Sunday, April 02, 2006

Age and erotica

Here's a loaded question: Do you believe that erotica is harmful to children?
I am struck by the fact that even liberal people tend to assume as a given that while erotica should be free, we should take care to keep it away from children. Even I feel that way sometimes. But I can't give a good reason for it.
In fact it is clear that the areas and countries which have a very laid-back attitude towards erotica (and nudity) are producing much fewer rapists than areas with very strict taboos.
Also, all kinds of therapists all over the world and in any culture agree on one thing: it is the thing which we hide (or hide from) which will harm us!
So the whole thing is a little bit puzzling.


Lee said...

Or, swinging it around, should children be allowed to be sensual?

Yes. (In case you were wondering.)

Hannah said...

Argh, tricky!

Monkey see, monkey do, right?

I'm really not sure. I guess I'd probably go with the - you can know it's happening but keep the rest away ... because I don't know what else to do!

I've also never had children.

Wonko outside the asylum said...

Very interesting question, because there is clearly no exact right or wrong, no truth or falsehood, only opinion. Sex is a very important issue, after all if it wasn't for sex none of us would be here!

So, for what it's worth, here's my opinion. I believe in education. Not necessarily in a formalised or structured manner, but as part of everyday life. Study after study shows that when people are educated about a subject - art, race, politics, sexuality, whatever subject you like - there is a greater understanding and a much reduced risk of problems later in life. It surely cannot be chance that in societies where sex education takes place early and with no exceptions, the levels of teenage pregnacy are lower than in societies where the subject is shunned. Children should learn "the facts of life" once they have reached a level of mental development where they will be able to assimilate and interpret the facts (note, not necessarily opinions). This age will obviously be different for different children. However, I think that most ten year olds would be able to cope if not younger. Educate them about the facts, allow them to explore and interpret the opinions, and then allow them to form an educated opnion of their own.

Just look at the example of Anne of Cleves, third wife of Henry VIII. She was asked by her ladies in waiting: "Madam, are you still a maid?" [in other words, are you a virgin?]. She replied: "Of course not. Each night when the King comes to bed, kisses me and bids me 'good night'. Then in the morning when he rises, he kisses me again and bids me good morning. How then can I still be a maid?" Whether the quote is entirely accurate or not I cannot say - it is from Professor David Starkey's series on Henry VII - but it illustrates the point I think. Ignorance helps no-one.

Now the second part to this (and more in line with Eolake's question) is about how you treat Erotica, and do you expose children to it. Well, I would say only once they have received those "facts of life", so that they can put Erotica into some kind of context. Start with the biological and move towards the emotional/psychological. What about accidental exposure (if you'll forgive the phrase)? Don't make a fuss, but don't pretend it didn't happen either. Children know when you are hiding something and the loss of confidence and trust in you is ultimately far more damaging. Just calmly discuss what they saw or heard, ask them what they think about it and answer any questions truthfully and as accurately as you can. Children are a lot more resiliant than many people believe, provided they are given the reassurance that what they have seen/heard/ done is not "dirty" or "bad", but part of growing up.

I do love a good debate like this one, thanks Eolake for bringing the subject up.

Gen said...

We have all been children ourselves, so everybody should be able to give his own answer.

I for my part must say, I've always been erotically triggered, even since my ealiest years (when I was 3 or so), I've enjoyed seeing the shape and contours of legs (of both boys and girls of my age or older), or beautiful collarbones, arms, faces, hair etc. And I vividly remember a swimming class when we were taught how to rescue drowning people. I still recall the sense the soft skin of the boy I was to tow along, with my hands across his chest.

But then came those conflicts with religious teaching (to be ashamed of looking at naked people etc), yet I still feel it is a human desire for sensing and admiring the beauty of the body, same as we say "oh what a beautiful horse, dog, cat, etc."

Anonymous said...

I'm a little surprised by the wording of your question given the "goals" and "philosophy" you express on your "Essentials" page! Let me rephrase it a few different ways.

First, is erotica harmful to children? In the abstract, no. It's only when the child encounters it, or is affected by others who encounter it, that a potential for harm exists.

Second, should children be exposed to nudity?

Answer: Yes, in the socially and culturally appropriate context. And children should learn what those contexts are and be helped to develop the discipline to respect them--the earlier the better! (That includes being exposed to nudity and being nude themselves when and where appropriate.)

Third, should children be exposed to graphical artistic depiction of the human body - nude art?

Answer: Yes. The trap here is that "art" depicts the full range of human emotions and actions, from the most "natural" and beautiful (e.g., an infant at its mother's breast) to the most repugnant (e.g., torture and murder). A child must be helped to prepare, to the greatest extent possible, to confront the realities of the world; and part of that preparation involves protection from exposure to "art" that is inappropriate to the child's level of preparation.

Fourth, should children be exposed to erotica?

Answer: As with "art" (above), not until the child is ready to deal with it. By definition, erotica is designed to arouse the viewer in the context of the intimate sexual relationship between persons. (I personally believe that such a relationship is only appropriate in the context of a commitment such as marriage, however you define that legally and religiously). Erotica should not be made available to a child who is too young to experience those feelings, or to a young (or older) adult who is two immature to act responsibly or appreciate erotica for the natural and beautiful relationship it addresses. Inappropriate exposure to erotica minimally provides an opportunity for the development of an inappropriate understanding of the sexual relationship, and may be catalytic in the development of what become deeply held misunderstandings that are expressed in abusive behavior.

You'll notice I've spoken mostly of "exposing" the child to nudity/art/erotica, and only at the end raise the issue of making nudity/art/erotica "available" to children or the public at large. The former acknowledges the parent's responsibility to teach the child, and in my opinion that education should include becoming comfortable with nudity, appreciating are and being aroused by erotica. The latter acknowledges society's responsibility to help the parent discharge his/her responsibility.

If you take this discussion out of the parent/child context, then you have another set of issues!

anurag said...

Yeah! I do get annoyed when kids older than I tell me to leave a place when they talk about something erotic or block me from watchin' sensual videos of women all because I am 17!