HAI Summer School 2014 Speaker Resume : Tom Inglis

Love & Sex — Tom Inglis


Tom Inglis is the Professor of Sociology in UCD, and author of several books on sex and morality: Moral Monopoly: Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church in Modern Ireland (1998), Lessons in Irish Sexuality (1998).

Tom Inglis explored some of the attitudes to love and sex in Irish literature (especially McGahern) before considering the decline of the influence of religion and the Roman Catholic Church in particular. Its repressive moral precepts have been largely replaced by the concept of Romantic Love portrayed by contemporary media. Romantic Love is becoming the new orthodoxy and there may be social sanctions for failing to comply with its perceived dictates.

A fulfilled life includes self-reflection, understanding ourselves, loving and being loved and the continuous search for truth. At the same time it is necessary to be conscious of being ‘colonised’ by ‘inherited values’ — whether from religion or media. It is hard work for individuals to create a morality for themselves.

There is a need to include teaching about love and relationships and their importance for the meaning of life. Such teaching should include awareness of the sexualising of love by the media while being aware of each the propensity to generate the latest ‘moral panic’. Relationship education should be driven by the learners who can then demand the information they require at the appropriate time.

There is evidence that young people have more sex and more partners but this leads to greater experience of relationships. Permanent relationships curtail sex but the fact that eight out of ten children live with their birth parents and have always done so suggests that humans are actually good at self-sacrifice and building families.


Discussion of the presentations by Tom Inglis and Roy Brown:
Part of the discussion focused on the nature of humanist morality (morality without god) and the constraints on our behaviour (and especially that of young people): we are a social species and even in the absence of the ‘certainty of punishment’, liking to be liked is a powerful force. At present in Ireland, relationship education is restricted by ‘religious ethos’ and specialist teachers are not free to facilitate proper discussions of the topics children want. There is good evidence that good relationship education reduces sexual abuse and abortion. It is the key to effecting changes in sexual mores and the earlier in a child’s life it begins, the better.

In dealing with sexual abuse of all kinds, the focus should be on the rights of the victim and not on the perpetrator; this is an effective way of dealing with accusations of racism.