Posted by: Beverly Dale | October 6, 2009

Sexual panic: And why are we afraid?

During my conference speech “Preachers and Politicians in an Overcrowded Bedroom,” I made the ‘throw-away’ statement that Megan’s Law has been passed by many states in spite of the fact that there is no research that supports it prevents child sexual assaults or makes communities any safer even though it removes various constitutional rights of the perpetrators. At the conference break time one very panicked parent took issue with me and assured me that taking away democratic rights was worth it if it protected his kids. And though I repeated that there was no evidence that it would, he adamantly reiterated that this strategy was worth violating anybody’s rights. He was so obviously overwhelmed by his fear of sexual crime. He could not hear me or the point I was making.

But passing such legislative measures makes very worried and frightened parents feel better only because it offers false hope. But men (mostly) who are convicted of designated sexual crimes will find it difficult if not impossible to find housing, jobs, or a welcoming community after their convictions and following their punishment.

Now I certainly can understand the desire to protect one’s child from any harm. As a survivor of child sexual abuse and a mother of two I want all children to be kept safe sexually and physically from predators, sexual or otherwise, known or unknown. But is this the best or the only way to achieve that purpose especially given most child sexual abuse is by family members or family friends and are known to the child rather than unknown trench coated predators waiting on the playground. Surely we can think of a number of other ways a community could protect their children that would not have such drastic consequences. But he did not want to hear them. I began to wonder what exactly was going on.

The New York Times reports that parents these days are in a panic.  They are so fearful of child abduction that they drive them 3 blocks to school. This, is in spite of the fact that only “115 children are kidnapped by each year, according to federal statistics; 250,000 are injured in auto accidents.” But I do know that some of this fear in our culture stems from deliberate strategies used by sexually repressed Christian sources who seek to fan the flames of panic in all sexual matters.

According to sexologist Dr. Marty Klein two of the basic assumptions of the “Sexual Disaster Industry (SDI)” are that, “Kids are damaged by exposure to sexual words, pictures and concepts” and that “America is full of sexual predators and the situation is getting worse.” (p 49) Both of these, of course, are complete fiction. And why do religious people want to promote fear? Because some are so afraid of any sexual freedom that they seek to control any sexual expression that differs from their own in the hopes that such repression will keep them safe! But there is now research which shows that the more “religious” the state, the higher the teen pregnancy rate. Repression does not work but it insures uninformed thinking that leads us as a culture to embrace myths, exaggerate danger without regard to research. This means we won’t think clearly about the real dangers of sexual ignorance when children have no one to talk to about sexual questions or concerns and when young adults are kept ignorant of their own bodies, sexual functioning, or contraception. What would it take to calm people down so we can adequately protect our children without either damaging democracy or enshrining sexual repression as a positive good?

The solution is so simple and yet, it is so very unacceptable to the sexual disaster industry. We have to start talking to one another and our children about sexuality. This is the only way to empower them to take charge of their own sexual lives. Talking creates a safety net should inappropriate sexual advances occur. It teaches them when and how to draw boundaries. If we could talk about sex we would become a more open and transparent family about our bodies and about sexual intimacy.

We also need to request that our churches teach all of us, the entire family, age-appropriate sexual information, to affirm that pleasure is a gift from God, and to ground this in the context of our faith and the values that are life-affirming and inclusive. The result would be that we develop a comfort with sexuality, more at ease with our bodies, and more accepting of the variety of sexual expressions in God’s diverse world. It sounds like a good world to me; a world that celebrates the body, delights in pleasure and, in Jesus’ language, might begin to look like the abundant life. (John 10:10). But some people are terribly threatened by that idea. They were threatened when Jesus talked about it and tried to silence him. (“What? Think of impact of these religious rules rather than just obey them?! Crucify him!”) And they are threatened now.

Isn’t it time Christians and people of good will spoke back? Sex is good. It is nothing to fear. Yes, let’s keep our children safe. But the way to protect them is through education and by creating a community that owns our responsibility to protect the young. As the African proverb says it does indeed take a village to raise a child. And it can be done without fear and sexual repression or by destroying democracy in the process.

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