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March 05, 2006
Rational Society, Rational Sexuality

This was not easy to read. In fact, I clicked away from the page three times in the first six paragraphs (assuming each time that the writer was a lunatic and that CounterPunch had gone mad), clicking back each time reluctantly, but with a sense that since this is a topic I really care about, I should read it.

In the end, I was forced to agree with many of the writer's conclusions. After a rather sensational opening, the article settled down into a discussion of the current trend of criminalizing "sex offenses" far beyond what any actual "criminal" behavior might warrant.

There is a hysteria around sex offenses in our society, particularly around sex and the young. It has gone to extremes, and the MSM's self-imposed task of entrapping people on the internet with the intention of turning them over to the police (And reaping huge headlines. Sex sells. Pedophiles are no exception.) does cross the line.

Enacting criminal laws that have a retroactive effect is wrong.

We have run amok with the practice of forcing offenders to wear electronic monitoring devices, sometimes for life. In what way will an electronic bracelet stop someone from thinking about sex...or even looking at sexual images in a magazine (s)he has bought, or reading stories found on-line?

And sentences for sex offenses, sometimes mandatory life sentences, are ridiculous. You can get people serving these sentences who never touched a child inappropriately. It's thought-policing, that's what it is.

There is, or should be, a difference between someone who thinks about something, even a crime, and someone who takes action. Someone who commits a crime. (And I'm increasingly uncertain about making looking at something a crime.)

(Also, consider the inequality. In child porn cases, the consumer is targeted by the law. I'm not saying that they wouldn't arrest the producers of such material if they could, just that whether or not they can find the producer, it's the consumer they're demonizing. In prostitution busts, the law targets the prostitute, usually a woman, and the consumer gets a slap on the wrist. Men aren't punished for wanting sex, but women are certainly published for providing it. If you're targeting consumers, target them in all sex cases.)

There should be a distinction between non-violent and violent crime. A big one. When I think "pedophile" I think of someone who harms a child.

The person looking at erotic photographs of underage children is not as much of a criminal as the person who took the photos. And someone who is looking at a drawing? That's a victimless crime. And the punishment should fit the crime. (Better yet, the rehabilitation should fit the crime.)

Registering children as life-time sex offenders for acts they committed when they were 16 is entirely absurd.

Labeling someone a pedophile because they produce artwork that depicts children in a sensual or erotic fashion is hysterical overkill.

(That is, unless we also start prosecuting all of the marketing companies in the USofA who use erotic shots of children and teenagers to sell their products the same way.

Because anyone who thinks the image on that bottle of Coppertone was so popular because of the little doggie and not because of the bare prepubescent butt hanging out of the swimsuit is just lying to themselves. And anyone still pretending that Calvin Klein's ads aren't selling sex to kids needs a reality check.)

Children are sensual beings. Adolescents and those on the brink are sometimes sexual beings. This isn't something new. It's human nature. Since each of us has been an adolescent at some point in our lives, we shouldn't be surprised by this revelation.

Since each of us is presumably a rational human being, we shouldn't decide that it was okay for us, but succeeding generations have to be scrubbed, sanitized, and turned into sexless little dolls. (Admittedly, this isn't new to our culture, but we're certainly making a fetish out of it.)

This brings me back to one of my recurring hobbyhorses and something that was only tangentially referred to in the article.

The problem is not that children are sexual or sensual.

The problem is our society that combines a prurient horror at the idea of sex (almost anyone's sex) with a constant barrage of highly sexualized imagery and content every hour of every day.

(I have a private theory that part of what drives the rightwing so bonkers about gay sex is that those gay guy don't seem to be ashamed of sex in the right way. The rightwing seems to define sex by the guilt they can hang on it.)

In a company I used to work for, the mantra was, "what gets measured, gets done." That is, what everyone is paying attention to is what they remember.

Every day, in every way, we teach our children that their youth is sexual currency. With commercials, billboards, and magazine advertisements, we teach them that what's important is sex. That everyone wants it, almost everyone is doing it, and it's what they should be paying attention to. (A corollary could be drawn between the amount of violence we "sell" kids every day, but that's a different rant.)

Sexual images of women are used to sell cars to men, men's razors, beer to men, and even Viagra. (Our society uses women to sell men on their own sex drives. Does this strike anyone but me as a little odd? I mean, if men don't care about their sex drives, why try to force it on them?) (Plus which, the human sex drive is about more than just having intercourse, but that, too, is a different rant.)

The problem is our culture, that hears of a 14 year-old girl tapped to become the next "supermodel" and applauds her good fortune in getting a chance, one day soon, to hit the SI swimsuit issue cover**, while the same culture demonizes her 14 year-old classmate who has sex with her boyfriend.

We're whores. If you're selling it, it's okay. (As long as it's mass-market, corporate profit driven, of course.) Doing it because you wanted to is just wrong.

The problem is our society that persists in insisting that children are pure and innocent while all of our advertising and marketing and entertainment drums into our brains, day after day after day, that to be truly vibrant, viable, and desirable sexually, one must be young.

Be younger! Exercise to feel and look younger! Eat right to keep your youthful energy! Moisturize for that dewy-fresh complexion! Take Viagra! Colorize! Buy thigh-master! Have surgery! Be young!

If our culture is about any one thing, it's about the sexualization of youth.

But our penal system is increasingly about the criminalization of the sexualization of youth.

It's entirely schizophrenic. You know that, right?


* I should point out, for anyone who might be new here, that I'm single, childless, and certainly of age. I have nothing to gain from this particular hobbyhorse. I like seeing sexy pictures of men, even men a lot younger than I am (although, in my case, that means men in their 20s).

I approve of the recent cultural pressure on men to stay fit. I'd rather be surrounded by fit, attractive men than doughy beer-bellies any day. In fact, I approve of everyone staying fit. The health benefits alone are good enough reason.

But I do have problems with the dichotomy between our entertainment and marketing media constantly telling us all that if we're not 16 any more, we're not really sexually appealing beings, while our legal system tells us that if we desire a 16 year-old sexually, we're deviants.


** No offense to SI, whose swimsuit issue causes me no offense and some amusement.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:43 AM


Because anyone who thinks the image on that bottle of Coppertone was so popular because of the little doggie and not because of the bare prepubescent butt hanging out of the swimsuit is just lying to themselves.

Ironically, the changing standards of physical beauty have protected that particular image: it's not as prurient -- in many eyes -- because the kid isn't stick-thin...

I'm struck by the catch-22 nature of the problem: what we need is research, but the research is itself criminal/shunned....

Posted by: Ahistoricality at March 5, 2006 01:40 PM