Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Sexual Revolution and Desensitisation

  
In the Family and Youth Concern's Autumn Bulletin they have a section detailing UNESCO's (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's) new International Guidelines on Sexuality Education.
 
The Guidelines, detailing extremely explicit sexual education for children as young as 5, are objectionable for reasons made clear by FYC here. But what perked my interest was UNESCO's remarks about desensitisation. The guidelines admit that "only some of these learning objectives are specifically designed to reduce risky sexual behaviour" and that there is a much more wide-reaching agenda in operation. ‘Most’ of the sexuality education learning objectives are intended "to change social norms, facilitate communication of sexual issues, remove social and attitudinal barriers and increase knowledge".


 
Well aware that many politicians, policymakers and parents will be horrified at the thought of such an explicit approach to sex education the framers of the guidelines recommend holding discussions ‘at and across all levels’ to ‘desensitise’ the critics, and are particularly concerned to win over the teaching profession: "Teachers responsible for the delivery of sexuality education will usually also need desensitisation and training in the use of active, participatory learning methods." This statement, which can be read on UNESCO's own website, is remarkable indeed, because it shows that the sex education movement has finally caught up to the goals of its original architects.

The pioneers of radical sexual revolution were clear that desensitisation, no less than education, was at the forefront of their agenda. In his book The Sexual Revolution, Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) described the means for achieving a society without any external sexual morals, “a free society” that “would not put any obstacles in the path of the gratification of the natural needs.” The road to the sexual utopia he advocated lay in first getting rid of the shyness and embarrassment surrounding sex.  In particular, Reich believed that before traditional morality could be completely vanquished, a society must be achieved where people “should lose their shyness to expose…erotically important parts of their bodies.”  Reich attempted to facilitate this by asking his clients to remove all their clothes during his psychotherapy sessions.

Reich would be pleased if he could see a European summer today, which is more in keeping with his ideal than what we find in brothels.  In a brothel, women have overcome the natural shyness surrounding erotically important parts of their bodies in order to advertizes sex; on a sunny beach, scores of women can be seen who have overcome this natural shyness with no thought of sex at all.  Indeed, by refusing to explicitly acknowledge the erotic implications of minimalistic attire, we are approaching Reich’s ideal of a society in which shyness has been overcome and desensitisation has been achieved.


Reich looked forward to a time in which sexuality would be treated as something merely common. “Profane” best describes Reich’s ideal and its realization in contemporary realization, given that the term originally meant “to treat as common.”

It is revealing that when the sex curriculum was first introduced into kindergarten/primary schools, the teachers experienced discomfort and shyness about the subjects they were forced to address.  In time, however, these same teachers started to say that it was no different than talking about an elbow.  This is not surprising given the way sex education is often presented.  Julie Bentley from the Family Planning Association was typical when she compared it to learning ABCs. Speaking of six-year-olds, she said, "Sex and relationships education at this age is about learning basic information and skills, in exactly the same way that children start with ABC when they begin to read and write.” The result is what E.S. Williams describes in his book Lessons in Depravity: “in the minds of the sex educators, the genitalia are just like any other part of the body. After all, what is the difference between [our private parts] and a knee? Are both not simply anatomical structures? . . . nothing is to be hidden, nothing is private, nothing is sacred—all is exposed in the name of sex education." The result is the kind of “literal-mindedness” that we find in the various sex education schemes. 

Earlier, when this area of life was considered “holy ground”, the veil of shyness that properly attended discussion of sexual matters preserved the sense in which this activity, on one level purely functional, is in fact an occasion for significance, reverence, respect and privacy.  This reinforced the Christian understanding that God has invested our world, our activities and our relationships with a significance that transcends the purely physical.  In treating sexuality as common, these schemes neutralize the God-given potency of sex, turning it into something tame, benign and trivial. The emerging situation was critiqued by Theodore Dalrymple in his book Our Culture, What’s Left of It when he pointed out that

literal-mindedness is not honesty or fidelity to truth—far from it. For it is the whole experience of mankind that sexual life is always, and must always be, hidden by veils of varying degrees of opacity, if it is to be humanized into something beyond a mere animal function. What is inherently secretive, that is to say self-conscious and human, cannot be spoken of directly: the attempt leads only to crudity, not to truth. Bawdy is the tribute that our instinct pays to secrecy. If you go beyond bawdy and tear all the veils away, you get pornography and nothing else.

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