Review of Harmful to Minors

This book disturbed me
By Elizabeth

I appreciate a book that challenges my personal biases and makes me aware of research and information I didn't even know existed. As I read this book over three days, unable to put it down, I felt like it was giving me a serious education in American culture and human sexuality. I rather wish I'd taken a college course with this sort of information in it. Or better yet, a high school class. I found reading this that the author drove me to the desire to find out more. I want to read the other books she references, and look up the works listed in her notes. I wanted to be educated about things like sexual development in human beings, perceptions and repressions in the culture I live in, and all the points of view human beings have about sexuality. Even though I had a similar perspective to her on some things, I found she still challenged some old beliefs I was hanging on to, that I hadn't bothered to ever question or examine.

I'm female. I grew up in a conservative family and practiced abstinence in my teen years. I believed only in sex after marriage. I had never seen a condom, and I thought AIDS was something that promiscuous gays got. My parents kept me out of sex ed in high school, but never gave me "the talk." I got some basic information from books in the library, and that's all I had. I never masturbated and did not know how to have an orgasm until I was 18. When I finally did have sex, I used no protection, no birth control, and I didn't ask my partner if he had any STDs. It didn't even cross my mind. I hadn't been taught to think about these things. I was sure I was in love, and love made the sex right and "safe." When you think sex is love, you think nothing can possibly go wrong -- God will protect you.

Talk about naivete.

In the end, I changed everything I believed about sex and relationships. I changed because my life experiences contradicted what I'd been taught growing up. I found out that sex wasn't evil or even negative just because it was outside of marriage. Neither was it love just because it felt good. I discovered that AIDS kills everyone, and that there are easy ways to protect against it and still have sex. I discovered that I prefer safe sex to abstinence because safe sex protects me, whereas abstinence flees the moment it is faced with passion. I also discovered that abstinence leaves me with hunger, and hunger can lead to a sense of starvation. Which isn't to say I'd die without sex; it's to say that as long as I felt like having sex was forbidden, I was desperate for it...I'd see sex everywhere I went. I'm not talking about in the media -- I'm talking about in the boys in my classes, in the glances between students, in the conversations at lunch, in the seemingly brilliant older male drama teacher. I had hormones, only I didn't even know enough to call them hormones. And my hormones were driven mad by the thunderous command not to exist, and not to feel. Now that I have sex any time I want to (whether it's intercourse, masturbation, or otherwise), it isn't such a big deal and I don't feel desperate when I go without it. For me, "abstinence only" led to an unhappy obsession with the sex I couldn't have. If only I'd known about masturbation. If only I'd heard of different ways to look at sex. If only I'd had an education!

Because of my roots, and my change of perspective, reading this book has been an amazing experience for me. It was a chance for me to see my childhood from the outside-in, which is something I've never done. It opened my eyes to just how rigid my upbringing was, and how it made me feel. It got me in contact with very old, buried feelings. Some of those feeling hurt, but I don't regret having found them.

As I read the book, there were several moments where I felt myself being reminded of something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then on page 27, I found my answer in the first paragraph. The author wrote:

"Our culture fears the pedophile, say some social critics, not because he is deviant, but because he is ordinary. And I don't mean because he is the ice-cream man or Father Patrick. No, we fear him because he is us. In his elegant study of 'the culture of child-molesting,' the literary critic James Kincaid traced this terror back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Then, he said, Anglo-American culture conjured childhood innocence, defining it as a desireless subjectivity," at the same time as it constructed a new ideal of the sexually desireable object. The two had identical attributes--softness, cuteness, docility, passivity--and this simultaneous cultural invention has presented us with a wicked psychosocial problem ever since. We relish our erotic attraction to children, says Kincaid (witness the child beauty pageants in which JonBenet Ramsey was entered). But we also find that attraction abhorrent (witness the public shock and disgust at JonBenet's 'sexualization' in those pageants). So we project that eroticized desire outward, creating a monster to hate, hunt down, and punish."

When I read that excerpt, I realized that the author's comments on how the conservative part of our American culture views sexuality made me think of an old sci-fi movie called, "Forbidden Planet." I began to wonder, is it possible that fear of sexuality can lead to sex that hurts, rather than just the other way around? Likewise, can fear that our children have sexual natures lead us to hurt those sexual natures?

I don't feel like I have all the answers after reading this book. I don't feel like the author does. But I feel like the questions she brings up, no matter how disturbing or scary, NEED TO BE ASKED.

Please ask them.

- Elizabeth

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