State cooked relationships

home cooking

I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I am becoming increasingly unnerved by the clamour being made by those in the business of sex education, such as assembled ‘experts’ who are repeatedly calling for better state sex education in schools, including teaching pupils that ‘not all porn is bad’.

No doubt these are the same advocates who bitterly complain about the ‘indoctrination’ of pupils in faith school, who seem to be utterly blind to the irony that even espousing a so-called neutral view, is an ideology in and of itself. I am boggling at how the notion ‘not all porn is bad’ can be seen as anything other than subjective opinion.

As for becoming porn literate (and I cannot bear that particular neologism), what does that really mean? As in the sense of computer literate, i.e. having competence or knowledge? Or more likely, being able to think critically about porn, able to discern between what is good and what is bad? And who on earth makes those decisions? What constitutes good or bad pornography or erotica is entirely dependent upon the subjective lens of the recipient and their personal tastes. Not to mention Aristotle, under whose definition all pornography is good. Those who complain vociferously about the role of the nanny state when any changes to the law regarding the accessing of internet porn are mooted, ought to think about long and hard about whether or not our children should be taught that xyz makes for ‘bad’ porn, whereas something else is deemed as ‘good’ as well as the acceptable context in which to use porn.

And let’s face it, in order for children to be taught how to become discerning viewers of porn, they are going to need to be exposed to a fair few different genres and the whole point of porn is that it is not designed to be rational. Responses to pornography are never rational or cerebral they are always visceral, instantaneous and physical which is why it is so hugely popular and addictive. Habitual users of porn are well aware that rationally and intellectually, it isn’t realistic, addicts are often well aware that a porn addiction is psychologically unhealthy and impede real-life relationships, but it’s never that easy to wean oneself off, especially when the next hit is only a click away. And let’s not kid ourselves about the purpose of porn either. It really isn’t rocket-science to note that the release of the various neuro-chemicals and hormones involved in reaching climax are an intoxicating and heady mix, as this secular site, designed to help young men beat a pornography addiction, explains. Whilst there are several other Catholic resources designed to help people spiritually, such as for example porn no more, reading about the science behind the effects of porn upon the brain, is both compelling and terrifying.

Exposing children to porn, even with good intentions, borders on the abusive. It normalises and contextualises something that should be a taboo, as being a perfectly harmless habit. Thirty years ago, if men wanted to see porn, it would involve a fair bit of effort, such as shuffling off to the newsagent when no-one else was around or attending a grubby and squalid peep show in the backstreets of Soho. The internet enabled burgeoning of the porn industry has been every male pervert’s dream, no longer are they seen as sordid, seedy, sleazeballs but as sophisticated consumers of a product. And women have been co-opted in their own sexual objectification to a degree that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.

Children, especially teenagers faced with fluctuating levels of hormones, are not intellectually equipped to make decisions about sex, whilst not lacking intelligence, they lack the requisite wisdom that comes with experience. Exposure to porn at this age is especially harmful, whetting their appetites and forming neural pathways and associations with pleasure that will inevitably require rewiring. Most men of my generation admit that their first exposure to porn was via some mucky magazines found in their father’s bedroom or study, or surreptitiously sneaked into school. They also admit that these early experiences seem to have shaped various ideas and preferences, again, one doesn’t need to be an expert on Freud or psychology to understand that early feelings of sexual arousal and the accompanying associations, can prove enormously powerful. It’s stupefying naivety and ignorance to believe that by discussing and attempting to rationalise pornography with children, that they will then be able to control their physical responses to it. It could well backfire in that by deeming certain porn ‘bad’ it becomes ever more alluring.

A school classroom made up of thirty pupils of differing stages of sexual and emotional development is not the appropriate place for discussions of this nature. The schoolteacher is not responsible for the sexual formation of a young adult.

Which is also why the classroom is not the place to teach about what the state regards as ‘good relationships’. Why does the state believe that it has the monopoly on defining and teaching about such deeply personal matters. Most of us are able to recognise an innately dysfunctional relationship, even if we were brought up in such an environment ourselves. Whilst we might need help in identifying and overcoming issues that may have occurred as a result, even those in abusive relationships realise on one level that what is happening is not the ideal state of affairs. There are many complex factors that are involved in why people may end up in abusive relationships, that they were not taught how to recognise them at school seems to be an insignificant factor, generally people find themselves trapped for a variety of reasons, relationships that turn toxic, usually do so gradually.

As for teaching primary school children about adult sexual relationships, instead of ‘placing too much emphasis on friendships’, speaking as a parent of a 9 year old who will soon approach puberty, this is unbelievable stuff. A child’s world is made up of their friendships, when something goes wrong in the playground it can have devastating consequences. Of course the emphasis must be on friendships and how to get along with others, how to be kind, generous and respectful. Priming children as to what healthy adult sexual relationships should look like, is akin to grooming and leaves them very vulnerable to predatory adults.

Whilst of course, any PSHE element should help children to recognise and ask for help in terms of unwanted sexual behaviours or advances, there is a danger in placing emphasis upon a good quality sexual relationship, almost as if this should be a given in a romantic relationship or is indeed a necessary part of a fulfilling life. By teaching children a subjective definition of good and bad relationships, they also encourage a tendency to discard anything that falls short of the ideal standard, or when things become difficult, when very often problems and difficulties can be rectified.

Relationships are not always ideal and perfect, from the Catholic point of view we know that the graces conferred upon us by the sacrament will reinforce us, but ultimately even the best marriages go through the odd sticky stage. Which is why the marriage vows include a promise to love, which sometimes requires an act of will, it is not simply a confirmation of being romantically in love, but a promise to love the other person, even when they are being at their worst.

What seems apparent is that the state is trying to package up, homogenise and clinicalise every single sexual relationship and impose this utopian vision upon our children. This is the type of sex you should be having, here’s the type of relationship that you should have and here’s the pornography that is okay to look at and here’s how you should use it. It feels deeply unpleasant and intrusive.

I read earlier that the pornography industry is becoming safer than the food industry when it comes to health and safety standards. Which really says it all. Do we really want our sexual relationships monitored, regulated and served up to us like a tasteless, plastic, microwave meal. Or do we want something home-made, free of artificial ingredients, wholesome, comforting, heart-warming, authentic, nutritious and made with human love and care. It might not look as perfect or uniform as the mass produced product you take out of the packet, or be made conforming to the same stringent standards of health and safety. It may often be harder to produce. But it sure tastes and feels infinitely better.

Do we really want children sold a state-sanctioned convenience-meal version of sex and relationships?

4 thoughts on “State cooked relationships

  1. I think it’s like all these things. The argument is ‘they’re doing it anyway, so the responsible thing is to get along side them and educate them to do it responsibly.’ ‘Just say no’ is counterproductive in the minds of many educationalists.

  2. You raise some very interesting questions here, although I disagree with most of your conclusions. Education on the biological mechanics of sex, along with fully understanding the physical and emotional consequences, is clearly vital input for any child. Ignorance can only lead to poor decision-making, which is especially problematic for children trying to understand new and explosive feelings and how to relate them to other people. Education from a Christian point of view is often unrealistic and unhelpful in terms of helping adolescents and young adults make these decisions.

    As for the porn industry, I am similarly inclined to think there is no ‘good’ porn, although it is a reality we have to deal with and something that will always arouse curiosity in children. Objectification of people isn’t useful for understanding how to build healthy relationships.

  3. ‘Education from a Christian point of view is often unrealistic and unhelpful in terms of helping adolescents and young adults make these decisions.’

    That’s often the perception, but I’m not so sure that the alternative is any more realistic. Increasingly, sex educationalists are calling for children at a younger and younger age to be educated in how to ‘respect’ one another. I wonder have these educationalists ever met a 13-year-old-boy? Many 35-year-olds struggle to know how to understand and respect their sexual partner. Is it all realistic that a child can have sex without it all ending in a painful mess?

    Yet where-else is there to go if we can’t give sex any boundaries or context for fear of being ‘unrealistic’? I don’t think there are any easy answers here, but in some African countries they’ve found that ABC teaching has significantly reduced AIDS. Celebrities, government and Church all pulled together to get the message across that ‘abstinence’ and ‘being faithful’ had its rewards in terms of deeper relationships, time for self-development and staying-alive-to-see-your-children-grow-up. The ‘C’ stands for condoms, because they taught contraception as a back-up option if ideals didn’t quite work out as you planned. I wonder if we could come up with something that would work in our context?

  4. (post turning into a saga – sorry!)

    I’m struck by the difference between the sex education in schools and the drug education. Sex education was ‘you’re all going to be doing this at your age, so here’s how to do it safely’. Asking how safe this really was and whether there might be a failure rate was met with avoidance by the teaching and ‘oh, shut up and don’t be so stupid’ from the kids.

    Drug education was ‘watch this harrowing story of a girl who died taking E and hear the sorrow of her devastated parents’. Message: ‘This is a really bad thing and you will die!’. Actually, very few people die from drug overdoses (far fewer than get pregnant or get STDs).

    There’s no such things as education without an agenda.

    Whatever you teach kids will carry on taking drugs for the same reason they carry on having sex – it’s enjoyable and your peers think it’s cool. As simple as that.

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