By temperament I am inclined to live and let live, but even I have my limits. And I reached them with the first programme of a short series called The Joy of Teen Sex, which is running on Channel 4 at 10pm. I dithered for a bit, and then I asked my wife if she would watch it with me. Having some 40 years of marriage counselling experience between us, including direct sexual counselling, we regard ourselves as battle-hardened. We have a myriad of grandchildren in their teens, and early adult, years – and grandparents can sometimes help where parents fear to tread.
I have to choose between writing this column in the decent obscurity of a learned language or asking you to read between the lines. I must settle for the latter, although I would not be surprised if some readers thought I could not possibly be saying what I appear to be indicating.
Many of you will recall the same channel’s series, Embarrassing Bodies. Often uncomfortable, and in danger of being voyeuristic, the programmes, in my view, were worthwhile. I understand that enquiries about many conditions leapt as a result, and no doubt a large number of viewers got help instead of suffering in silence. While The Joy of Teen Sex (presumably a play on Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex) had a similar sort of format, it had certain key aspects which made it quite unacceptable, not only to me but to any society which still believes that sexual values continue to exist and that the stable family is a fundamental building block of a stable society.
As you would expect, the importance of contraception and the avoidance of infection were made clear. But a rather effective method of avoiding problems – abstinence – was not mentioned except in the context of the legal age of 16. And this was inevitably so because a major part of the agenda was to help teenagers to enjoy sex in all its variety. One must, said an adviser from “The Sex Advice Shop”, “embrace it and meet it head on”. Under the circumstances an unhappy choice of phrase.
I don’t imagine that any of the participants were under age, notwithstanding young appearances and often a mental age which seemed rather low. But their sexual histories showed that many had been sexually active, and I don’t mean just one or two partners, since their early teens. One young man boasted of more than 100 partners but, apparently, by 16 the average is around three. (added 9 February, from Dr Petra Boynton’s website: “In fact reputable research finds most teens have not had intercourse before they are 16.” further critical comment)
Not, in fact, that much of the conversation was on the subject of sexual intercourse. Perhaps that plain Jane activity was rather old hat. Attention seemed to be largely focussed on variations on straightforward sexual congress. The advantages, dangers and techniques of buccal intercourse were discussed in full detail. And one young homosexual man, who was a “virgin” because of a fear of participating in an act which would have earned a jail sentence a few years back, was helped mightily by a young lady who instructed him in practice exercises. He went off, brimming with confidence, to look for opportunities to lose his “virginity”.
For those still mystified you will never need to ask again what lesbians do. You will have seen it all.
Perhaps the weirdest moment was the graphic insertion of a Prince Albert. You may not have known (why should you?) that Prince Albert was rumoured to have anchored his obstreperous organ in order to avoid embarrassment in public. However to see this done by the use of a piercing ring right in front of you, made eyes water: both the recipient’s and yours. By comparison the young lady who thought an of array twinkling studs to be more attractive than hair seemed quite aesthetic.
Now, it is true that the participants must have been chosen because they had extensive sexual histories. So one cannot infer that all or even a majority of teenagers are so engaged. But I imagine a young man or a young woman, with all the uncertainties and mixed emotions which are present in the teenager, watching that programme in their own bedrooms and wondering why they are not sharing in this wonderful and joyful activity in which, apparently, their peer groups are all engaged.
Given that teenagers often find their sense of security through imitating what they believe to be the majority, I suspect that this series will make its own contribution to our leadership of Europe in both teenage pregnancy and sexual disease.
On the other hand, there will also be a few who will find some of the images and descriptions (no, I am not going to list them here) sufficiently revolting to be put off for life. The borderline with shame is always narrow when sexuality gets out of context.
So there is a big injustice being done here. Our society is selling our young people grossly short in encouraging them to believe that the gift of sexuality is no more than an exercise in selfish hedonism. At least pornography is obviously disreputable, but this programme is camouflaged as helpful and caring to the young. Its success is likely to be measured not in making teen sexuality safer but in the number of lives damaged and the number of future marriages which will be cast on the trash heap as a result of displaying teenage casual sex as normal and respectable.
No doubt Channel 4 would argue that this programme was in the public interest. But there is a difference between what the public is interested in and the public interest. As for me, one episode was enough. Thankfully I need watch no more.
(This post varies somewhat from the column published in the Catholic Herald. In particular, the paragraph on Prince Albert did not appear there.)