Sat | Jun 19, 2021

An emotionally immature society

Published:Friday | April 13, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Peter Espeut

There is currently a hue and cry here in Jamaica about the sexual abuse of children. The outrage is not usually matched with a comprehensive examination of the issues. Our penchant for pursuing facile solutions (usually 'Lock them up!', or 'Hang them high!') usually prevents us from getting to the root of the problem.

Sexuality is part of normal human make-up, and hormonal changes during adolescence prepare the bodies of boys and girls for sexual and reproductive activity. Meanwhile, the same boys and girls are in school, exercising their minds - taking in knowledge, but really learning the discipline of learning. An increasing number of Jamaican young people also play sports and games, some disciplining their bodies, which involves disciplining their minds too. Self-discipline in athletics and academics is prized in Jamaica; but discipline in sexual matters is not as highly valued, and this, it seems to me, is the root of the problem.

Associated with sexual activity is intense pleasure - an important advance in the evolutionary scheme of things - for if sexual intercourse were not powerfully pleasurable, many intelligent human beings would not wish to indulge in it because of its consequences; and the future of the species would be in question. The evolution of the orgasm in human females (no other female animal has them) was an important leap forward for the growth in numbers of humans, and the success of the species (in evolutionary terms).

Previously, the received wisdom was that 'maturity' meant learning how to discipline oneself, including in sexual matters. Postponing sexual intercourse, at least until after one's schooling was complete, was the ideal - as was channelling one's sexual drive into one faithful lifelong relationship.

Feel-good deception

Then came the sexual revolution. Virginity and celibacy were now considered as 'suppressing' and 'repressing' natural sexual urges, and it was now politically correct to 'fulfil oneself' by giving in to one's feelings (the very opposite of self-discipline). So, in the words of No. 1 songs on the hit parade: "If it feels good, do it!" And "Do it till you're satisfied" (whatever it is)!

So if a father feels like having sex with his sexy 15-year-old daughter, he mustn't stop till he gets enough, even if that is called incest. And if a 55-year-old man feels like having a 14-year-old girl tonight, "do it till you're satisfied", even if that is called carnal abuse. But if she is 16, that's okay, since she is now over the age of consent.

I think that we have been looking at this problem from the wrong angle. Big men who want to have sex with children are evidence of the failure of society - the school system, the churches - in the area of proper 'broughtupsy'. Men who cannot relate to women of their own age are maladjusted, immature and, possibly, mentally ill.

Adolescence is a time to learn how to respect others and to interact as true friends. Those who spend their adolescence pursuing genital sex will be stunted in their personal development. Sexual intercourse pursued just for pleasure (or for fried chicken or rent money) treats the other person as an object.

Sex is not a substitute for deep interpersonal intercourse, the type of intimacy which allows minds to meet before the bodies do.

Sick society

Add to this the fact that 80 per cent of children in Jamaica are born outside a relationship with a formal commitment between the parents, and you have evidence of a sick society.

And now Jamaicans are outraged at the sexual abuse of children.

I'm not sure people are making the connection between child sexual abuse and values that promote sexual permissiveness. Persons who learn sexual self-control when they are young, and learn to take part in strong friendships with their peers, are less likely to abuse children.

But there is much militating against the young learning sexual self-control. We live in a highly sexualised society where popular music and videos promote hedonism and casual sex. Teenage pregnancy, gang rape, and lesbian attacks at high schools are not out of context.

Calling for prudish behaviour, raising the age of consent, and railing against sexual offenders will not change anything. And it is not just a Christian thing; no major world religion promotes casual sexual intercourse. Those who would engineer society for maximum order and stability must wish to promote a culture of disciplined mature persons in strong family units.

Over to you, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to