Sexual History

How far back does your sexuality go?

At age 13 I remember finding the pictures in Playboy uninteresting - in fact some of them seemed a bit gross. It was puzzling why the other boys at school loved them so much - even the one with the pack of gay porn playing cards. I desperately wanted to get a closer look at those cards, which were being handed around as a joke.

In May 1981 I was 9, with a small collection of superhero comicbooks. One featured Captain Britain, which I thought was a dreadfully hokey name, to go with an equally hokey backstory and dialogue with enough cheese to feed Denmark for a year. The bad guy was more intriguing - an evil genius with terrible dress sense, name of 'Arcade' and creator of 'Murderworld'. That's right, I could have been a ComicCon geek.

But there were a few frames that showed off the hero's muscular frame in skintight spandex, which...provoked stong feelings in me - feelings I couldn't have described but which were unmistakable. If the artist wasn't a raving queen, it was someone who'd had a lot of practice drawing broad shouders and pert buttocks, all set off by inconsistent but convenient lighting.

Yes, the creators of comicbooks know perfectly well what hormones surge in children before puberty - and it just can't be an accident how much and how well they exploit it.

Before that...I think I was seven. The family were clustered around the TV on a winter night, watching some harmless, totally innocent teatime entertainment. A magic fantasy story of some kind. Told entirely 'through the medium of dance'. On ice.

The principle dancer. I just couldn't stop staring. At everything about his body, all the lines and curves, showed off by that sparkly blue costume. I actually had to leave the room, because I was sure my eyes were on stalks and my face must be flaming red and surely no one could miss the rocklike erection I was trying not to touch.

I didn't know what sex was, but I knew it was something I was supposed to be ashamed of.

There was a house we lived in till I was four. I remember the bedroom and the bed...and discovering that I could rub my...well, I didn't have a word for it...against the sheets, and it gave a kind of rushing tingling sensation.

The biological plumbing for getting an erection is in place by birth, and so are the nerves for all the sensations, including orgasm, even though sperm isn't manufactured for maybe a decade. A girl has the same nerve endings as a woman, long before she ovulates.

The intensity and emotional hair-trigger of adolescents is, I rather think, a continuation of the emotional sensitivity and sensuality of the child - with extra hormones added to the mix. But these extras are concerned with making reproduction possible, not with the pleasures of one's own body, nor with those of others.

It is simply empirically false to insist that a person is incapable of being sexually attracted before they're capable of reproduction. Which suggests the patterns of attraction - and fantasy - are laid down during childhood, though tastes can become modified in later life.

The conventional thinking about sexplay, that it's not the real thing, is based on confusing sexuality with reproductivity. It's like confusing the pleasure of eating with the process of digestion.

This obviously doesn't excuse the sexual abuse of children by adults - or as it usually is, by other children and adolescents. That's an issue of power, of taking from someone who can't resist. It's wrong to lock a child in a cellar and rape them for exactly the same reason it's wrong to lock a child in a cellar and beat them.

Yet we have this bizarre notion that sexual abuse is qualitively worse than other forms of abuse because it's sexual. We've got into the habit of thinking it's somehow an order of magnitude worse to stick a penis in a child's mouth than to stick a knife in.

How many ways are there to abuse a child - emotionally and physically? Probably hundreds. We're obsessed with protecting children from abuse, but by 'abuse' we somehow never seem to mean emotional abuse, or bullying, or sadism - we almost always seem to mean 'rape' or 'sexual harassment'. When an adult kills a child, the media always look for clues that he had his pants down while he was doing it. If he didn't, it's just not newsworthy.

A small but definite minority of children do enjoy being stimulated (not hurt) by adults - anyone with experience of churches or boarding schools could tell you that, though we're not supposed to admit that we know it.

Anyone who's worked in a field where pedophillia is an issue, knows that slow chatroom 'grooming' is almost a complete myth - the abuser raises what they want early in conversations with many children, and discards the majority who tell him where to go, show disinterest or don't understand.

Which means of course that some do understand and are interested. Something else we're supposed to pretend we don't know, on the grounds that acknowledging sexuality somehow exonerates sexual abusers.

It could be objected that the child who enjoys the headmaster rubbing their crotch in detention is actually enjoying the attention, or that they enjoy touching in general and they'd be equally happy with their feet being rubbed, because the crotch hasn't been made sensitive or 'special' yet by puberty.

But this is to view sexual pleasure as something other than bodily pleasure, as though it were a fundamentally different kind of feeling, felt with a ghostly second skin that has it's own unique sensations and only appears when androgens or estrogen begin to flow.

The spiritualisation of sexuality goes hand in hand with its mystification. Perhaps the real aim is mysification and the spiritualisation is only a convenient ruse.

The famously creepy NAMBLA (North America Man-Boy Love Association) likes to make the point that 'inter-generational love' doesn't necessarily have to be exploitative. Which manages to be true in strictest terms, while evading the point.

Plus it blurs the crucial distinctions inherent between '20 year-old with a 15 year-old', '...with a 10 year-old' and '...with a 5 year old".

It's interesting that NAMBA's chosen line relies on the trope that a mutually loving, presumably monogamous, presumably long term relationship legitimises the sexual act. Because that's really just a coded way of saying sex for it's own sake is bad.

Gay rights campaigners talk all the time about how gay people are just as capable of monogamy and love as everyone else, as though (a) that didn't meant they were just as incapable as everyone else, (b) only those judged morally upstanding deserve rights, and (c) figures of authority can and should make that evaluation.

If these lines were just bullshit propaganda to attract more conservative types to the cause, it would be a justifiable campaigning tactic. But it seems most people who want to radically change values in society...only want to change specific values in isolation. And it never works that way.

We live in a culture that's obsessed with youth and beauty - the younger and more beautiful the better. It's no coincidence that 'barely legal' is a selling point in porn - the obvious corollary being that younger than legal would be a bigger selling point. Just another thing we're not supposed to admit we understand.

Marketing lipstick and miniskirts to girls of seven has the same basis and the same reflex denial. Ditto the existence of pop magazines printing pictures of shirtless boybands. The entire point of boybands is to be sexy, so the question is, sexy to who? To the target audience of course - half of who are below the legal age of consent.

So, kids love to look and touch, and they also have nerve endings in their genitals. The distinction between the presexual and the sexual phases of life is so blurred that no line can be drawn. Humans don't acquire bodies and emotions at puberty.

We won't be able to cope with the consequences of this reality until we can admit the reality. Which is difficult, as right now we barely understand it.

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