Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Talking about Sex: School Lawsuits and Taboos: The Manner of NOW: An Abnormal Psychology

Most of us are uncomfortable talking openly about sex. We have been socialized that this is a private and personal issue. In fact, in some states, lawsuits toward schools are being filed regarding the sexual subject material being taught. What does this taboo approach do for the recognition of sexual disorders? How does this affect treatment?

First I should say that I am not one of the majority when it comes to talking about sex; I am not uncomfortable talking about sex openly (except, maybe, in the presence of my grandmother, whose discomfort would cause me discomfort). I love talking (and even more: writing) about topics that are taboo. I'm sometimes surprised that taboos still exist, but they do. Imagine what forms taboos will take on over the next one hundred years. Do you think taboos will still exist or do you think they will become extinct and that, instead, human behavior will become more fluid (or return to a more primitive form)? I think patterns occur again and again across time - issues resurface at different times and in different ways. Sometimes I think (!) that everything I think and say has been thought and said before. What makes it important and interesting is the fact that I am saying it now - it is occurring NOW and with the people of NOW and in the manner of NOW.

A friend of mine recently shared this quote by W.H. Auden: "Some writers (insert 'people') confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about." Really, there is nothing original in the subject of sex. The act of sex is very authentic and doesn't require originality. Sex is the cause of birth - it's what drives life. It's been here as long as humans have been here (wherever "here" is). How can the most natural and essential thing in/to human life be uncomfortable? It's the brain and language and knowledge that make it so. It is Sexual Discourse that creates, pathologizes, and sometimes demonizes sexuality. And, yes, oddly most people are uncomfortable talking about themselves (about sex: the root of their creation and their inner drive toward energy/life/and creation).

I tried to have a conversation about sex once with my parents. I was nineteen at the time. They seemed to be feeling "open" so I seized the moment, at the kitchen table, and began asking them lots and lots of questions about their sex lives. I ended up writing about it in a paper for my one of my Women's Studies classes (Sexuality and Orientation) at the University at Buffalo. In the paper, I wrote about the specifics of their struggles, joys and discomforts with their sexual lives and the expressions of their erotic beings. I won't write about that here, now; but the conversation that we had (which was exceptionally candid) really highlighted to me the issues that arise out of our psychological conceptions of and emotional relationships with sex. We were committing a social transgression just by virtue of having the conversation - a candid and graphic conversation between a daughter and her parents about sex (specifically about the sex lives of the parents) is not commonplace and certainly deviates from the prescribed norms for parent:offspring/daughter interactions in Western culture (as far as I know, at least).

There are certainly less candid and more sensitive ways of approaching human sexuality that do not involve or require the graphic self-disclosure that is inherent in the structure of the Mason Family/Commune. Schools have to contend with divergent cultural, religious and philosophical attitudes toward the subject of sex. The limits and strictures upheld in the post-secondary academic treatment of human sexuality are there to draw boundaries between the public and private sector (between what is learned in school and what is taught at home) as well as to establish barriers between adults/teachers and students. Most of all, the boundaries are a form of self-protective red tape: they are in place to protect the institution from the potential disapproval and subsequent retribution of the parent body if it feels threatened in some way by the agenda or content. The threat of a lawsuit is a powerful motivator - sometimes it benefits the academic program to have such a threat of consequence in place but it also often places needless and arbitrary constraints on the program itself as well as the course of the program.

Societal discomfort with human sexuality extends through the institutions and systems of academia - and, subsequently, through the field of psychology in its understanding and treatment of sexual disorders. If sexuality itself (in all its overt expressions as well as in its nuances) is taboo, then sexual disorders will be even more taboo - will assume a position far into the margins of attitudes of discomfort. Putting limits on our understanding and acceptance of sexuality only further limits our ability to understand, accept and sometimes treat sexual disorders. Treatment is hindered by an environment of censorship and denial. I think the focus, under societal pressures to deny sexuality and its range of normal and abnormal behaviors, will be taken off of the individual and placed on society. In other words, the focus of the treatment of sexual disorders won't be the treatment of the sexual disorders themselves; instead the focus will be on taking the discomfort away from the fearful and ignorant majority (a majority that may never be able to understand itself unless it faces its own fears).

No comments: