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09 May, 2010

Presumption of Innocence

A while back, two people named Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks decided to try to paint my blogworld acquaintance maymay as a pedophile for not barring minors from the KinkForAll unconference set he started and released into the world. I've been meaning to try writing about this for a while, but between Little Foot and everything else I have not been able to get the spoons together; better, more coherent writing can be found at Alas, A Blog, among many other places. One of maymay's posts on the subject is here.

So rather than roll over those subjects again:

Little Foot pulls books off the shelves: this one is titled Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex

In an ideal world I'd have to hand the statistics about some European approaches to sex education, which starts well before puberty and has, as its end result, lower teen pregnancy rates, later age of first sexual contact, and so on, and I'd be able to lay them out in that cool-headed rational way that is how one's supposed to act in order to be Convincing in this culture.

Or I could just dig out my Blogging for Sex Education Day post and emotive appendix and wave them around again like a bloody shirt. Possibly with an "As a mother of a baby girl..." attached to start hitting those buttons as hard as I can.

But, y'know, as a mother of a baby girl, the Hughes-and-Brookses of the world terrify me. They terrify me because they wish to make equipping Little Foot with what she will need to navigate the world in reasonable safety a crime, if not literally, at least socially: they want the concept of frank discussion about sexuality to be, if it exists at all, constrained to those above legal majority, keeping the youth vulnerable, exploitable, ignorant.

I mean, I'm familiar with this sort of thing, this idea that children are 'innocent', which is a code word for 'unsexual', and that they will be tainted by knowledge.

I've run into it in homophobic discourse - because straight people never realise they're attracted to MOTOS before puberty, so gay people who figure that sort of thing out must be inappropriately sexualised. I have a hobby of popping into those discussions to note that I had my first crush when I was seven or so, and recognised it at the time as "something that has to do with grownup things like getting married", and it manifested as - among other ways - wanting to touch the target of my affections which, being in elementary school, involved defeating him in a wrestling match at a friend's birthday party. These people remain wilfully ignorant of the way that hairpulling and teasing get labelled as "puppy love" when the children involved are of different apparent sexes, making it redundant for people for whom that sort of thing is actually the early and inchoate manifestations of sexuality to realise that hey, they're straight!

... those were some very long and complicated sentences. Anyway!

Once, when I was pointing out that I was aware of parts of my sexuality when I was pre-pubescent - that I was formulating my taste in boys from the age of seven, say, I don't think I'd even gotten into the definite awareness of some level of kink by the age of twelve - I got told that I was providing justifications for pedophiles. That self-awareness as someone who was formulating an understanding about "grownup relationship things" and how I felt about having them someday was some kind of mitigating factor that could excuse sexual abuse. That even acknowledging child-appropriate sexuality in a prepubescent was carte blanche for people to fuck children.

I can tell from the way I repeat that and rephrase it over and over that I go all fugue-y and kind of triggery about it.

Children are keen observers of the world, perhaps especially the world of adult social dynamics, because they have to relate themselves to that world in order to survive. A keen state of vulnerability means that understanding the systems of social interaction is a vital skill. (This, tangentially, strikes me as one of the reasons ASD can be so disabling.) Expecting that children will not be piecing together understandings of sexuality from what they observe is flatly ludicrous: even the ones who are not growing up in a household with adults who are in a romantic/sexual relationship of some sort will have friends with married parents, or single parents who are dating, or whatever else. They will see people with relationships on television, or watch a Disney movie and observe how this year's Princess gets her Prince. And they will find themselves drawn to explore things themselves: whether it's "if I touch this I like how it feels" or "That person there makes me feel happy and I want to be near them" or something else altogether in that complex of things.

We cannot cannot cannot dissociate children from an awareness of how what's in their heads relates to the adult world. And sexuality does not suddenly spring into existence from nothing at puberty, at age of consent, at legal majority, at an age where one is old enough to drink, no matter how much the rhetoric would like it to.

And I'm writing about children, because I have a child and I have to work through how to equip her with knowledge from age-appropriate ground up - which doesn't even touch on the vileness of equating teenagers who might be attending one of maymay's unconferences with my nine-month-old child in terms of what sort of sexuality discussion might be appropriate for them.

But this is a culture in which carrying condoms in order to be a responsible driver for one's sexuality frequently gets taken as being oversexed, slutty, indiscriminate, bad, and thus unrapeable, because sex isn't a topic for discussion; sex is something magical that happens from beyond and carries you away. Being frank, real, knowledgeable, aware, making deliberate choices: these are all the sorts of things that destroy 'innocence' and thus make a person guilty.

12 comments:

Ailbhe said...

Someone recommended "Diapers to Dating" to me - I have found it excellent.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Ooh, thank you. Added to my wantlist.

Stone Fox said...

i actually never considered that there would be people out there that did not know/realize/even consider that children have sexual feelings, and might also be aware of those sexual feelings. even if they have no idea what sex is, kids are all about exploring themselves and figuring out what feels good. how is that anything BUT innocent?

also, i totally agree with this: keeping teenagers ignorant DOES make them easy to exploit. sadly, there are a lot of people out there just looking for a child to take advantage of.

i think i would have a problem with minors learning about kink. as unrealistic as this is, i want my kids to ask *me* all sex-related questions (as if, right?). also, i don't know if i think kink is sexually age-appropriate for teenagers. i do think most teenagers are too emotionally and mentally immature to handle the implications of things like bdsm. i think the over-sexualization of teenagers, particularly girls, is causing a large part of the generation of teens right now to have little regard for sex and, in turn, for their sexuality and their selves. they can't seem to even cope with the "mainstream" ideas of sex without getting it completely twisted around. oral sex isn't considered sex; anal sex to preserve their virginity; girls trying to impress and outdo each other with sex; boys passing girls around; girls allowing themselves to be passed around. this shows a stunning lack of self-respect and understanding about sex.

frank and open discussion is always good, but i think i'll have my hands full just keeping them from teen pregnancy and std's.

Ailbhe said...

My main concern is that they know that their bodies are theirs and other people's bodies are other people's. Second to that is knowing what sexual organs are and that their use is a grownup thing, not a child thing, without quashing self-exploration. That part's the trickiest, I think.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

First of all: I think KinkForAll is really poorly named, as the intent as I understand it is more of a sexuality roundtable than something specifically kink-oriented, but, well, it is what it is.

But kink, at some level, has to be age-appropriate for teenagers because some teenagers are aware of themselves as kinky and are trying to figure out what that means. I know people who spent their teen years trying to figure out if they were monsters, deviants, if they needed to be locked up. I spent my teen years - at least the early ones - convinced that my kinked sexuality made me a bad, contemptible person and that it meant that when I was sexually assaulted it was fundamentally what I deserved and my fault; I spent the later teen years actually doing some kink.

Now, some of the really basic pre-101 level thing would probably have been sufficient for me and many of the people I know: that human sexuality is variable and complicated, that having it does not make someone a bad person, that it is possible to satisfy most desires without doing harm to others or oneself. That one's body and desires belong to oneself, that not actively choosing a particular sexual situation is entirely sufficient reason to get out of it.

With that sort of foundation, kinky youngsters would probably have a lot less angst to work through and less need for specific kink-related resources.

... and a lot of stuff would be a lot saner ...

Eeeeka said...

Yeah. Sex is a topic I have a hard time discussing, mostly due to ingrained societal....norms? morals? things? My daughter is 6 now, and it's a topic I'm going to have to discuss with her at some point. And the thought terrifies me....

Ailbhe said...

Now, some of the really basic pre-101 level thing would probably have been sufficient for me and many of the people I know: that human sexuality is variable and complicated, that having it does not make someone a bad person, that it is possible to satisfy most desires without doing harm to others or oneself. That one's body and desires belong to oneself, that not actively choosing a particular sexual situation is entirely sufficient reason to get out of it.

That's the bit I hope my kids have before they hit puberty. I think puberty would be way easier that way.

Stone Fox said...

human sexuality is variable and complicated, that having it does not make someone a bad person, that it is possible to satisfy most desires without doing harm to others or oneself. That one's body and desires belong to oneself, that not actively choosing a particular sexual situation is entirely sufficient reason to get out of it.

love, love, LOVE this. you have put into words what i was not able to in my last comment. i agree, this is the sort of thing teenagers SHOULD KNOW. i don't think it's kink-specific though, it's pretty general. i think it is completely age-appropriate, at any age, to acknowledge a teen's sexuality and/or kink and validate their desire to be different from the "mainstream."

that is not to say, though, that validation is the same as permission. just like wanting to date, wanting to explore kink is something that is normal but not necessarily age appropriate at younger ages, IMO.

i think that is where i have the issue with kinkforall: without parental involvement/discussion, teens may be thrown all of this really cool information and validation that yes! you! are! normal! and confuse that with yes! do it! do it as fast as you can because you're a teen and you don't have the brain development to consider the consequences of your actions but it's ok! because you are informed!

Hershele Ostropoler said...

Before I became a stepparent I had a varyingly choate fear that my approach to "The Talk" would offend the sensibilities of a mandated reporter somewhere, with my notions that sex can be enjoyable, and can be a positive force, and is private but not shameful--that because I didn't intend to teach my hypothetical child to regard sex as dirty and scary and evil, I would be an abuser, or at least just as bad as one.

William said...

Thanks for this.

I'm twenty and am in my first real sexual relationship (I fooled around with another guy at 19 but this time I'm in love with and attracted to my partner and we made a conscious decision to start the sexual part of our relationship).

I was really proud and happy that I made a truly informed decision about beginning to be sexually active with my girlfriend. Then I realised where I'd got almost all my information about sex, sexual relationships, intimacy, safer sex, avoiding abuse etc. ALL my information I'd gained from the Queer community whilst at University! As an 18 year old i was treated as though i was as sexually "innocent" as a nine year old and when I went to Uni it felt like I was suddenly expected to be an adult!

I'm so glad that I had friends and very understanding partners to help me teach myself to sexual maturity and begin a sexual relationship on the understanding that mutual consent, love and attraction were things I needed in a sexual relationship. Even understanding silly things like knowing that sex could be uncomfortable, like knowing that different peoples bodies look different, knowing where erogenous zones are.. I just simply didn't know at an age where I could legally consent to sex!

Hann said...

Having been wading through information on what is and isn't illegal related to sex, recently I've been thinking about the laws in relation to underage people wanting and participating in sex. The law (in the UK, at least) considers that no-one under the "age of consent" (which varies depending on what bit of the law you're looking at) can give informed consent, so any consent they do give is either ignored or considered coerced out of them. Meanwhile, a person just over the age of consent can be just as ill-informed, but they consented so everything's OK. I have been considering that anyone who can prove Gillick-like Competence ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gillick_competence ) for sexual situations should be able to give informed legally-recognised consent. Then I realised that perhaps the majority of adults wouldn't come under that, due to the general poor state of sex and relationship education, and the feeling of embarrassment and shame that society dictates is necessary for anyone who wishes to find out more about sex.

Kristin said...

I've been thinking about this stuff a lot recently. Mostly because as someone who long ago identified as an evangelical Christian, I have some introduction to the way in which Fundie Christian Patriarchy encourages...kind of fucked up relationships between parents and children that have a lot to do with sex. And because I frequent forums for ex-fundies, I meet a lot of people who are kind of obsessed with their kids' sexuality. Parents--and especially fathers--become these de facto guardians of their kids' sexuality. You may have heard about the creepy Purity Balls that fathers and daughters attend, and I'll admit that I know an uncanny number of former fundie daughters who were sexually abused in that system.

I know this could seem roundabout or off-topic, but I guess I'm saying... I find that a lot of people who were traumatized by patriarchal religious abuse are reacting against this kind of problem. They associate any concern with the sexuality of children as something that veers on pedophilia. I can see how this happens because it *did* often verge on pedophilia in the systems that they came out of...if it didn't escalate into the actual sexual abuse of children. In a way, I think this kind of possessiveness of childhood sexuality is a form of abuse in itself.

But I guess what I'm saying is... When I meet people who fear that frank and honest discussion with kids about sexuality verges on pedophilia, they very often come from extremely repressive backgrounds like Quiverfull. And I can kind of see how they're triggered by the issue at all--and that they might equate responsible parents trying to provide kids with the tools they need for a healthy sexuality as tantamount to the kinds of abuse they perpetuated.

But the two are completely different in kind. What they did placed their children under a kind of strict, normalizing system in which parents became overly obsessed with the sexualities of their children. What you're talking about is just honesty and integrity, and it's that the parent has a responsibility to tell the daughter that she gets to figure out what she likes for herself, that you're not standing over with some kind of rule book about how she must operate in the world in order to keep your love and affection. There is a huge difference between the kind of honest discussion that you're advocating and the creepy obsessive concern of many a Quiverfull dad.

Note: I've been thinking about some of this stuff explicitly because I recently got into a discussion with some former Quiverfull people whose adult children were getting into kink. One thing I noticed was that they seemed a little *too* involved in the sexuality of their children, almost like they were reverting back to the fundamentalist mindset. They were completely terrified that partnering with a kink-identified person would mean that their grandchildren might be molested by their father. They were terribly triggered by the idea of hierarchy when it comes to sex, but I honestly think they didn't have enough distance from their own backgrounds to recognize how different consensual BDSM practice is from Quiverfull patriarchy.