3 min

My daughter hides her face

Movie sex scene didn't seem like pleasure

Paedophilia is conventionally understood as the sexual molestation of children. The meaning of this word confuses me because the roots of it actually mean “love” (philo) and “children” (paedo). Like “philosophy” means love of wisdom (sophos) and “philanthropy” means love of human beings (anthropos).

How can someone who loves a child sexually abuse them? And how does a culture get around to accepting that a word which means “love of children” actually means raping them?

The same way it gets around to believing that if a man sexually assaults little girls in a washroom, it’s the fault of gay people who like to have sex in public. We are faced with so many sexual taboos in our society, it’s no wonder that everything gets fucked up, so to speak.

We ignore the sexuality of children, but feel free to accuse them of being the “seducer” when caught in bed with them. We expect women to be sexual and available, but disrespect and blame them when they are. We pathologize the desires of gay people, but conveniently scapegoat them for the depravities of everyone else.

I don’t think that limiting public sex has anything to do with protecting children from assault. We’d have to limit the sexual activity of people who work in schools, in churches and sports clubs. We’d have to eliminate sexual activity in the home.

My daughter is at risk everyday she goes out into the world. But I have to believe that the value of allowing her to develop independence, to size up the situations around her and develop her own modes of protection, is greater than the risks she takes to do that. But anything could happen, and if I think about it too much I’d crack.

But it’s not the sexual expression of gay people, sexual openness or the public sex that is responsible for the risks to my daughter. I happen to believe that less secrecy and hiding leads to less misunderstanding, confusion and harm. I certainly might have avoided some unpleasant sexual experiences in my life if I’d had more information, if I hadn’t felt like the people who loved and supported me would completely disapprove of my sexual exploration.

At the same time, I’m not in favour of sex in public where it might be encountered by my child. A recent debate among the members of the Equality For Gays And Lesbians Everywhere e-mail mailing list (some of which were published in the article Protecting The Children, Oct 7 Xtra) had some participants advocating public expressions of pleasure as a challenge to a sex-phobic culture.

The problem is that sexual activity doesn’t always look like pleasure, especially to a child.

I faced this dilemma earlier this year at the Inside Out Festival. I wanted to take my daughter to a screening of shorts called Suburban Days. I’ve taken her to the festival before, so I was surprised to find that the Paramount theatre had given a blanket rating to everything as restricted to those 18 and over. Why? Because it’s gay content? And gay content is inevitably inappropriate for minors?

I asked around a bit about the films in the program and decided to take my daughter, anyways. The films did not corrupt her and she enjoyed, even related to, most of what she saw. But it was the sexual explicitness in one film that disturbed her. With a limited understanding of sex and no physical experience, it didn’t look to her like the two men were giving each other pleasure. She hid her face from the scene the way she does when something she’s watching is violent.

I think it would be a negative, or at least confusing, experience for any child to witness public (or private) sex. On the other hand, I don’t think children are at greater risk of assault because some people-maybe even mostly gay people-have sex in public.

As a parent I expect that gay men – or anybody else – having sex in public locations are discreet enough that a child is not likely to see them. And if it’s the legal prohibition that fosters such discretion, then I’m in favour of that. Just as I’m in favour of speed limits for the reduction of harm, even though I speed all the time myself.

But I also expect society to stop hiding from sexuality, to stop the distortions and false accusations. Talk like this raises the risk level far more than two half-naked homos getting it on in a washroom, on a park bench or in the sandy, sun-warmed grass behind a beach.