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Demonizing Sex-lives of the Young


One evening while I was writing for my blog, my wife was watching the movie, “The Good Mother” starring two of my all-time favorites, Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson. When the film was made, it was quite controversial in that it depicted a divorced mother and her sexual relationship with her boyfriend.  I recall when it came out in 1988, NPR did a piece on the controversy.



Looking back, it is significant that it was at that time, the end of the 1980s, that America made the final cultural shift from the common consensus that moral people only have sex within heterosexual marriage, toward the current notion that good and moral adults have sex in and out of marriage.   

In today’s “family” television and movie world, you will find few cases of married people shown in bed. When I wrote the first version of this essay in 2012 Paula and I were into the new series Grimm.  Significantly there was nothing controversial about the storyline that the star just happened to live with his doctor girlfriend.  I say ‘just happened’ because it was not a plot point, any more than the brand of car he drove.


So, it would seem this issue was dead and gone over a decade ago. However, it seems that from time to time this issue keeps coming back.  Of course, it comes back. It’s no wonder, the idea that all sex must be within marriage has been drilled into Western society since the days of St. Augustine, 1,500 years ago. OK, it’s not all his fault, it has been a staple of most civil communities as far back as written records go.


It was thought, back in the giddy days of the sexual revolution of the early 1970’s, that oral birth control would end this cultural expectation; however, in some ways American’s are more anti-sex than we were fifty years ago. I would suggest that while unmarried adult sex has become normalized, unmarried teen sex has increasingly become seen as pathological.  During the late 60’s and early 70’s, the hippy movement was very much a teen and early 20’s movement.  When one reads of the Haight-Asbury community, or communes, there was a high percentage of teens.  Interestingly, there was little or no separation between the fact the Free Love lifestyle was about free sex and the fact that there was regular participation by minors. At that time, there was the more historically traditional idea that teens who physically have gone through puberty and no longer live under the roof of their parents can be treated as adults in sexual relations.   I can think of no cases in which hippies were prosecuted for underage sexual relations in communes or flop houses. Compare that to today.  Given the same circumstances, the police would move in, arrest everyone and put all those who were 18 or older on the sex offender’s registry for life.

Now, as a former social worker, and therapist for sex offenders, I have no tolerance for child molesters. None.


 However, it concerns me that kids who share naked pics of themselves are arrested for distributing child porn and called sex offenders.  I am concerned that what is entirely normal behavior for teens of 16 and 17, has been officially deemed deviant.   Some years ago (when I had access to the university library), I did some checking into the research literature and found that virtually all of the articles viewed teen sex as destructive. The studies were set up to link teen sex with negative attributes, and yes teens who have sex are more likely to drink, use drugs, and drop out; however, the articles nearly universally made the unfounded leap to suggest that teen sex causes drinking, drug use and drop outs.  The fact is that the same factors that lead some teens to self-destructive behaviors like drinking, drug use and dropping out also lead to fucking around. What the researchers didn’t bother to consider is that most teens who have sex don’t become alcoholics, addicts, or drop-outs.  A headline that says Bad Parenting Leads To Early Drinking And Dropping Out And Early Sexual Activity would not sell as well as Teen Sex Linked to Drug Addiction


 Most teens who have sex do finish high school and never become chemically dependent. In America, we have pushed back marriage now until people are in their late 20’s and our kids are reaching sexual maturity younger than ever. So we have social maturity coming later, and sexual maturity coming earlier.  Sex is normal and healthy for sexually mature people.  For socially and emotionally immature people, sex is always risky no matter their age. Vilifying the sex lives of young people is neither logical nor productive.


Yet, that does not keep it from happening. In the past few years, the right-wing media/political establishment has zeroed its focus onto the infinitesimally small group of teenagers who identify as trans. Last year in Arizona, the legislature stopped virtually all business for weeks to work on the “crisis” of trans teens playing sports. Yet, when the press looked into how many trans people were playing high school sports in Arizona, they found only one case. The hysteria the right created made it appear that trans was a raging disease destroying hundreds of thousands (like Covid really was but the same people utterly denied it, but that is a different issue). 


This new focus on trans teens is simply part of the larger pattern of vilifying teenage sexuality to strike terror into the hearts of elderly conservatives. It has been going on constantly for the past half-century… because it works. It is far easier to target teenagers and their sexual behavior than to deal with the anxiety older people feel about getting older… and in the end, nearly all attacks on sexuality are about the fears of those who feel life has passed them by more than genuine concerns about the welfare of young people.


Here is the reality, the idea that most people only have sex within the confines of marriage is and has always been a myth. Young people, and by that I mean people under thirty, are a bundle of biological sexual desires that seek fulfillment, while at the same time they crave connection to other people. As a result, they join their bodies to other young people to meet those needs on a regular basis.  However, older people, people over 60, live in a world largely made up of a mix of rose-colored memories and regrets about the fact they will never get back their youth.  It is very easy for demagogues to appeal to those older people to feed both fears and resentments and create a hostility to free-sex that has its roots not in the actual behavior of young people, but in the anger of older people that they can no longer do those things.


There is no more glaring example of that than Augustine of Hippo himself. He spent his young years going from bed to bed getting all the sexual pleasures he could, then spent his older years condemning young people for doing the same as he did. The only difference between him and today's demagogues is that he poisoned the view of sexuality in the Christian world for the next millennium and a half, rather than for a brief news-cycle. But at its core, there is little difference between his evil and that of men like Ron DeSantis who spreads hate and fear for his own self-interest today.


Those of us who claim to be sex-positive must stand firmly against those who seek to turn sex, particularly the sex lives of young people, into a club to stoke resentment.  All the hate turned against other’s people sexual pleasure will not bring one bit of sexual pleasure to those who resent the fact they are not happy. I suggest that we as a society need to help our young people act out their sexual maturity responsibly and safely, rather than putting them in the position of feeling condemnation and guilt for doing the things natural to their stage of life.  Doing so will make us more credible as guides to the young and make their lives less dangerous and stressful.

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Teen sexual development is certainly a minefield, both for those going through it and those trying to come up with healthy and effective guidance. One issue that stands out to me is how much denial there is on the part of adults. They seems willfully blind to their own sexual history and those of their peers at those ages. "Yes, I had premarital sex but YOU shouldn't" despite they themselves acting in defiance of what they've been told. Every generation before and every generation following will act due to the natural flood of emotions and hormones. IMHO it's best to acknowledge that first, only from there can we as a society come up with guidance. Bans, prohibitions, and taboos have…

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Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

I'm sure if my parents and churches they took us to would have not been so vehemently prude, and discouraging of teen relationships (not just sex!!) I would not be 31, living at home, and feeling like my life is alone and going nowhere. I honestly don't know what to do anymore.

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As your article and the previous comments point out, the matter of sexual expression is complicated by many factors such as emotional and judgmental immaturity among the young at the same time they are experiencing new sexual energy. And considering sex is a very personal and emotionally impacting experience, it makes sense that postponing its indulgence with others is good counsel and can prevent some heartaches and life-altering experiences. Masturbation is a great sport and allows one to explore their own body's pleasure and get acquainted with how it functions. While sex shouldn't be demonized, nor should it be treated as simply harmless fun when engaged in without appropriate judgment and self-control. I believe there is a place for healthy…

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Respondendo a

experimenting is part of growing and learning. Babies learning there's more to taste than milk start putting EVERYTHING in their mouths. young children who are just learning to be social will go up to anyone trustingly, assuming a mutual desire for cordial friendship. If you ban all experimentation on an aspect of life, it leads to very devastating results, as my isolated life attests to.

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Ananda
Ananda
29 de abr.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

This is another thought-provoking essay. We live in confusing times where MGOW (men going their own way), and women becoming more picky about the kind of man they want. Sex becomes the victim in the gender wars. This is happening while people forget that sex is life. Sex is the best way to communicate love, but now people prefer to spend time on their smart phones. It becomes easier to pick sex as the culprit for our lack of a moral compass. Businessmen are hiring less women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment.  

I found these articles about people having less sex than before.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-have-been-having-less-sex-whether-theyre-teenagers-or-40-somethings/

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-08-03/young-adults-less-sex-gen-z-millennials-generations-parents-grandparents

https://medium.com/fourth-wave/7-reasons-why-young-people-are-having-less-sex-70e21f1a1d8a

You are the lone voice in the desert. Please continue…

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sugarlessroark
sugarlessroark
29 de abr.
Respondendo a

I had a conversation with my son, who is in his mid-forties. I said that it's his generation that is most tolerant of other people's deviance. He responded that that might be the case, but that nobody in his generation is actually having sex. He didn't tell me whether he and his wife are getting it on regularly or not. I didn't ask, and I hope that he is.

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sugarlessroark
sugarlessroark
28 de abr.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

"How to" is the question. Do we lend the newly sexual our fully formed frontal cortexes? Most of us are not like the Coopers, and haven't established a conversation about sexuality with our children. For grandparents the problem is complicated by the fact that grandkids aren't our children, and we havre to defer to our children, the actual parents.

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sugarlessroark
sugarlessroark
29 de abr.
Respondendo a

Right. And I said Coopers. Oops!

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