Teens and pre-teens now partake in commercial sex culture: sexy selfies, sexting, porn. Yet if they touch each other, or play a sexual game, they could end up with a criminal record.
These fumblings, sloppy kisses, explorations of each other’s bodies, have long been part of childhood and adolescence. Now such things can lead to investigation, expulsion from school, even prosecution.
The UK Sexual Offences Act criminalises ‘sexual touching’ between under 16-year olds. I know of a 12-year old boy who was put on the Sex Offenders Register for ‘inappropriate touching’, while playing with a girl his age.
In America, children as young as 10 have been put on sex offenders lists, or in some cases removed from their home, for play-acting sex with their peers.
A new paper by Danish researchers (1) finds that the country’s traditionally liberal attitudes have been replaced with suspicion and restriction. Where children once bathed naked in summer, they now wear swimming costumes. The kids’ game of ‘playing doctor’ is now seen by nurseries as a ‘trespass upon a child’s boundaries’, and is highly restricted or banned.
One interviewee observed:
‘There has been a drastic shift in the views of children’s relations to one another. Exploratory behaviors among children are, sadly, often interpreted as abuse.’
The authors concluded that:
The fear of (child sexual abuse) seemed to be the sole rationale for speaking of children’s games as abusive and for using the theme of ‘boundaries’ to teach children to defend their bodies and to respect other children’s bodies.
This taboo over contact between children occurs at a time when the commercial sex world has never been so available to them.
11- and 12-year olds twerk: this is the way they dance. A girl of 11, in her selfies, looks as if she is inviting you to sex, all sultry and come-on. She doesn’t yet have breasts but adds them, along with hips, with the phone app. Boys consume porn and take photos of their penises.
It is overt, this commercialised game of sex: everybody is always pretending to offer and receive sex.
Yet the real human relation – the real hand on a real body – is seen as toxic and dangerous. Kids are told that touching is a violation of ‘boundaries’, a potential crime, and that they need pseudo-legal consent for every act.
While the commercial porn world is freed, the human relation is cramped and criminalised.
And so young people’s sexual initiation occurs through porn culture, through stereotyped ways of acting towards sex objects – instead of the fumbled kisses, the awkwardness, the tingling in the belly, as they learn sexuality as a way or relating to another person.
(1) Children’s Doctor Games and Nudity at Danish Childcare Institutions, EB Leander et al,
My book Officious – Rise of the Busybody State, is published by Zero books.