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?

Becoming like children

A friend suggested that I download the excellent unspoken sermons of George McDonald the other night, when I was casting about for recommendations for free reading material of a political, historical and theological bent.

The first chapter is entitled Child in our midst, and is a reflection of Mark 9: 33-37, and the relationship of the child-like and the divine.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when briefly discussing the result of the Parliamentary vote with my daughter, who it seems had been engaged in conversation at school. Though my initial reaction was horror, I guess to some extent the playground is a microcosm of the adult world, the school admits pupils to the age of 13, we live in liberal Brighton and one can hardly be surprised if things have filtered down.

Our daughter doesn’t know about sex, but she does know the biology behind reproduction, i.e. that when men and women get married, they can then have a ‘special cuddle’ (yes it’s twee, you try explaining it to a then 6-7 year old) whereby the man gives the woman a sperm which fertilises her egg etc. The subject arose when she asked how the babies were getting into mummy’s tummy, I don’t hold with lying to children, nonsense euphemisms about gooseberry bushes and storks just confuse children, hence we told her the truth in an age appropriate way. She was more than satisfied by the response, no special books or silly furtiveness was required, but we did show her some pictures of what the baby looked like in the womb at certain stages during my pregnancies, which she enjoyed. (Pro-lifers take note).

I was told what homosexuality was at the same age in Year 4. Looking back it was a scream. The ernest and stern Mr Sutton, headmaster of our interesting and eclectic prep school (consisting mainly of the children of farmers in the backwaters of the Dengie hundred) decided that as an experiment he would personally supervise sex education lessons for the fourth form. We were given blue workbooks with diagrams of the male and female organs in cross section as well as a couple in flagrante, so to speak. It looked a ghastly, painful and disgusting business to my mind. There was no way I was ever going to do that – ever! To the great amusement and perhaps relief of my parents, I coloured the male member in green and red diagonal stripes resembling a barber’s shop pole, for reasons best beknown to myself.

I remember distinctly Mr Sutton explaining what ‘gay’ was, that it meant two women or two men had fallen in love with each other, we might read about it in the paper and that it absolutely wasn’t funny, these people couldn’t help it and we mustn’t laugh about it or make fun of those who were gay. Anyone who did would be in trouble, whereupon the bell rang for playtime and Damian Jones proceeded to call everyone a “gaylord”, as a change from the previously preferred insult of choice – “Joey”.

Which kind of brings me to the point. Bullying and name calling sadly will always occur at school, although it should always be given zero tolerance when uncovered. I remember being grieved when Jennifer Holland Brown, cheeky upstart in the third year accused me of being a lesbian because I’d accidentally kicked her leg in the swimming pool, whereupon all her friends joined in. It lasted 10 minutes if that, but these days there would be scores of counsellors telling me ‘its fine to be a lesbian, you should celebrate that’ and reporting her parents for installing homophobia, whereas actually kids can be rather horrible to each other at times. I was irritated by the sheer cheek of a younger girl as well as peeved by the untruth because I knew that I most definitely wasn’t a lesbian! Calling people out for being supposedly different, whether true or false has happened and will happen in schools since time immemorial. Nobody’s race, faith (and it was the fish wearing Christians at my sixth form who got the grief) sexuality, hair colour, weight, appearance or family life and standard of living should be used to single them out, but sadly it does happen and schools need to do what they can to ensure it isn’t ignored or tolerated which includes punishing offenders. Enacting the gay marriage bill in the name of stamping out homophobic attitudes is a panacea.

But back to George McDonald and becoming like a child, here was my 8 year old’s response.

“Two men and two women? That’s just silly. But that would mean two sperms and two eggs? How would they have babies”.

It was gently explained to her that men and women sometimes did develop feelings for each other.

“But if everyone did that we wouldn’t have any more babies and then what would happen?”

But I suppose to explain it is unusual, is homophobic?!

As George McDonald says:

“God is represented in Jesus, for that God is like Jesus: Jesus is represented in the child, for that Jesus is like the child. Therefore God is represented in the child, for that he is like the child. God is child-like. In the true vision of this fact lies the receiving of God in the child.”

We forget that God is child-like at our peril. The most absurd thing I think I saw yesterday was this clip from Channel 4, with a gay man explaining with child-like simplicity how a gay couple could now be married in the eyes of God. Because God was clearly waiting for the Parliamentary result to change his opinion.

Suffer the little children.

Protecting children?

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:

Teen STD diagnoses 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.

The bottom line

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.

No laughing matter
No laughing matter