of 1.1 million and showcased the appetite for sex education among young people.

Just last year, a report carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) found that students, in general, believe that RSE tends to be “too little, too late, and too biological.”  And the research carried out by ellaOne echoes this sentiment. While recent events have showed us that we, as a society, are moving towards more open conversations on sex, we still have a long way to go when it comes to clear, accurate and relevant sex education.


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