Thursday, April 10, 2008

Less than 30? Never!

I have resisted the temptation to comment on that GQ interview, but since it seems it will not die and continues to crop up somewhere or other every day, I have decided to give in and put in me 10penneth!

Fellow conference delegates may recall a speech I made at Spring Conference a couple of years ago, following the last but one leadership election and the media frenzy about Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes' private lives. Amongst other things I berated the media for "caring more about what men do with their willies than what they do with their weapons of mass destruction". And I guess my response to the Nick Clegg story falls in there somewhere. It has always amused me that so many men seem to be totally fixated with their appendage/s and what they do or don't do with them, so I guess it stands to reason that not only has the male dominated media worked itself back into a lather over this story in a sexist boys mag, but that it seems to have been something the male bloggers have also disproportionately taken an interest in.

So, my thoughts about the story go something like this. Firstly, it would have been far better for Nick not to have said anything of course, but he did and, being an open kind of human being I have no doubt there will be other occasions he will say stuff he wishes he hadn't. But, when you are breaking new ground you will inevitably hit bumps, the only way to avoid them frankly is to stand still. This was a bump and I trust that what people will remember if they remember anything, will be an impression of someone who is disarmingly honest.

Secondly, I got to thinking about the variety of responses and how they may have differed had he said something different. For example, said that no, he had had no other sexual partners before his wife. Would there have been equal outrage, ridicule? And then had he said 1,2,3......what exactly would have been the optimum number, enough to be seen to be a "normal" young man and not so many as to be seen as a sorry he's a boy isn't he, a "bit of a lad". And of course, he could have refused to answer the question, then no doubt invited much speculation and more intrusive digging into his past.

Thirdly I got to thinking about the wider issue of our general attitude as a society to sex. As a young teacher teaching sex education as part of PHSE it always struck me just how much our young people were being taught about the mechanics of sex and their sexual health and how little about the emotional aspects. How many times after lessons young people would ask to speak to me privately about their feelings. Young women often feeling pressured into having sex, or feeling they had to be seen to have a boyfriend, the idea that you could not be a whole person unless you had "the other half". But did we teach negotiation skills, or anything about emotional literacy?

It seems to me that in an instant gratification society we have created a climate of passive consumerism that extends to our attitudes to sex. So, rather like an itch, if it itches scratch it! Now I am not trying to be judgemental, (I could not have spent most of my life working with young people if I was!) but I do think choice is no choice at all if it isn't informed. It the only messages our young people get about sex are in the pages of GQ et al, or in films/soaps that portray all of the pleasure and none of the pain or potential consequences (emotional as well as physical) it is no wonder that we are seeing the explosion in STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Yes, they know how babies are made, yes they know how to put a condom on a banana, yes they know how HIV is contracted...........but knowledge and skills do not of themselves, as we can see (and probably all know to our cost), necessarily influence behaviour.

Heavens this is getting to a rant (!) but, what do I know, particularly as my 21 year old daughter quite rightly tells me, at my great age sex is of course no longer of any interest!

Oh....and "Less than 30? Never!" that's the response I get when I try to lie about my age :-)

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