Humans are sexual beings. Most of us choose long term sexual partners. We bind individuals together in socially recognised unions. Individuals who have chosen celibacy are perceived as having given up an important part of life. Yet sex is, by and large, private – we unveil something special to our lovers and hide it from the rest of the world.
Over-sexualisation of society pushes the boundaries of the private nature of sex. More worryingly, it creates a new norm – one of appearing to be permanently sexual and permanently available. These are the current social expectations and constraints, and there is little room for individualism.
Children become adults in a messy, drawn-out and hormone-fuelled manner. Their bodies and their emotions are rarely in step, and the development of some children occurs years earlier or later than their friends. Parents can be caught off guard by being uneasy about sex, or unprepared for experiences different from their own memories of puberty – such as the mother whose daughter, borrowing heavily from the paternal gene pool, turns into a woman before leaving primary school. And parents can be caught completely by surprise by the strength of social expectations.
The sexualisation of society is an important issue. In my view, it is the over-sexualisation of society which creates rigid gender roles, which holds narrow and unrealistic expectations of mothers and fathers, which demeans anyone who doesn’t look sufficiently attractive. While damaging to adults, this social smog is particularly toxic to children on the cusp of puberty. Children need a safe space in which to explore their new feelings carefully. It’s as wrong to mollycoddle them and deny their transition into adulthood as it is to ask them to fit a narrow and over-sexualised model of normality.
This is something we need to debate, but we don’t need to take sides. Don’t be fooled by those who say that it’s a battle between Brave New World and Persuasion. Surely we can find a middle path which is neither constrained by taboos nor sexually explicit? Surely?