"Please help me, I am so miserable!" : sexual health, emotions and counselling in teen and young adult problem pages in late 1980s Ireland

Kelly, Laura (2022) "Please help me, I am so miserable!" : sexual health, emotions and counselling in teen and young adult problem pages in late 1980s Ireland. Medical Humanities. medhum-2021-012350. ISSN 1473-4265 (https://doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2021-012350)

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In 1984, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) established a youth group comprised of young volunteers aged between 16 years and 20 years. The IFPA was responding to a perceived need for sexual health advice for young people in the absence of any formal sex education in Irish schools. The group established a telephone helpline and, from late 1987, was commissioned to provide advice columns for two Irish magazines for young people called Hot Press and Fresh. The advice columns run by the IFPA youth group provided an important educational and counselling service for young people on matters relating to sexual health and relationships. Letters to the two magazines also attest to a significant degree of ignorance around sexual and reproductive health among young people and the prevalence of risk taking with regard to contraception. Moreover, the letters were often frank and deeply honest about the feelings and emotions experienced by the letter writer. Replies to the letter writers from the IFPA group were sensitive and empathetic, but clear and unambiguous, highlighting the team's approaches to sexual health counselling and 'risk' which were modelled on approaches by British groups such as the Samaritans, Grapevine and Brook. Drawing on the uncatalogued letters received by the youth group, as well as the published replies in the magazine advice columns, this article will shed light on the key sexual health concerns of young Irish people in the late 1980s. Ultimately, it will examine what these queries reveal about the impact of Ireland's social and moral climate on teenagers' emotional health. More broadly, the letters to these magazines illuminate the stigma, shame and silences around these issues in 1980s' Ireland, and highlight the importance of magazines as a source of communication and an outlet for young people to express their emotions relating to sexuality, relationships and sexual health.


Kelly, Laura ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7996-6021;