Have you ever really wondered about the extraordinary lengths we go to shield children from sexuality? Or why a jury might turn against a female victim of violent rape, depending on her sexual history? Or perhaps why men may feel guilty for lusting after women? If you haven’t, you may have bought into a hidden, and mistaken, mindset.
I’ve thought about this a lot, and I believe it boils down to the concept of innocence. Our culture has a largely unspoken yet fundamental belief that innocence equals asexuality. This belief, rooted in puritan morality, gets disproportionately foisted upon children. It also gets dumped on women, and even on men, despite the double standard.
Children, the primary targets, are naturally the ultimate symbol of innocence. What we call their “innocence” is a pure form of worldly naivety and inexperience, sexual and otherwise. It certainly has nothing to do with being non-sexual (because even fetuses masturbate and have orgasms). Besides the obvious need for protection against abuse and exploitation, the excessive hypervigilance goes way too far. It causes parents unneeded anxiety and squelches the development of children’s sexual intelligence, which means that, as adults, we all pay the price.
In an ideal world, we protect children’s sexuality. However, in the real world, “children’s sexuality” is a contradiction in terms, because we refuse to recognize and accept that our children are actually sexual. This begs the question, then, about what is so offensive about accepting this?
Are we afraid everyone will begin viewing children as sexual objects, then exploiting their vulnerable naivety in a world overrun by pedophiles? Perhaps, but I think it’s more personal and knee-jerk than this rationale.
Are we afraid children will explore things that are dangerous? Hmm, I don’t buy it. Kids do all kinds of dangerous things exploring the world and we don’t make the same kind of fuss.
Are we afraid they will explore things that make us uncomfortable? I think this gets much closer to the mark. If you notice, the kind of fuss we make about sex and children involves tremendous discomfort, irrational thinking and highly charged emotions frequently bordering on hysteria (particularly evident in people devoted to this cause). This should tell us something. And it does. This is called insanity, and it is a cultural phenomenon regarding sex. Radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich’s philosophy pointed to sexual repression as the causative factor of what he called this “mass neurosis”, and it has validity considering the vast quantity of energy squelched by sexual repression. We all know what happens to contents under pressure!
As usual, all roads lead to Rome, meaning the study of our so-called fears for the safety and wellbeing of children points us right back to reflecting on ourselves and where we’re holding. As sex therapist Marty Klein says, it’s really not so much about protecting children, but about making adults feel more comfortable.
We must look to the roots of the assumption that innocence is asexual and pick it apart, because it is entirely unfair to project onto children a fantasy of asexual “innocence” as an escape from confronting the mess that’s been made of our own sexuality throughout the millennia of cultural confusion. From the earliest constructs of various religions (forming the taproot), the strands have spread far and wide, reinforced at almost every level of society. When we shape our views accordingly, we get all the positive strokes, enjoying both the comforting sense of knowing what’s Right and Wrong as well as the winks and nods of friends and neighbors.
Women still carry a great deal of stigma for being sexual creatures. Women-as-chattel begins as far back as our earliest records go, thus beginning the patriarchal movement to suppress female sexuality. The “Holy Madonna” ideal of the pure woman, chaste and disciplined, still holds us by the short hairs. Massively projected onto women in the Middle Ages and revived again in the Victorian era, my own personal experience as a promiscuous woman has proven to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that this ideal is still very much in our midst. (In most modern movies, for example, notice how “easy” women always have some sort of psychological or emotional damage to overcome??)
The bottom line is that a trustworthy, dignified, whole and honest woman– an innocent woman– is certainly not a highly sexed creature. And, she may even weaken some of her civil rights if she happens to find herself in front of a jury as, say, a victim of rape, because a lusty woman is still regarded, deep in the popular psyche, as troublingly flawed and deserving of punishment.
Men, having enjoyed relative sexual liberty, have not escaped the guilt associated with the desire for sex, not only for those dreaded other women but even for those to whom they are devoted. It’s not uncommon for husbands to feel averse to a driving lust for their own wives (a hot fuck may feel at odds with the reverence he feels, or at least strives to foster). Beneath this is the sense that such unbridled passion is not respectful enough for the sanctity of marriage. Furthermore, women have been training them to toe the line about getting their brains out of their briefs to demonstrate that they first desire the woman’s mind, heart and soul (something I’ll discuss further in my next post). This is how they must prove that they are not the oversexed sleazy-balled beasts that women already know them to be.
Innocent or guilty. It’s got to be one or the other. And we are always “guilty” on some level when it comes to sex. Think about that for a minute, is it not true?
It’s time to reinvent the definition of innocence and to recognize that sex and sexuality, in and of itself, does not and cannot taint the innocence of any man, woman or child. To me, innocence is about having no rigid defenses, ulterior motives or crafty posturing. By this definition, the only way back to innocence is to undo all the trash about how sex, the foundation of our existence, is not okay. The most direct route to begin this process is to start telling ourselves and one another, unambiguously, the truth about what we want rather than beating around the bush and playing the social game. Then, and only then, we can stop pretending and manipulating each other in order to meet our needs and satisfy our desires.