The Government has asked a lot from the people during the Coronavirus pandemic. Thousands have lost their jobs. Young people have forfeited months of their education. Twenty-somethings have lost their nights out. Restaurants and bars have lost their customers.

And the HSE, it turns out, have lost their minds:

Young people are being asked to choose having sex online or over the phone to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The new advice is designed to stop people having sex if they don’t live together, if possible.

It says people should consider masturbating or having ‘phone sex’ or ‘internet sex’ to avoid close contact as the country continues to battle against the spread of the coronavirus.

The new information campaign from the HSE and the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) also said people should be washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after sex.

There are a few points to make here (aside from the obvious one that the average Irish man has difficulty communicating about everyday matters on the phone, let alone putting this kind of pressure on him):

Speak to anyone working in education about this topic and you will quickly become aware of the absolute epidemic of young people making videos of themselves that they quickly come to regret. Advising people to have “internet sex” amounts, in essence, to advising people to get naked, and perform sexual acts, on camera. This is horrendous advice, and contradicts what any sensible parent or teacher would tell a young person.

It’s a simple fact of life that almost all the romantic relationships a person has in their life will come to an end, with the exception, for the lucky ones who find a happy marriage, of their last one. If you’re in your teens or twenties and in a romantic or sexual relationship, it’s very likely to end. But the videos you make of yourself will last much longer.

The advice also comes at a time, remember, of rising concern about the impact of internet pornography on young people, and on sexual behaviours. Just this weekend in the Independent, Emer O’Hanlon wrote about the rising popularity of pornography that showcases sexual violence against women:

“In a new TikTok challenge, women are even sharing post-coital videos of their bruised and cut limbs, in an attempt to emulate the recent Netflix kidnap-porn film, 365 Days. These aren’t small wounds – sometimes bruises are larger than the women’s handspans, as well as cuts that definitely go beyond surface level. One such video went viral across social media last week, and has been viewed more than 33 million times with nearly six million likes.

It’s obvious that this new proclivity for rough sex comes from the rise of internet porn. Sites such as PornHub routinely upload videos advertising the fact that the women in them are crying, in pain, or ‘broken’. ‘Destroy’ is now virtually synonymous for penetration. It only takes a few seconds to find footage of women (in many cases, teenagers) screaming or whimpering in pain, while men hit them, choke them, pull their hair, and worse.”

Left to their own devices, young people (and indeed many somewhat older people) are already making terrible decisions about their sexual and mental well-being. The HSE does not need to be adding to the pressure to make bad decisions. They should be ashamed of this advice, because it is terrible.

But then again, the point of it was not actually to provide helpful advice to young people, was it? The point was much more to signal to the population that the HSE are mature, liberal, grown up people who can talk openly about sex and stuff like that, unlike Ireland in the 1980’s, or whatever. We’re not supposed to listen to the advice, we’re just supposed to feel like a properly grown up country because the Government is talking about masturbating.

If it wasn’t so utterly stupid, you’d have to laugh.