Sexual expression masks grim reality

Sex, sun and sangria. It’s holiday time. That means acres more
nipples, naked flesh and shaved pubic areas – in the UK press at
least. I have a problem with sex, or at least its public
presentation. Take some recent headlines: “Sex scandal at Chequers”
(The Mirror); “[Bristol] girls lead TV boob flashing
craze” (The Sun); “On your marks, get sex go….”
(News of the World). Pole dancing is suddenly cool. At
least the sex tease of Big Brother is now over for another

Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if there weren’t all the other sex
stories that are granted so much less news value. Thus the new
statistics that one in 20 women have been subjected to rape; the
difficulty of securing rape convictions; societal problems of child
sexual abuse and child prostitution; the increasing European sex
trafficking of women; and continuing restrictions internationally
on the rights of gay men and lesbians. Then there is the
involvement of non-governmental organisation workers in the
developing world – and peacekeepers in war zones – in sexual abuse
and the sex trade; rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases in
the UK and the crisis of Aids in Africa.

Meanwhile, porn is the biggest grossing industry on the internet
and, in the UK, porn magazines seem to form one of the few
non-military “manufacturing industries” whose proprietors make
enough money to make substantial political donations.

Most worrying is that these two realities are treated as if they
are unrelated. It’s as if the trivialising and demeaning treatment
of sex (and particularly of women) has no bearing on our abilities
as individuals and societies to deal with the big issues relating
to sex and sexuality that face us. But it does. Public prurience
about sex, and ignorance, abuse and denial are two sides of the
same coin. Until we face up to the first, we won’t deal effectively
with the second.

In our field of health and social care, cases of the most
fundamental denial of people’s human sexual rights continue. This
was highlighted by the failure to address the sexual abuse of young
people in government care. In residential services there are still
examples of people having their sexual relationships obstructed and
of being denied the right to their sexuality or even to be accepted
as sexual beings.

All this coexists with the supposedly free world of sexual
expression in which our press would suggest we live. Are we really
so different from the Victorians with their piano leg covers, royal
denial of lesbianism and rampant child prostitution? I don’t think


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