Today, participating in another debate on child sexuality, responding for the so-manieth time to the ‘argument’ that children cannot consent to sex because they do not understand it as adults do, I was struck with an insight that, while not strictly new, I had so far not realised the full significance of.
Quoted here is the most relevant part of my response:
“…What we have over children in this area isn’t some superior qualification, it’s a bothersome and persistent superstition. And if anything, we’d be far better off collectively forgetting it.
In fact, y’know what? I think that the “adult understanding of sex” is nothing less than one big collective fucking sexual trauma resulting from the constant and inescapable influence of those who picked up on it before us. It teaches us only shame and inhibition, yet we all think it’s so very fucking important that everyone else adheres to it; at least to the same degree we do. Children are initially free of this, leaving us so shocked when they don’t echo our negativity-induced disinclinations that we try everything we can to keep them out of any situation where we think they might ‘need’ them. And when that fails and they get exposed to sex anyway, we hammer away at them with our guilt and anger at double strength so that by the time they’re adults, they’ve got twice the trauma the rest of us can claim and we can all ooh and aah at each other about the horrors we’d all be exposed to if we ever let go of the accompanying dogmas.”
Forgive the ranting writing style. Now, what I am talking about here is the idea that our typical adult inhibitions with regard to sex - whether they be as small as an the inexplicable lack of desire to share it with someone we haven’t first established a formal romantic connection with or as all-consuming as the guilt-ridden unwillingness to even speak of such things in the very bedroom where they occur with the lovers they were shared with as we may find it in the more extreme sexual conservatives - are all part of a psychological ‘trauma’ inherited from the people around us of the very same kind as may plague those individuals that we label the ‘victims’ of childhood sexual encounters.
Anything we feel on the subject of sexuality that isn’t explained by its pleasant and simple practical nature - any desire for privacy, any concept of situational appropriateness, any overly complex, ritualised approach to the subject we may need before we may feel inclined to open up to share it with someone, any random and practically entirely unrelated demands we may make of potential partners… all of this is part of the very same legacy of sexual shame that constitutes the traumas that ‘pedos’ and ‘child molesters’ are accused of bringing down on their ‘victims’.
All the observable characteristics are certainly similar, barring the different intensity. And the idea that a trauma shared by an entire civilisation has gone unnoticed by our efforts at psychiatry is entirely feasible when said psychiatry still for the most part holds normality as its ideal of health.
And when you spot that connection, it becomes far easier to imagine how this burden of sexual negativity that we already share with every individual as they grow up intensifies strongly when one is made to feel that it applies exceptionally to them - such as, per obvious example, when one has been publicly identified as having partook in sexual interaction under various kinds of ‘inappropriate’ conditions.
So when we, the ‘adults’, are reflecting on a child’s lacking understanding of sex while, in all honesty, no satisfying account of what this ‘understanding’ would constitute or how it could desirably be applied to any decisions on the subject, I don’t think it’s an understanding we are really looking at. What we see is the absence of our own inhibitions, our own sexual trauma as they have yet to pick it up from the extended human contact we have known, and we worry that lacking it they would do things that we would be ashamed of. The obvious (protective and well intending but still entirely intuitive) reaction is “If have a strong disinclination to do it, there must be something wrong with it, therefore they must be safeguarded from that course of action.”
Responding to this, we seem to be looking to ‘vaccinate’ people with a smaller dose of sexual trauma so that they may gain the fear needed to avoid choices that would result in the full brunt of society’s disapproval landing on them, at which point our intensified reactions would cause a trauma of such strength that even we no longer consider it desirable. Children are sexually ‘off limits’ because they have yet to receive this vaccine.
Like the christian god in the story of Christ, we try to reach out with compassion so that we may save the world from our own wrath. And the irony, as always, goes entirely unnoticed.