I have been planning a new post for some time but simply have not worked up the energy to write anything at all. Even the material I am writing about now has been waiting for a period of time, partially because I have not been sure there is any point in writing about it. In any event, here is my first actual thought in some months.
I was going to send this off to Master Mankowski and the Supremely Heretical Tom for comment and advice, but I decided that I probably wouldn’t end by publishing if I did so, even though it may have been a much better piece of writing. Hence, all rambling and nonsense is entirely my own.
The consequences of adult-child sex are subject to a great deal of debate and, until recently, all of my thinking about this issue has been intellectual, without any personal experience upon which to reflect. Recently, however, I came across the comment quoted below. These comments, and the contact we had as a result, are the springboard for what follows. She said:
I was 10 years old when a family member gave me an orgasm I enjoyed it but, when I told my parents, they said it was wrong and bad.
I understand now that my family member (and my parents) didn’t honour me. But I was a very sexual kid, and I enjoyed the experience had my first orgasm. I had no beliefs or point of view about it, but for years I thought I was wrong because I welcomed the experience of climax.
Is abuse only abuse when we judge it so?
The first point to be noted is that she enjoyed the sexual relations with her family member: she welcomed the experience of climax. Secondly, she now wonders about the nature of abuse, perhaps questioning whether she had experienced abuse. At the time, however, she was told it was wrong and bad, and she seems to have experienced all of the negative reactions that have been spoken about by Bruce Rind (1998), and Susan Clancy. (2009)
This is a delicate moral issue in so many ways, and it is an issue which most people do not wish to consider.
A 10 year old girl excitedly tells her mother and father, that she had sexual relations with another family member, and that it was good, really good. Her mother and father, who have had sex at some stage, and quite likely enjoyed it, tell her that her pleasure was wrong, and bad. Is this the right, the moral, thing to do?
The answer to this question is that it is what the older family member did that was wrong, and … Unfortunately, it seems to be human nature that we conflate and confuse the pleasure and the pain; that we say, e.g., You shouldn’t have done that, you shouldn’t have enjoyed that, it was wrong, it was bad… in ways which can be and are taken as personal insults, as statements that someone is bad, and wrong. When adults are upset emotionally by this type of statement, and react with some anger, why should we expect a child to understand that someone else’s evaluation of their behaviour is not necessarily correct?
The point is that we all depend, to differing degrees, on others for our sense of self, for our sense of self-worth, and this is especially the case in respect of children, who depend on the good will, support and teaching of the adults in their lives.
P’s sense of self-worth underwent some drastic changes as a result of the sexual relations between her and her relative. These changes depended on at least two issues.
Firstly, she already was engaged in sexual exploration with other girls her age. And, she was enjoying it. Was her adult relation’s response (engaging her in sexual activity) to seeing this (he did see it) wrong?
I have no answer to this question. It was illegal, but many things have been, and are, illegal but accepted by a majority of people. Illegality doesn’t tell us much at all in respect of moral issues: James Cantor’s entire sex life (homosexual, for those who do not know) would have had him jailed, medicated, reviled, not so long ago: his sexuality was a perversion, a crime, an offence against nature and God; everything that he claims paedophilia to be, and more.
More important, because this is what she was taught by her parent’s reactions, is whether or not P’s excited response and climax was wrong; whether or not her pleasure was something against which we, as a society, should rage? Remember that, firstly, our society disowns childhood sexuality, even whilst promoting it in ever more movies and television shows, many, if not all, aimed at children. Secondly, for years, P thought she was wrong because she welcomed the experience of climax.
Of course, P’s enjoyment of climax with an adult relative was not something which she initiated; she didn’t sexually approach him, she didn’t seduce him. He approached her and seduced her after watching her play sexually with other, female children.
That he watched her sex play is important, and not merely because he may have become sexually excited; it is important because he could see that she was interested in sex; he could see that she would be open to his approach. Without doubt, he knew that he could become sexually involved with her. And, on her own account, P not only was not injured, she also enjoyed what happened, and felt a lot of excitement which she wanted to share.
P’s negative experience came quickly enough, but it was the reaction of her parents and all the other adults who told her it was wrong and bad for her relation and her to do what they did.
What is at issue here is P’s comment that “my family member (and my family) didn’t honour me”.
This is where it is important not to take her statement as though it refers to issues of trust, i.e., that her trust in her adult relative was misplaced. Firstly, the notion of betrayed trust relies on an existing moral evaluation. Secondly, trust is essentially a one way affair: it makes perfect sense to say that even though you trust Harry, he loathes you, and will go out of his way to harm you, if he can avoid punishment for doing so. Not only is this the case, but it also is the case that a child’s relationship to an adult begins with the fact that a child, as a baby and infant, necessarily relies on adults for food, shelter, care, and everything else. This relationship does not, and perhaps cannot, transform into trust merely because years have passed, although it is something very like trust, in that the child continues to rely on their parents for their needs.
To honour someone is to treat them with respect, which is to say that one holds another in high regard. One’s actions take place in accord with this high respect, and are moral to at least the extent that they produce no harm to the honoured one and, perhaps, no one else.
I suspect that what P meant by saying that her family relative did not honour her, was that he did not treat her as a sexless child. Instead, he treated her as a sexual child, something which she admits to being. Did he harm her? The emphatic answer is no!
What he did was to take her a step further on a journey she already had started, and she enjoyed it at the time, irrespective of feelings which arose after she told, after the family split, after…everything that went with the hysteria at what had happened.
If anyone can be said to have failed to show respect for who she was, it was her parents: they told her it was bad and wrong and in so doing deprived her of the pure pleasure she experienced and attempted to convey to them.
What I have said does not entail any moral position about what happened to P. Rather, it entails a psychological position. Specifically, what is entailed is the notion that one should not hysterically reject a child’s story about their sexual pleasure, even if it is with an older person. There are better, less harmful, ways to deal with it, e.g., talking quietly, and advancing your moral position without causing emotional harm.
That P’s parents almost certainly did not know that she was indulging in “sex play” should not excuse a reaction which turns joy to fear. It is exactly this fear, this uncertainty which cannot be removed, with which P is dealing now, many many years after the event which she still remembers as giving her intense pleasure.
There is nothing I have said here that could identify P, but, on the ever so slim off chance that someone could identify her, I hope they keep their mouths shut, and her privacy secure, especially as the opinions expressed are mine and mine alone. My extrapolation has been an attempt to explore and understand, and I would be horrified if anyone could find her.
Clancy, Susan A. 2009. The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children—and Its Aftermath. Basic Books, New York.
Rind, Bruce, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman. 1998. “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples.” Psychlogical Bulletin 124 (1). American Psychological Association (APA): 22–53. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.124.1.22.