In an earlier post I argued (here) that we are seeing a cultural war over the definition of childhood; namely between a conservative, romanticised vision; a bourgeois, materialist vision and what I call the natural child, the child free to be themselves, free of all adult expectation.
Much of the concern over sexualisation comes from the conservatives who have created an unrealistic ideal of the ‘innocent’ child. This ideal is a rather late invention. A combination of Victorian romanticism revisioned after WW2. It is largely the construction of adults afraid of the adult world: if only we could return to a period of innocence. These conservatives are deeply afraid of childhood sexuality, indeed, as they are afraid of their own adult sexuality. In their world children are in danger from sex. Predators lurk everywhere, children are damaged by an early awareness, but more importantly (and this is the real concern) a sexualised child does not conform to conservative moral standards.
Never mind that child psychologists and sexologists accept that children do have a sexuality. Of course, it is a child’s sexuality, not an adult sexuality. Regrettably many conservatives believe that sexuality must necessarily be adult, so they can’t see, or don’t want to see, children’s sexuality. They consistently impose adult concepts and motivations onto children.
But what is children’s sexuality? It varies according to the child’s developmental level. In general it is playful, curious, ephemeral and spontaneous. It is about discovering the delights of the body. It is running, spinning to make yourself dizzy, tickling, cuddling, using water, wind, grass, leaves, etc, against the skin. The child has not yet learned adult concepts and distinctions so it does not understand boundaries. Certain things feel nice, others don’t. Many girls experience their first orgasm during play; sliding down a pole, being tickled, running, playing with water from a hose. They may only realise this when they have their first conscious orgasm and remember that they have felt the sensation before. Some however, discover it through masturbation.
Of course we must protect children from harm but we must also protect the space to allow them to explore their sexuality. The predator exploits children for his own pleasure, but so too does the moral conservative; only he exploits the child to support his fear and his moral ideology.
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