Sex and Young People       (Pp. 109-113)


[Follow the red notes and highlighted material, remembering that this is the section the reporter read:]

The preceding discussion has skirted the edge of one of the most explosive

issues surrounding pornography and sexuality in general: that involving

minors.  ---->   For it is in childhood and adolescence that basic sexual

attitudes are formed, and in those years that the foundations are laid for

psychological health or maladjustment.  For example, the great majority of

paraphilias appear then, and the others seem traceable to that period.

But it is in regard to sexuality during those years that public attitudes

were changed least by the "sexual revolution"; the prevailing feeling

still is one of great apprehension or aversion toward nonadult eroticism.

Minors these days have more sexual information (and more misinformation),

and they engage in much more sexual activity than in earlier decades, but they

still suffer from high levels of guilt and ambivalence.  Although to do this

subject justice would require an entire book, it is essential here to say a

few words about one thing: the common idea that there is something

inherently emotionally unhealthful about children, or even adolescents,

having sexual knowledge or sexual activity. [The next five paragraphs respond to this mental-health claim with assertions about facts relevant to that subject. Interspersed among the facts are emotive words giving voice to the moral concerns motivating my discussion.]--->    It is widely averred, for example,

that they are not "emotionally ready" for such things. Or, in regard to children,

that it is not natural for them to have sexual feelings at all.


The latter is a perfect example of rationalization and ideologically

induced blindness.  It seems clearly motivated by our traditional

sex-negative views: "Sexual feelings are tainted, but children are pure;

therefore they couldn't have such feelings."  And it is flatly false.

Even though children learn at an early age to hide and repress their

sexual desires in this culture, the fact that they have them could be

discovered by anyone.  (No, their sexual explorations aren't just

"curiosity"-the standard euphemism for childhood lust.)   

Moreover, in cultures where they are not prevented from doing so, they

begin sexual activity, sometimes even coitus itself, at a very early age.9

In fact, such activity long before puberty is nearly universal among

primates and very common in other mammals.  The idea that it is only

because of "overstimulation" by sexual images around them that children

have sexual thoughts is a myth.  Exposure to nudity or sex does not create

such feelings in young people, though of course it can trigger them;  it

is their biological nature that does that.  What evidently is true

is that for many individuals, owing in part to a greater dependency on

genital friction for arousal, sexual "awakening" can be long delayed by

preventing the youthful experimentation in which they would otherwise

naturally engage.


As for the common idea that sexual awareness and exploration are harmful

to children or adolescents, it is no less biologically false.  Stories of

emotional distress from early sexual experience are often told in this

society;  but it is clear that the real sources of such trauma, other than

those involving unwanted pregnancy, coercion or disease, lie in the

accompanying social attitudes. Ironically, in fact, it is the very fear

and guilt that children are taught to keep them from being sexual that

cause the problems.  Countless stories of adults who waited till marriage

for sexual contact and then found it traumatic can also be told.  This is

especially true of earlier times, when women were advised that the way to

minimize the unpleasantness of marital sex was to "lie still and think of

England".  The anthropological data are perfectly clear on this point.

Breaking any serious social taboo can have a devastating

psychological impact on those who do so.  But the sexual anxiety that is

standard in varying degrees in this culture is unknown in those where

people get only positive messages involving sex in childhood and youth.


So the idea that sex is bad for young people is at best another

self-fulfilling prophecy.  To illustrate how easily mistaken such social

traditions can be, consider the long-standing Western belief that babies

should not be picked up every time they cry.  "They will be spoiled", it

is piously alleged, "always expecting instant gratification.  They won't

grow up independent and strong."  In recent years it has been realized,

partly through becoming aware of other cultures' practices, that the truth

is just the reverse.  At that helpless age, evidently, children need such

reassurance and security.  It is those whose needs are not

met who are apt to grow up anxious and dependent, unable to delay

gratification for fear it will not come later.10 Minors certainly do

need guidance and discipline, especially with all the dangers in the

modern world, such as drug abuse.  But when blind dogma makes us try to

fight biology in such ways, the results are often tragic.                       


As the foregoing parallel suggests, the truth in regard to young people's

emotional health may well be just the opposite of the common claim.

Among other primates, early sexual activity, like play in general, is a

kind of "rehearsal" for their adult roles.  And in at least some species,

such sex-play is known to be required for later sexual adequacy.  That

something similar is the case for humans has been suggested by sex

researchers.  (See John Money's book Love and Love Sickness.  Dr.

Money is possibly the world's foremost authority on sexual development in

childhood and youth.)  One of the reasons for distorted or inadequate

erotic feelings may well be that, in vulnerable individuals, healthy

sexual knowledge or experiences are not available during the crucial years

in which nature intended sexual mental structures to be developing.

Prevented from having natural erotic stimulation, the mind may find it in

unnatural things, or become obsessed with it, or perhaps never find it

adequately at all.  For one possible instance of this, there is a strong

statistical tendency for men imprisoned for "peeping" to have been late in

learning about sex, and late specifically in seeing the genitals of the

opposite sex.11 (They also tend to have had no younger sisters, which

could help explain the latter statistic.)


However all this may be, [(This opening phrase refers to the previous paragraph; unlike the

four paragraphs preceding it, that one is speculative, explicitly so.) The purpose of this book section

is now made fully explicit:]     the important point for our purposes is that

sexual awareness in itself is not harmful to young people.  That fact

brings us back to the issue of pornography.  Of the arguments standardly

used against it, one of the most influential has always been that of

protecting children from exposure to sex.  Once it is realized that such

exposure in itself is not harmful, yet another objection to erotic

portrayals is seen to be without merit. It may even be the case,

as various researchers have suggested, that there is a valuable

place for erotically explicit materials in the education of children,

especially given the fact that our society's high degree of privacy

deprives them of the exposure to nudity and sexuality they would have in a

more natural environment.  This does not apply, of course, to depictions

of deviant sex.  Though it is doubtful they cause actual paraphilias, they

still might send very inappropriate messages. But healthy, happy sexual

depictions or descriptions are no more inappropriate for them than is the

case for those involving other kinds of healthy human behavior. [The moral point this

section draws from what is and isn't harmful/healthful is thus made fully explicit. (The moral "implications"

the reporter claimed to find in this section--to be discussed shortly--are in fact nowhere suggested in the section.)

A related moral point follows:]       


To be sure, recreational portrayals of sex by themselves are no substitute

for a well-rounded sex education.  If pornography is the only source of sexual

knowledge young people can get, they can be misled in various ways.      

But if they are denied reliable sources, as is so often the case, they

will go on getting it from questionable ones. It is a real tragedy. Despite

the great importance of sexuality in human life, this society continues

to keep youth in the dark about it.  The "official" information            --->

they do get, moreover, tends to be all negative, about the perils of

disease or molestation, never about the joy of being sexual. The

inevitable result is a society in which the adults are, in spite

of what they assume, both miserably ignorant about and filled with

superstitious fear concerning their own bodies and feelings. They raise

their children the same way they were raised, and the cycle continues. 


[Despite the reporter's earlier-discussed gross misrepresentation, it is clear that the following paragraph is

presenting this danger to young people as one of the evil consequences of the attitudes the book is opposing:]

One currently popular argument against pornography involves its use by

child molesters as "bait" to entice children into sex with them.  Now,

banning the sale of such materials certainly would not stop this practice,

since it is easy enough for such people to make their own, or to employ

other lures such as candy.  In fact, this and similar tactics by pedophiles

are possible because young people are prevented from having the

sexual knowledge, and the sexual contact with peers, that they naturally

desire.  (Many of the current efforts to protect children from sexual

exploitation are equally counterproductive and terribly harmful - though

that is a whole new story.)  As for the case where minors are sexually

attacked or coerced into sexual activity, note this well:  the best

protection against psychological harm from such assault is a healthy and

positive prior attitude toward sex, not ignorance and shame.  In fact,

given all the harms that (as we'll continue to see) result from teaching

sexual guilt to children, it would be very appropriate to regard such

teachings as a form of child sex abuse.                                                    --->


[And the next two paragraphs present those arguments about child pornography. Clearly, the discussion takes it for

granted that a tendency to promote child sex abuse would provide moral grounds for banning child pornography.]

Finally, what about that special category of pornography that has caused so much alarm in recent years, that which itself portrays children?  This is another topic that needs far more treatment than can be given here, but a few things can be said.  Once more, there is no evidence that such materials cause a sexual interest in children-any more than seeing homosexual pornography produces a homosexual orientation.  As for those who already are sexually aroused by children, for reasons that have also been discussed, banning it does not prevent them from being so aroused.  Even something as innocuous as the little girl in the old Coppertone ads has been reported by numerous pedophiles to be highly sexually stimulating.  Note also that in most of the world throughout history, children have gone naked until the age at which they begin to internalize their culture's taboos.  This is often the case in modern Europe, where complete nudity for swimming is common for all ages. Moreover, even the possibility that overtly sexual depictions of children elicit child molestation is somewhat disconfirmed by the fact that no increase in police reports of such acts occurred in Denmark during the years there when child pornography was legal and widespread.12


There is something to the idea that if "kidporn" were legal, it would send the message to pedophiles that their desires are socially acceptable.  Even that is unlikely, perhaps, in a society where they are often despised more than murderers. However, there is the special argument that depictions of sex between adults and children can be used to give children the impression that such behavior is socially acceptable.  More importantly, there is a serious problem in regard to the photographic making of such materials.  Given that children are particularly vulnerable to coercion, protecting them from being pressured or forced into something which, in present social conditions, can be highly distressing or even psychologically damaging is a serious concern (though it is potentially no more so, once again, than the practice of coercing them not to act sexually.)  That being so, a case for the legal prohibition of this type of pornography can be made.  [Note again that the phrase 'protecting them' was referring only to the specific matter of having child pornography illegal, not about protecting children from child sex abuse in general, and was referring almost wholly to photographic depictions involving only children, not those depicting adults and children together.]


[The concluding paragraph both reiterates the section's purpose in the wider discussion of pornography,

and makes the section's moral concerns perfectly clear. But the reporter suppressed all of its words, too:]

The topic under discussion is admittedly laden with emotion, but that is precisely

the reason why it must be approached with cool heads and correct factual information.

We know only too well the evils to which hysteria leads.  Our strong concern for the

welfare of children has been exploited shamelessly by the antipornography movement. 

For example, although strict laws have made it virtually impossible to buy child

pornography for some years, these people continue to claim it is rampant, a billion-

dollar industry.13 They have been collecting and parading such materials before the

public in an attempt to associate them with adult sexual materials in people's minds,

and they are constantly alleging, on the basis of no evidence whatever, that pornography

in general encourages child molestation.  Once again, a major source of all this irrational

fear is our culture's misguided attitudes about sex and children.  Until they are revised, our efforts to protect young people will continue to do more harm than good, to everyone.14                                                                                                                           [Back]