Sometimes my path leads me into areas where I feel exposed, uncomfortable, and without a lot of obvious support.

I depend in the end on the feel of the path beneath my feet and the knowledge that I am not the first to come this way, and likely not the last.

Sexuality: Minding your P's

DISCLAIMER: I do not approve, nor do I condone, cross-generational sex.

While there is convincing evidence that in hindsight it is not necessarily or inevitably damaging, I have never met an adult I thought was clear enough about their own motives and power issues (myself included) to make this call accurately ahead of time.

And certainly, in a social climate like the present one in which such acts are almost universally treated as harmful, universally condemned, and illegal, any child attempting to reconcile a non-damaging sexual experience per se with current cultural beliefs is likely to have trouble of one kind or another.


I wrote an essay once that I have since lost track of in which I set out the notion that the motives that distinguished healthy and damaging sexual behaviour could mostly by coincidence be associated with the letter p:

Sex for procreation or for pleasure was generally healthy.

Sex motivated by profit, power, publicity, politics, prestige, possession, praise, popularity, or performance was nearly always damaging. Not necessarily crippling, but damaging.

This applied to both adults and children, providing a model for abuse which took into account the research reviewed by Larrie Constantine in "Children and Sex" and by others since then.

[Constantine pointed to a significant number of studies in which cross-generational sex had not been experienced as damaging by a majority of those interviewed. In a significant number of cases where damage was experienced, it was attributed very specifically to the nature of the counselling processes that followed discovery, not to the sexual activity itself, and even that damage was seldom experienced as permanent or even long-lasting.]

The problem with age-related theories of damage, is that they are obliged to ignore a large body of research over many years that finds no trace of damage from a considerable majority of age-disparate encounters, to say nothing of a definition of childhood that varies dramatically across cultures. And, in fact, these have been ignored, for most of the last twenty years.

This may be good politics but it is not effective research.

It is simply not a rationally tenable position that cross-generational sex is inevitably and permanently damaging.

(Constantine, by the way, was vilified by Time Magazine for his book, and he successfully sued for damages. His evidence stood up and was good enough to win the first ever successful libel suit against Time Magazine. Notwithstanding, he was subsequently obliged to pursue a new career in an alternative field.)

In this field of sexual abuse, shaped considerably more by militant feminist ideology than by careful research, rationality was often experienced - and either dismissed or attacked - as a male weapon for the oppression of women - as was sex itself to a large extent.

It made far more political sense to believe that the nation's child-care centres had been taken over by satanists.)

If abusive sexual activity is age-related, what happens on one's sixteenth birthday (or one's fourteenth or one's eighteenth birthday, depending on where you were born) that suddenly makes it no longer damaging? Nothing. The law changes, that's all.

And it is not sufficient to say that by definition a power imbalance by itself is damaging, and still less so to suggest or imply that a power imbalance is only damaging in respect of sexual activity and not in other areas of relationship.

(That's like implying that fluoride only affects the teeth and does not affect any other bone in the body.)

There is certainly a power imbalance between children and adults, yet the evidence remains that damage is not invariable in cross-generational sex, nor as an inevitable result of being brought up by adults.

In any case, for Heaven's sake, how often are we likely to find an adult relationship where the balance of power is equal.

Both lawyers and doctors are held "by definition" by their professional bodies to be in a place of power with respect to their clients, and sexual relations between these professionals and their clients are "therefore" regarded as zero-tolerance activities.

What happens when Ms Lawyer A and Mr Doctor B who are each clients of the other, find each other mutually attractive and decide to have sex?

And royalty is in a right mess.

So if power imbalances are present in most relationships, and I think they are, what causes damage?

In my book, it is the actual coercive exercise of power on another person, for either personal gain or security that is damaging - and not just physical coercion.

Occupational and age-related fences will limit damage, but it is a mistake to regard these fences as anything but very rough guides. Nor does this approach lead to any understanding of the mechanics of damage.

While these fences generally reflect an imbalance of power, they do not necessarily indicate an actual exercise of power.

My observation - sorry, no credentials, no yards of published research - is that where sexual activity is carried out other than for mutual pleasure or procreation, other than as an act of love, it is nearly always damaging. Full stop. Not necessarily crippling, but damaging.

If sex is to be an act of love, then acts of power - goal oriented behaviours - are excluded. Even procreation, in fact, as an active goal can interfere with the unfettered freedom of a loving sexual encounter to move where it will.

The key word here is "act". An imbalance of power can exist, but does not of itself generate damage.

I have mentioned elsewhere that one cannot take a history or a goal into the "here and now". Much the same applies to sex.

So, any sexual act that is carried out or acceded to for the purposes of increasing one's social leverage (one's power, one's bank account, one's prestige, one's popularity) is a statement of inadequacy that ultimately emphasises one's isolation and vulnerability. It is damaging to both parties.

I have said elsewhere that ultimately, the only suitable definition of a sinful act is that it is the exercise of power over another, the coercive "use" of another person for some private purpose. The fact that this "use" of another can be a two-way or mutual process is immaterial. In one way or another, such acts are statements of personal inadeqacy, of separation from the whole.

Most sexual activity, understood this way, is damaging. Most long term sexual relationships have strong control and/or ownership elements which are nearly always in the end corrosive or numbing.

(Paradoxically, one night stands have the best chance of avoiding this kind of damage, though there are frequently other negative elements involved in these that more than cancel any advantage.)

The difficulty for most people is in conceiving the possibility of a "real" or "committed" relationship without these ownership elements. Ownership of one's partner is so much a feature of our culture and of our wedding vows that anything else at first seems "unnatural" or "uncommitted", or" uncaring".

It was Bert's insight at Centrepoint that without the elements of "ownership" and "control", loving sexual activity could be a bridge to a totally different, "spiritual" dimension of experience, a bridge to unified consciousness.

Centrepoint was structured so as to challenge conventional notions of ownership and control of one's partner and to generate optimum conditions for this challenge. In this it was outstandingly successful. (I do not refer here to cross-generational sexual activity. See my note at the beginning of this page.)

Sadly, very few of the conventional relationships that began the journey survived to tell the story. The relationships that did tended to be born as "inclusive" relationships to begin with.

Sadly, also, and paradoxically, in the early community, considerable social prestige accrued to those who most successfully demonstrated the kind of sexual freedom advocated by Bert. The persons most likely to function, deliberately or not, as role models were most actively promiscuous and raunchy.

Those less confident, who were simply emulating those they admired, or who, more deliberately, wished to acquire this sort of social prestige had the path laid out clearly and they went after it, including a number of the teenagers and subteens who later came to feel they had been severely damaged in the process.

I'm not sure they were the only ones to get burned.

It was a classic case of "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..., and all else shall be added unto you."

Those whose primary interest was the social prestige, social leverage, arising from "free sexuality" were still engaged in power games. Those who committed themselves to the abandonment of personal ownership of one another found a new dimension of existence that gave them a personal authority and autonomy they had not known before. As well as some outstanding sex.

My friend, Len Oakes, in his book on charismatic leadership, distinguishes between "great men" and "great actors playing the part of great men", (women too, of course) and I think the analogy holds true in this instance.

You can't get there by imitating somebody else. That's the power game, the outward path, the skill-based existence.

You have to find your own truth, and then, even if it is the same truth as everybody else's, it will transform you.

Finally, in the words of the Susannah Clarke/Richard Leigh song,

"You've got to sing, like you don't need the money,
love like you'll never get hurt;
you've got to dance, dance, dance, like nobody's watching;
it's got to come from the heart, if you want it to work."