A propos of nothing, I was re-reading my way through arguably one of the Church’s finest pieces of social teaching, Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum when the following passage, perhaps providentially jumped out. It answers much of the argument amongst Christians, not only as to whether or not ‘gay marriage’ is permissible, but also addresses the concerns of those who believe that by stressing family as being the purpose of marriage, apologists and defenders are perhaps being utilitarian and not Christian in approach.
In choosing a state of life, it is indisputable that all are at full liberty to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ as to observing virginity, or to bind themselves by the marriage tie. No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s authority from the beginning: “Increase and multiply.”(Genesis 1:28) Hence we have the family, the “society” of a man’s house – a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.
Also whilst we’re on the subject, a blogger known as ‘gentlemind’ has posted a wonderful Q&A demonstrating how marriage exists to bind procreation to parenting. Crucially:
The cost of inventing the legal fiction of same-sex marriage is that we will have to legally pretend that parents and children are not physically related. That is what happens when we seek to legally redefine nature: nature legally disappears.
*Reader discretion advised – this post contains discussion of an adult nature*
Fr Tim Finigan has blogged along similar lines to my post of the other day, detailing the type of material that could be used in schools, if the ‘Equal Marriage Bill’ is enacted into law. Teachers and parents who object to having detailed descriptions of anal sex or homosexual practices on the curriculum may be compelled to accept it in the classroom or face legal consequences.
For those who haven’t the constitution to read about the ins and outs of ‘bum fun’, couched in gay street parlance (and to be fair this specific booklet is not aimed at schoolchildren, they would most likely get a watered down version minus some of the expletives), I’ve read it for you which required much clenching of cheeks alongside a dose of mind bleach. This is the trouble with viewing sexually explicit material. Visual images are extremely powerful, they burn and imprint themselves into the brain, you can’t actually ‘unsee’ them and this really isn’t something we want young impressionable children or teens to be seeing and automatically associating with sex. ‘Anal Play’ does not come without considerable risks, listed at the end of this post.
Though diseases and injuries resulting from anal sex occur far more frequently in homosexual men, this practice is not restricted to men – it is becoming increasingly mainstream and is prominently featured on the most popular adult heterosexual porn sites. This is a problem in that young men are now beginning to expect it as par for the course from their girlfriends; that teenagers are drawn to exciting, exotic and dangerous practices which make them feel more grown-up , is not a new phenomenon and teenage girls report that they are under increasing pressure to conform to sexual pressure not only in terms of engaging in activity, but also in terms of performance. Furthermore, some young men who are experiencing same sex attraction, whether fleeting or permanent, report feeling under pressure to experience anal sex in order to be ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ gays.
Speaking in an article for Jezebel(caution a soft porn image and graphic discussion) a popular online feminist journal, Hugo Schwyzer a Professor in gender studies, tries to explain the seeming rise in popularity of the practice, which seems to me to be a symptom of feminism, in terms of the record levels of anxiety that young women are experiencing and how cultural sexual expectations of females have increased considerably over a relatively short time. Women are routinely expected to undergo increasing amounts of physical pain (such as intimate waxing) and extreme dieting, in order to fulfil male ideas of beauty – that this extends to sexual practices is hardly surprising. But at least there is an admission that this a painful business along with the acknowledgement that it is this causation of pain that is most stimulating and satisfying to the male.
And more than any other sex act, anal simultaneously symbolizes both the capacity to push through suffering and the willingness to please. For a generation uniquely acclimated to pressure, anxiety, and pain, it’s little wonder that this once taboo act has become so celebrated, so popular, so expected.
Almost invariably, the camera focuses on the young woman’s grimaces. More so than with any other sex act in mainstream heterosexual porn, in depictions of anal sex there’s an explicit connection between women’s discomfort and male arousal.
Is this really the authentic and joyful vision of sex that we want to be instilling into our children? An idea that has more to do with twisted, subverted desires and concepts of pain, domination, control and submission than the idea of mutual self gift?
Discussion of sex and sex education is a total minefield for Catholics, not least because as I am painfully aware in writing this post, we don’t want to titillate, be gratuitous, cause scandal or lead others astray. We know what we don’t want to see – like all parents, whether they admit it or not, we are disturbed by the idea of our children being given chapter and verse on sexual practices and techniques, which is wholly unnecessary. As John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility:
This is where the ‘culture of marital relations’ comes in and what it means. Not the ‘technique’ but the ‘culture’. Sexologists often put the main emphasis on technique, whereas this should rather be thought of as something secondary, and often perhaps even inimical to the purpose which it is supposed to serve. The urge is so strong that it creates in the normal man and the normal woman a sort of instinctive knowledge ‘how to make love’ whereas artificial analysis (and the concept of ‘technique’ implies this) is more likely to spoil the whole thing, for what is wanted here is a certain spontaneity and naturalness (subordinated of course to morality).
But we are scared to discuss this for fear of appearing homophobic or even sexually repressed, whereas the reality is that it’s not as simple as worrying that this type of intimate sexual education may, to use the unfortunate term ‘gayify’ children, for which there really is no evidence, simply that we do not want to normalise or give tacit encouragement to a sexual practice that is as harmful to women as it is to men.Given there is a spectrum of sexuality, we do not want organisations such as the Terence Higgens Trust or any sex educators misleading children into thinking that a fairly common fleeting but intense same-sex crush is indicative of a fixed sexuality or that children should seek to define themselves in that way, or sexually explore those feelings.
Laurence England has written an extremely courageous post outlining an experience of sexual abuse as a youngster, which he believes contributes to his same-sex attraction – his abusers being little more than boys themselves. Teaching children about sexual experimentation is not only unnecessary, it also contributes to the hyper-sexualised culture and pressures that are placed upon teens, as well as encouraging them to experiment sexually amongst themselves. If children are taught that they should explore their emerging sexual desires, it logically follows that they may well enculturate other younger youngsters such as in Laurence’s case. It also makes life very difficult in terms of protecting children from exploitation by adults. The recent appalling cases of child sex rings in Rochdale and Oxford, whereby social workers ignored the fact that children were working as prostitutes, deeming them to have made their own sexual choices, stems from such a policy of mistakenly assuming that children and adolescents should have sexual agency. That Peter Tatchell deems it appropriate to lower the age of consent to 14 and has lobbied No 10 to this effect, is cause for concern. Why is a 13 year old able to consent to sex with a 16 year old but not a 19 or 20 year old? And of course that will be the next logical progression, if any such decriminalisation were to occur.
Rather than simply saying that we don’t want this type of material taught in schools, Catholics need to be able to explain why and that this is not born out of the dreaded homophobia or obsession with what other people are up to in the bedroom. Let’s take another fairly niche practice – BDSM, which can take many light or heavier forms. If there was a push to have this as part of the sex education curriculum, there would be an outcry. If educators took the view that people are inevitably going to try it, everyone has read 50 shades of Gray, and so children may as well learn how to do it safely and consensually, we would rightly be horrified. It’s not that anyone is phobic of, or has hatred for those who wish to engage in fringe sexual behaviour, what folk get up to in the bedroom is their concern and theirs only, but the state should not be giving tacit encouragement to or promoting this in schools. After all the Terence Higgins Trust leaflet is aimed at those on the scene, why not continue to target those already engaged in sexual activity and give advice as to safety as required, instead of steering young people in that direction.
And why do schools need to make such a big deal about teaching sex anyway – by the time they’ve clinicalised it and endlessly discussed it and talked children into using hormonal contraception and condoms etc, no wonder it’s lost half its allure and fun and children then feel the need to go and try something bit stronger, more grown-up and edgier, whether that be anal intercourse, unprotected sex, multiple partners or group sexual activity.
Some discussion of sex in schools these days in unavoidable and probably rather sensible. The question needs to be, what vision should we be presenting to children? The idea that sex-education can be morally neutral is a fallacious one. Sex education is always taught from an ideological viewpoint – an allegedly neutral stance which allegedly imparts only facts, is an ideological viewpoint in itself, leaving the decision as to when or whether to start sexual activity up to the individual. It is the moral relativistic stance of ‘whatever is right for the individual’. Children and adolescents possess neither the emotional intelligence, the wisdom or experience to make wise choices in a moral vacuum. Even the so-called ‘relationship advice’ does not advise children other than to tell them that they should wait until they feel ready, which is meaningless. When are you ready to have sex? When you are ready to face the consequences that a baby might occur from such an encounter and both partners are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child together.
But all in all carrot needs to accompany stick and carrot is generally a much better tactic in terms of motivating and encouraging people to reach their aims and goals, rather than a tactic that consists of scare-mongering, i.e. you’ll get pregnant, an STD and here are the harms caused both to your body and the environment by hormonal contraception…
Catholics and Christians are rather poor at presenting a positive vision of sexuality, instead appearing like a bunch of miserable party-pooping puritans out to spoil everyone’s fun. It all seems to be about ‘thou shalt not’, rather than the beautiful, authentic, joyful, wonderful vision of sex, love and sexuality by our faith. We should be shouting this from the rooftops. Catholic doctrine on sex is fabulous stuff, it’s not about power, domination, submission, control or cultural expectations of beauty and behaviour but about mutual self-gift, taking delight in the other and real love, a love that is not solely based on selfish personal sexual satisfaction, but a love based in body and soul. It’s heady and empowering stuff that really does set you free.
Here are some more extracts from Love and Responsibility:
From the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e. the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved.
There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and by the woman, and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously.
There is a need for harmonization, which is impossible without good will, especially on the part of the man, who must carefully observe the reactions of the woman. If a woman does not obtain natural gratification from the sexual act there is a danger that her experience of it will be quali- tatively inferior, will not involve her fully as a person.
A woman finds it very difficult to forgive a man if she derives no satisfaction from intercourse.
The natural kindness of a woman who (so the sexologists tell us) sometimes ‘shams orgasm’ to satisfy a man’s pride, may also be unhelpful in the long run.
There is here a real need for sexual education, and it must be a continuous process. The main objective of this education is to create the conviction that ‘the other person is more important than I’.
Not the kind of stuff that one would expect from a celibate old man in a dress! The reason that I, and I suspect most Catholics who have read anything of Theology of the Body, feel so strongly about sex education in schools is not only because it is the parents’ primary duty (and why aren’t schools empowering parents to be able to talk to their children openly, instead of assuming that they won’t and usurping our roles) but also because children deserve so much better. I really wish I had been taught this in school, it would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache. I recently read Dawn Eden’s The thrill of the Chastewhich should be required mandatory reading in every school – confirming and endorsing my experience (as someone who has previously co-habited and then was entirely chaste up until my marriage to Robin) that actually waiting until such time you are married, is awesome and improves your marriage, your intimacy and the quality of your relationship no end. The rewards of chastity are immense and more than outweigh any temporary frustration, temptation or impatience. Instant gratification is a false god, leaving you impatient, restless and hungry for the next thrill or hit.
By all means teach children about reproductive biology, teach them about contraception, how it works both physically, emotionally and spiritually, but also teach them the really good stuff – what it is they should be aiming for and why. And for non-Catholics or non religious schools who may grumble about indoctrination or religious belief, ask why it is that they should want to expose their children to early sexual activity, multiple partners and whether or not this is in anyone’s long term best interests, be that emotional or physical, because sooner or later, your past will catch up on you.
Which vision looks more attractive, a series of passing transitory encounters for which you need to take precautions in order to mitigate risk, in the hope that one day you might find the right person and do the same thing with them for the rest of your life as you have with umpteen other people, or one intimate life-long relationship which from the outset engenders mutual love, respect and responsibility?
For those in any doubt here’s the ewwww part from the Terence Higgins leaflet. Diseases and injuries Are we still sure we want this stuff taught to our kids?
anal herpes (no cure for this one and it makes HIV transmission more likely)
anal syphilis (making a comeback according to THT due to multiple partners, often symptomless until its spread)
anal warts (treatment for this is ouchie. Frozen off with liquid nitrogen or acid, treatment takes months and they may reoccur)
LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum) – rare type of chlamydia, first made its appearance in the UK in 2004
Moving onto gut infections now which are more common (you really don’t want to know why)
Giardiasis (invisible parasite, chronic infection can last months or years and be hard to treat, known as Beaver Fever in the US due to polluted rivers)
Amoebiasis (very nasty if it spreads to the liver)
Shigellosis and Salmonellosis
Then of course HIV. Not a death sentence these days, but certainly a very serious disease requiring an enormous cocktail of retrovirals to be taken for the rest of your life and constant tests and check-ups
Next we have prostatitis which comes in three different forms
Brandon Vogt beat me to it with this, as I was planning to comment later today, but he is quite right to urge people to read the message from the Holy Father about using online social networks, in his message for the 47th World Communications day, on Sunday 12 May, this year.
Intuitive as ever, Pope Benedict just ‘gets it’. It’s all about being the voice of calm reason, not overblown melodramatic rhetoric, no nasty personal insults, calumny or detraction and above all being a great witness to the faith. People glean a sense of who you are through your words and someone who is always carping and criticising, even if their points are valid, does little to demonstrate the beauty and richness of our faith, let alone impart the joy of a close relationship with our Creator, the one who will continue to love every single one of us throughout eternity.
None of us are perfect (I’m recalling my grumble earlier today about a certain Catholic columnist rather guiltily) but we have to remember at all times that we are ambassadors for Christ. And, as the Pope says, people are interested in us as people, not simply in ideas, although all of us have to admit that blogging is a form of narcissism and not get carried away by that, it is also fine and often helpful to share personal anecdotes, ones that testify to our own fallen humanity, rather than simply preach lofty and unrealistic ideals.
It’s why I write at length about unplanned pregnancies – I’ve walked the walk on that issue and can understand how it feels. It’s also why I talk about NFP sometimes being tricky and requiring sacrifice. Not because I wish to deter people, but because it’s important to understand why people may feel uncomfortable and I can empathise with the struggle. Chastity, that is appropriate sexual behaviour is not easy for everyone, regardless of sexuality or even marital status. It is the teaching that most people have an issue with simply because they cannot see the harm that results from a gesture ordered towards individualistic pleasure. It’s important for those involved in ministry or catechesis to understand those issues and sharing personal experience of struggle can not only help in understanding and walking with someone else in their hour of need, but will also bring others to reconciliation and an acceptance of truth.
Former abortion clinic workers and great apologists and converts such as Blessed John Henry Newman, demonstrate that gentle living witness and personal experience are infinitely more powerful tools of evangelisation than lengthy arid philosophical and theological jargon, which can in itself be an exercise in narcissism and intellectual show-boating.
What the Pope is saying is that it’s not ‘just the internet‘. He is understanding the importance that digital media is having on everyone’s lives and the power of social media as an effective tool for envangelisation. In terms of how he talks about the internet bringing people and communities together, again he is correct. I have met some of my closest real-life Catholic friends as a result of the internet – we now use the internet to swiftly communicate, but as a result have much closer real-life contact, as the three hour conversation I had the other night, encompassing amongst other things, Eucharistic miracles, will testify. The internet has enabled me to meet wonderful Catholics with shared common interests in real-life, whom I am proud to call friends. It has transformed my prayer life, not least in terms of some of the digital applications available – whether that be in terms of helping me make a really good confession or introducing me to an easy way of Praying the Divine Office. It has proven a far richer depth of spiritual resources, in terms of pointing me to relevant meetings and lectures, decent reading material, podcasts and online prayer requests, than simply word of mouth or any individual catechesis sessions. Whilst it cannot replace authentic real-life human contact, the internet acts as a supplement.
And because it isn’t just the internet, because what’s said on social media or blogs, can have a real and lasting impact on people’s lives, then it is beholden on all of us to ensure that we use these tools in an entirely appropriate and effective way. The internet can undoubtedly be a deadly weapon, intended to inflict real and lasting damage on others’ lives in the wrong hands. When we look at its power to evangelise and transform, to bring about conversions of heart and healing graces, it can be no surprise that the glamour of the internet is beset with pitfalls, so though the Pope urges us to be creative and imaginative with our language, we must be like Michelangelo, reflecting the glory of creation and the word made flesh, through our own words.
People are so keen to write the Pope off, in terms of his age, his commitment to orthodoxy and his liturgical preferences, but with this message he captures the heart of the internet and demonstrates an detailed understanding of a very modern tool, which people half his age either write off or have very little knowledge of. He’s certainly not anywhere near ready for retirement or mentally slowing down yet and I would wager that whilst he would approve of the way the internet is gradually bringing about and supporting much needed liturgical reform, he probably wouldn’t appreciate much of the ecclesiastical bashing that goes on either.
But all in all, like his perceptive insight in so many other areas, the Pope just gets it. And that’s why an overwhelming majority of Catholics are so delighted that the Holy Spirit moved to give us Joseph Ratzinger as our Vicar of Christ.
Allison Pearson’s column in yesterday’s Telegraph gives pause for thought if one has children who are attending a mixed-sex school. In the absence of many single-sex state schools, not many people are able to afford private single-sex schools or to be able to give up an income to home school. As Pearson says, if this happens in an upper-class boarding school, it’s going to be happening in schools up and down the country.
It is scandalous that one the one hand parents are being asked to take responsibility for their children’s internet, politicians seem to be finally waking up to the fact that we live in an over-sexualised society and yet on the other parents are actively excluded from information pertaining to their children’s sexual health decisions.
Is it really such a consistent idea to be encouraging teenagers to be experimenting with sex so long as it is with each other and ‘consensual’ whilst at the same time acknowledging that children are exposed to unprecedented amounts of sexual pressure, regardless of their gender. How is encouraging children that it’s perfectly acceptable to sexually experiment with each other without their parents’ knowledge or consent going to do anything to address sexual exploitation? We are already seeing plenty of cases whereby young teens are abusing even younger children – telling children that perhaps they should try oral sex or mutual masturbation instead of full penetration is hardly conducive to a society that wants to protect its youngsters.
And before anyone moots yet more education is needed, take a look at this:
The figures are from the Health Protection Agency and are an amalgamation of the under 15 and 15-19 age brackets. Diagnoses of gonorrhoea have decreased which is a good thing, seeing as there is a worrying outbreak of an antibiotic resistant strain, which seems to be on the increase in the US, but the rest of the figures don’t look so great. I haven’t included cases of syphilis in teens because the numbers are too small to register on the scale, but it should be noted that between the years 2002 and 2011, diagnoses of this disease in teenagers increased by 96%. That our young people should be battling this potentially fatal and wholly avoidable chronic condition is absolutely horrifying.
When it comes to teenage pregnancy rates, the numbers state that the under-18 conception rate is at its lowest since 1969. This is obviously very good news, but it is not indicative that the teenage pregnancy strategy was in any way successful, in terms of teenagers’ sexual health, indicated by the chart above. When talking about the teenage pregnancy figures, we need to remember that the under 18 conception rate is for the age ranges 15-17. As Professor David Paton points out, the under 16 teenage pregnancy stats have seen little change between 1969 and 2012, fluctuating between 7 and 10 girls per 1,000 every year. In any event, even with the drop, the UK teen pregnancy figures are still amongst the highest in Western Europe, before we all start congratulating ourselves.
What is evidently happening is that more or at least the same amount of teenagers as previously are having sex, most of them are using long-acting reversible contraceptives or hormonal contraceptives like the pill and thus leaving themselves open to disease. The Health and Social care Information centre reports that the 16-19 year old age group had the highest number of attendances at contraceptive clinics of the entire female population and that oral contraception was the primary method of contraception for 45% of women who attended.
Clearly something is going awry with sex education in this country and it doesn’t take much to figure out what. More on this anon.
Today’s political discourse could have been lifted straight out of the pages of Animal Farm: progressive good, reactionary/conservative bad. Generally speaking whether one’s political sympathies lie to the left or right, all mainstream politicians are jostling to claim the ‘progressive’ mantle, whether it be David Cameron with his push for gay marriage or Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ Labour party.
Like most political tribalism, this label is a simplistic one and it certainly looks as though the scales are finally beginning to fall from the eyes of former metro-libs, with even the very pro-abortion Diane Abbot MP decrying the hyper-sexualisation of today’s society. Not all social change or progress furthers the interests of the common good, whether that be the excesses wrought by the sexual revolution (of which the pedophile scandals of the sixties and seventies is a fruit), or the closing down of the industrial areas of the north with no replacement, by Margaret Thatcher. Progress for its own sake does not constitute a good. The majority of the UK population could be placed in the ‘reactionary’ category in at least one area of our views.
Watching some of the media coverage of today’s tragic fortieth anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision in which the US Supreme Court legalised abortion , it struck me that far from flying the vaunted ‘progressive’ flag, it is actually the pro-choicers who are the reactionaries here. They aren’t fighting for any social change, other than to retain the same old status quo that has been in place for the last forty years, one that has resulted in approximately 54 million US abortions, or missing children since 1973.
Perhaps that’s why, as Time magazine pointed out in its January edition, pro-choicers are losing the battle and pro-lifers are hopeful. Faced with an army of young grassroots pro-life activists, Nancy Keenan head of Pro-Choice America has resigned, stating that in order to successfully defend America’a abortion rules the movement needs to emulate the pro-life youth. The tactics of the pro-choice movement in the UK are certainly looking in need of a re-vamp, reverting to the same tired modus operandi of turning up to scream abuse, chant the same old stale slogans and wave the same placards every time they get an inkling that a group of pro-lifers might be getting together. As opposed to any sort of positive action that might actually help women and give them that Holy Grail of ‘choice’, all they can do is turn up like a bunch of rabid old reactionaries, resistant to any positive action that might actually help women chose to be mothers.
The treatment of @londonistar, who has recently set up the Marie Copes blog for victims of abortion to anonymously tell their tale in a safe, non-judgemental space, best exemplifies the attitude. Having discovered that her unborn child had Downs Syndrome and having been given an extremely negative outlook by the doctors, her and her husband took what was an extremely painful decision to abort a much wanted child. Her experience was utterly horrific from start to finish – she was let down by the medical profession who gave her a very limited and one-sided view of the condition and prediction of the quality of life of her child, leaving her with what she felt at the time, no other option. The procedure itself was botched, the nursing ‘care’ was brutal, leaving her in agony, needing reparative surgery, facing infertility and an unacknowledged need to grieve. The pro-choicers and feminists reacted in anger when she told them her story; instead of being outraged at her presented lack of choice and campaigning for better information for pregnant women with difficult diagnoses or even a better standard of care from the abortion clinics, they simply raged at her for having related her experience and daring to feel any grief. It was the pro-lifers, those whom one would expect to be judgemental and angry who reached out to her in a spirit of compassion and love, not only for her in her grief, but also so that they could better understand and learn from the needs and emotions of a woman faced with an agonising dilemma, whereas to use her words, the pro-choice feminists treated her like a ‘political pawn’.
Far from being solely concerned about the cute little baby, pro-lifers are intuitively concerned with the woman, the mother and her needs and rights, which is why at the Vigil for Life which took place in Dublin’s Merrion Square on Sunday and attended by 25,000 people, the crowd was awash with banners stating “Love them both. Abortion kills one, hurts another” together with a picture of a mother and her baby. It isn’t pro-lifers propagating the culture wars, pro-lifers are successfully engaging with women, with appeals to those attending America’s March for Life taking place this weekend, to avoid using graphic images in order not to distress vulnerable and post-abortive women. Equally at the 40 days for life prayer vigils, it isn’t the volunteers quietly and peacefully praying for those inside the clinic and offering help, who are upping the emotional ante, rather the vociferous, angry pro-choice opposition.
But this isn’t simply about the words. Pro-lifers are also attempting to progress women’s rights in a way that leaves the traditional militant feminists way behind. Feminism tends to treat children as an encumbrance or a burden to equality and seeks to circumvent them, in order that women may be seen to compete on an equal footing with men. A pro-life feminism embraces motherhood and child-rearing as being an authentic part of a woman’s femininity and actively campaigns for solutions which means that a child is no longer an obstacle to an education or to a woman being able to be financially self-supportive. That’s not to say that an authentic feminism rejects men as unimportant or irrelevant in the process of child-rearing, but accepts that in today’s increasingly feckless society, women are often faced with no other choice than to raise a child alone.Feminists for Life is a good example of how pro-lifers in America are reaching out to college students.
In the UK, the Alliance of Pro-life students has, in a short period of time, made enormous progress. Speaking last week at the launch, Eve Farron, their 22 year old leader, talked of how they have made common cause with feminist groups on campus, forcing them to address the lamentable lack of provision for pregnant students and working together to ensure that college students really do have a choice if faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
She described how young freshers are handed a welcome pack consisting of a free pizza voucher on one side with an advert for Marie Stopes at the back. That was certainly the case for me when I started at the University of Sussex recently. We were given a compulsory talk by the ironically named Student Life Centre who made it clear that there was an abundance of sexual health-care services, including abortion on offer. When I went to them to ask for help in terms of essay deadline extensions, being 9 weeks pregnant with three existing children and incredibly sick, they were not exactly forthcoming, neither were the faculty staff. The baby was due in the summer holidays and when I asked whether or not I would be able to bring her to lectures and seminars, as the creche would not take babies under 6 months, and breastfeed, obviously taking her out if she caused a disturbance, the answer was a resounding no. I could not quite believe how a university, that prides itself on its diversity, that strives to teach everything through a prism of feminism, gender and queer theory, could be quite so obstructive. Furthermore, the creche was scheduled to close, due to cuts and not being cost-effective, before finally being out-sourced to a private provider after a huge outcry. When I approached the student body for help, I was told it probably wouldn’t be worth pursuing the matter, it would get me a bad name, the best thing to do was defer, and of course, be liable for the new higher tuition fees. Had I not been of a strong Catholic and pro-life persuasion, I could well see how having an abortion would have seemed the only feasible choice in that situation and where were the feminists then? Any advocacy was totally non-existent.
I digress, but it goes to show that by contrast to shouting catchy slogans, the pro-lifers are actively working for social change, not only by convincing people with the overwhelming scientific evidence and intellectually rigorous arguments but also by their deeds and actions, whether that be the peaceful, non-confrontational outreach on the streets to women in need, advocacy for students and young people, or working for political solutions and social change. Pro-lifers also seek to advance the rights and cause of the disabled, recognising that every life is of equal dignity and worth and that the two causes are immutably entwined.
Pro-lifers don’t want to turn back the clock to a time when abortion was illegal, they want to strive for a society where abortion is unthinkable and unnecessary. Pro-lifers want a society where women can have children at an early age and yet still be educated and professionally successful, we want a society where fathers are held accountable for their children and not let off the hook by abortion. We want women to contribute to society, through child bearing and also through professional employment, if that is their choice. We want an authentic feminism that allows women to fulfil their natural vocation as mothers, not one that makes work and child rearing mutually exclusive, which is what current strands of feminism and pro-choice rhetoric seek to reinforce. The most exciting thing about this – it is being led by women themselves!
Pro-lifers are the real progressives, working for true social change, one that supports and upholds the dignity of women whilst protecting the right to life of all our unborn children. We recognise that for a society to be welcoming of life, a myriad of complex social problems need to be solved, not least that abortion disproportionately affects the poorest and are working for a better society for all, instead of banging a single issue drum. Whereas the pro-choicers are clinging to their outdated mantras of the seventies, fretting over fripperies such as gender appropriate lego and squabbling over internal victim hierarchies, pro-lifers are solidly working for a radical solution so that no unborn child ever need to be killed in utero again.
This is why the pro-life movement should wave its progressive credentials with pride.
Clare Perry, the rising star in the Conservative Party and David Cameron’s new advisor on childhood has said some eminently sensible and refreshing things today which will no doubt cause Louise Mensch to turn a shade of green.
Mrs Perry, a mother of three, points out that it should not be assumed that children have an automatic right to privacy and that society as a whole has been complicit in a culture which allows children to make unsupervised and inappropriate contact with strangers any time of the day or night.
She argues, in the same way that I did post publication of the Bailey Report, that parents need to take ownership and responsibility for their children’s internet access on their laptops and mobile phones. If you don’t want your children to have unsupervised access to the net, either don’t buy them a device, or if you must, install various filtering software and blocks. If your child is up on the internet until the early hours of the morning, then the solution is simple – switch the darn router off. He who pays the piper, calls the tune!
I grew up in the eighties and nineties where having access to one’s own private telephone line was an unimaginable luxury, although admittedly in my day, mobile phones were simply beyond the means of most individuals, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of sheer size, with the look, feel and weight of a house brick. Like most households of that time, our telephone was situated in a very public place, on the hall table and consisted of an unwieldy non portable handset, with a dial – push buttons were the last word in decadence. As a result all incoming telephone calls were received in a public place, every word could be overheard and any talk about one’s love-life either with friends or heaven forbid the young man himself had to be couched in code, making the whole thing far more exciting that I’m sure it would otherwise have been.
Ever mindful of the bill and the fact that my father ran a business from home, calls had to be kept quite short and it would not have occurred to me to pick up the phone and make a call without first asking permission. As teenagers, if we did answer the phone and the call was indeed for us, we would have to inform our parents as to the identity of the caller. My father is something of an eccentric and used to delight in causing maximum mortification by deliberately winding up callers for myself and my sister. My best friend Anna, was regularly treated to a medley of hits from the King and I, female friends would be sung to and any male callers could be guaranteed either to have my father’s version of Stanley Unwin’s language, or worse still, not be allowed to speak to us until they had made the request or spoken an entire sentence in Latin!
It’s difficult to know whether or not the internet could have got us into trouble as children, my parents were sensible types but equally I can see how difficult it is for parents these days, many of whom might not be as conversant in the new technology as their kids, but Mrs Perry is right to state that parents have a responsibility to regulate their children’s internet access. Given that it is practically impossible to escape the internet in one form or another and that it will be an integral part of children’s lives, it does seem fitting that the IT curriculum should incorporate lessons on basic safety and service providers and the industry as a whole should agree a new code of conduct, along similar lines to the rules of broadcasting.
It goes without saying that children and adolescents do need to be afforded some level of trust and privacy and we need to be realistic that at some point they probably will use the internet to get up to some naughtiness or other (just as children used to look up all the rude words in the dictionary), but limiting the scope for mischief, whilst helping them learn responsible behaviour, can be no bad thing and neither should it be left entirely in the hands of schools or regulators. Parents do have the primary responsibility.
But has anyone spotted the huge inconsistency yet? Clare Perry has correctly pointed out how internet technology can be used to degrade , objectify and sexualise young girls who are often at the receiving end of sexual bullying, citing the terrible case of Chevonea Kendall-Bryan, the 13 year old girl who fell to her death from the top of a tower block whilst begging her boyfriend to delete a sex tape he’d made on her phone.
‘We’ve given our children all these opportunities to communicate in private, but we’ve lost the confidence to actually get involved in that.
You have to ask yourself whether or not confidential sex advice, access to contraception and abortions provided to teens without the parents’ knowledge or consent has enabled and encouraged that attitude. Whether the deliberate exclusion of parents from knowledge pertaining to their children’s development and welfare and usurping of parental role in the provision of sex education has produced a generation of impotent parents who lack the skills and confidence to intervene?
‘We have to feel more empowered to ask. Make sure your kids allow you to be friends with them on Facebook, ask them whether what they are doing is appropriate.
But whatever you do, don’t ask them whether or not they are taking large doses of synthetic hormones designed to subdue their developing fertility, don’t ask them whether or not they are having sex and whatever you do don’t try to prevent them from doing so. What your child is being taught about sex , whether or not they are engaging in sex or risky sexual behaviour, whether or not they might be aborting their unborn baby is none of your concern as a parent.
Whilst schools continue to provide under 16s with contraceptive advice, products and abortions without the knowledge or consent of their parents, frankly fussing about whether or not they have unfettered access to Facebook or the internet is like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. How can parents be expected to protect their children when they are excluded from the most crucial and key decisions involving their personal health?
Make no mistake, the internet and mass media can have a deleterious effect on children’s development and expose them to sexual predators and unrealistic visions of sex, sexuality and body image. But just as harmful can be the physical effects of early sexual activity which stems from premature exposure to the internet and sexualisation. Isn’t it time for a double-stranded approach?
A follower on Twitter linked me to some graphic material, produced by the Terence Higgins Trust, which SPUC are claiming is indicative of the type of the material that will be taught in schools if gay marriage is enacted into law.
The booklet is entitled ‘The Bottom Line’ and is a comprehensive guide to ‘safe’ or ‘safer’ homosexual sex. Another friend on Facebook has expressed some legitimate concerns – the booklet, he says, is designed for distribution in GUM clinics and doctors surgeries and is deliberately couched in gay urban parlance, the Terence Higgins Trust are attempting to reach the gay community in order to educate and reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases.
Whilst as Catholics we would advocate a more holistic solution involving both body and soul, though I’m uncomfortable with the contents of the brochure simply due to the ick factor (yes I’ve read my Freud, spare me the inevitable comments about repression or heaven forbid ‘homophobia’, I just find graphic depictions of sex as about erotic as a tub of blue play-dough), the Terence Higgins Trust should not be condemned for attempting to improve the health of the gay community.
I’m also not about to, for want of a better phrase, explore the concept of sodomy, other than to note that it’s entirely contrary to Catholic teaching, regardless of the mix of genders who may be engaging in it and it isn’t inciting homophobia to state that it carries greater health risks than heterosexual or ‘vanilla’ sex. According to the latest report from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) released in November 2012, the highest rates of HIV were reported amongst men who have sex with men (MSM), where the diagnosis is 47 per 1,000, with new diagnoses amongst this community being at an all time high. That sodomy is inherently a risky business is evidenced by the need for educational material such as that produced by the Terence Higgins Trust. Like most things in life, sodomy, particularly between males, is a calculated risk – despite various precautions one can take in order to mitigate the risk.
As an aside, it’s fascinating to note how the government is attempting to interfere and regulate in other matters of personal health such as putting swingeing great increases on the cost of tobacco, introducing a minimum price for alcohol and mooting a fat tax, but in terms of sexual behaviour, which one could argue has enormous consequences for public health, prefers a laissez faire attitude. Perhaps David Cameron’s push for gay marriage is a disguised attempt at encouraging homosexual monogamy?
SPUC’s point about this booklet, is to be fair, a valid one, but I think some caution is required before using it as an example of the type of material that may be used in schools. They may not be too far off the mark, a quick look at the Bish Training website will give an indication as to the type of material that is thought appropriate and the horrors of the Living and Growing video, which was shown to children as young as 8, will still be fresh in parents’ minds. The problem is that those who are ideologically wedded to the idea of sexual enculturation as at early an age as possible, will seize on any attempt to portray their opponents as liars. As it isn’t entirely clear whether or not this booklet would be aimed at teens, it not being specifically produced for use in schools, then accusations of deliberate and false scaremongering will fly, along with the usual flim-flam about inciting hatred.
But SPUC are correct to point out that the teaching of gay sex in schools will be a logical and necessary consequence of gay marriage, simply teaching about hetrosexual practices will be deemed discriminatory. And I’d be willing to bet my bottom (ha excuse the pun) dollar, that most parents, aside from the achingly hip metro-liberal chatterers desperate to wave their progressive rainbow crendentials, would be terribly uncomfortable with that.
Do we really want our primary school children and young vulnerable adolescents given explicit instructions into the mechanics of anal sex, or the sexual practices of anyone, beyond basic reproductive biology? Anyone with same-sex attraction surely figures it out for themselves an at appropriate age without being given the pointers in school, as does anyone with any sexual urges.
I hate writing posts like these with my ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ sucking a lemon face on, because actually sex is a glorious and joyful thing, which is earth-shatteringly powerful. We shouldn’t underestimate its power, nor seek to neutralise or clinicalise it in soggy grotty latex filled self-satisfying encounters or feats of performance, which are about as stimulating as watching Midsommer Murders with a cup of hot cocoa in a cardi.
Which is one of the tragedies of the ideology of sex education in schools. A fulfilling and joyful sex life should not have to include a mandatory regular health check, nor intricate discussions of the workings of the back passage that would make Kenneth Williams blush. And the sooner people cotton on that the way sex is taught in schools, that anything goes, nothing matters so long as it’s consensual, is an ideology and a damaging one at that, the better.