Friday, 26 February 2010

How can we get over the teenage crush our society has on being a teenager?

A question on the front page of the BBC news web-site today asks the following: "Are children exposed to adult sexuality too early?" There is a link to the following related article: 'Why can't I look like that?' ask teenagers

This question is a curious one to me, both because of what it conceals and what it reveals.

What is actually being referred to here, by use of these words "adult sexuality"?

I rather suspect that what is in fact being referred to here by the use of these words "adult sexuality" could more accurately be referred to as "teenage sexuality" - that kind of wonderful all consuming lust that overwhelms us all at the onset of adolescence. Our popular culture, whose centre of gravity finds itself very at home in a teenager's way of seeing the world, has a teenage crush on this kind of sexuality. The cinemas (on this side of the Atlantic) and movie theatres (on the other side) are filled up with this. As we have all been there, we can all identify with this kind of sexuality. It is a count-on-able lowest common denominator that unites us all with regard to sex... All that falling in love with someone who has film-star looks (naturally enough because they are a film-star), having your heart broken and then put back together, falling in and out of love, etc. etc.

Teenage sexuality can be both wonderful and horrible. I certainly wouldn't want to suggest we ought to ever grow out of the pleasure of overwhelming passion and lust.

However it is surely a mistake to let teenage sexuality masquerade under the name of "adult", since this would be to imply that teenage sexuality is as adult as it gets, and if that was actually the case it would be a tragedy for all of us.

Older people amongst us, and even people in the ever increasing ages called "middle", will be able to confirm my assertion that teenage sexuality - as promoted (and capitalised on) by people like pop-stars, magazine model footballers (and their wives) and glamour models like Jordan - is really just the beginning of the journey regarding what is possible with sexuality.

Although it may be true that for a lot of people that wonderful first stop on the journey of the sex train is the place they are happy to spend their whole lives, for many others amongst us it is really only the beginning. The range of possible sexual activity that adults engage in is so rich and various that to put it into a single category and call that "adult", is a bit like saying there is only two kinds of weather - good weather and bad weather. (Us country folks know better than that.)

If the older and wiser members of our community are not willing to be a bit more forthcoming about where the sex train can go later on its journey - visiting places like love, and commitment, and having children together, and building partnerships of ecstasy, and fantasy, and even spiritual fulfilment, it leaves our culture with the uninspiring misunderstanding that adult sexuality is something that happens in adolescence, and becomes gradually less interesting as we get older.

The question asked by the BBC news homepage may be an important one. It must be right to protect children from the images of teenage sexuality that fill up our advertising media and popular culture. However it must equally be a mistake to call those teenage-centric images "adult". It is not surprising that our children find these images appealing, when we think of them in this confused way as being "adult". These are not "adult" images at all. They are teenage ones. We must start to ask the question: how can we get over the teenage crush our society has on being a teenager?

Although it is a mistake to propel our children into becoming teenagers before they are teenagers, endorsing the trance state we are in that allows our whole society to remain teenagerish about sexuality indefinitely and for the foreseeable future is a more fundamental matter of concern.

Magazines like Cosmopolitan and Maxim and celebrities like Jordan and Simon Cowell endorse the idea that it is good to behave like a teenager for as long as our bodies can hold out under the pressure. It is a mistake to think that behaving in this way is anything more than a weigh station on the road of being an "adult".

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