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The rise of the liberal groomer Not every desire deserves to be empowered

It's all Locke's fault (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

It's all Locke's fault (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)


April 14, 2022   7 mins

Does progress have to mean the sexual liberation of children? Michel Foucault thought so, as did many of the now high-ranking Labour Party members who once supported the Paedophile Information Exchange. Sexual interest in children is hardly unique to the modern world, of course, or indeed the West. Child sex slaves were socially acceptable in ancient Rome, and the longstanding practice of bacha bazi in Afghanistan still sees young boys feminised and abused by adult men.

Nor is paedophilia unique to the progressive Left. Just this week, Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, prompting fellow Tory MP and LGBTQ advocate Crispin Blunt to declare angrily that Khan’s conviction was a “dreadful miscarriage of justice” and “nothing short of an international scandal”.

But it’s also true that since the sexual revolution, there has been a knocking on the door of progressive respectability by individuals with an intense interest in assisting the sexual development of children, and sometimes — as in the case of Foucault — questionable motives for doing so. Such activists invariably come armed with the logic of liberalism: using phrases such as “agency”, “consent” and “education”. The resulting queasy blend of pleasure, freedom, education and adolescence burst into flames this week, with news of a theatre production, The Family Sex Show, coming to Bristol that offers “relationships and sex education” supposedly suitable for ages five and up.

Cue public outrage, Mumsnet up in arms, and a petition to scrap the show that at the time of writing has more than 30,000 signatures. It’s a homegrown British version of an increasingly ferocious front in the American culture war in which both sides are entrenched, and convinced of their own righteousness. On one side stand those who argue for ever more extensive sex education in the name of LGBTQ youth and sexual emancipation in general. On the other stand those claiming to defend the authority of parents over their children, which they argue represents children’s best protection against inappropriate adult sexual attention.

So far, this war has raged with characteristically American vigour. Recent examples are legion: Texans in uproar about “pornographic books” in schools; school masturbation lessons for six-year-olds; drag queens on Nickelodeon. American conservatives are now pushing back at this efflorescence of sex chat for children, calling the vanguards of kid-friendly sexual emancipation “groomers”. On a practical front, conservative states have seen a spate of legislation constraining (or seeking to constrain) the nature and extent of sexual content that may legally be delivered to children in schools.

Advocates, meanwhile, are outraged at the “groomer” epithet. They argue it’s fine to be gay or kinky or non-binary or whatever, and that all sexual expression is acceptable provided everyone consents. For them, content of this kind simply normalises these perfectly acceptable identities, and helps to spread tolerance while ensuring LGBTQ youth feel represented and supported.

This moral standoff is the logical end-point of a tug-of-war as old as liberalism: the question of who is responsible for shaping children — and to what ends. In Roman times, parental — well, patriarchal — authority over children was absolute, to the point of granting fathers the right to kill their children. It was the Christian faith that first ascribed universal personhood and dignity even to children, limiting the scope of this authority.

Christian teaching, though, still held that children should submit to their parents. It was the liberalising thinkers at the wellspring of modernity who began winkling out people from under the authority of the church — and children from under the authority of their parents.

John Locke, one of the original liberal thinkers, argued for the separation of church and state, and it’s no coincidence that he was also the first parenting pundit. His Some Thoughts Concerning Education was published in 1693, and heavily influenced the next smash-hit parenting guide: Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, written in 1763.

For Locke, education was essential. In his view, “of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education”. Rousseau, meanwhile, was so convinced of its importance that, after concluding the family of his mistress Thérèse Levasseur wasn’t up to the job of raising the kids he fathered with her, he persuaded her to give them all away to the “foundling hospital”. In Confessions (1782), Rousseau admitted that he “trembled at the thought of entrusting them to a family ill brought up, to be still worse educated”. Presumably Rousseau thought the extremely high risk of his children dying in an orphanage a less fearful prospect than seeing his educational ideas poorly executed by the woman he repeatedly impregnated but refused to marry.

In any case, this left both Locke — who never fathered children — and Rousseau equally free to theorise about education, freedom and human nature, innocent of any hands-on experience with actual children. And this blind spot has cast a long shadow since, for emancipating children is, to say the least, a paradoxical undertaking.

Locke and Rousseau envisaged humans as autonomous, rational and capable of making decisions. But anyone with practical experience of how helplessly dependent a baby is, or how magnificently unreasonable toddlers can be, knows there’s considerable ground to cover before you can describe your child as in any way rational or capable of making sensible choices. And getting them to the point where they can do this takes decidedly non-liberal methods, including providing direct moral instruction with the aim of eventually producing an independent, self-governing adult. Liberal citizens capable of making the most of freedom don’t just appear in a vacuum; you have to make them.

Emancipating children has another key corollary, too: a reduction in parental authority. This is obviously true at the scale of individual parent-child relations, and is usually a gradual and benign process. As my child grows older, part of my job as a parent is to help her develop independence, which means slowly stepping back from managing all aspects of her life.

What’s perhaps less obvious, though, is that a culture of individual freedom also means defanging parental authority in general. This was tacitly acknowledged by Locke, Rousseau and the innumerable parenting pundits who have emerged by dint of writing books on how to raise ideal citizens. Each parenting manual says, tacitly, that just being the child’s parents doesn’t make you right by definition. As a parent you have to be doing it right as well, where “right” is defined by the larger project of shaping ideal citizens to enjoy freedom.

Yet in the centuries since Locke and Rousseau, the scope of those freedoms we consider our birthright has expanded too. This is usually treated as moral progress, but has also happened in no small part thanks to technologies that extend our strength, buttress our weaknesses or give us control where none existed before. In particular, the contraceptive revolution has extended freedom into the terrain of sexual desire.

By severing sex from its material consequences, reproductive technologies took the danger out of desire, allowing us to reimagine sex as a kind of consequence-free leisure activity. After all, once procreation is an optional rather than near-inevitable side-effect of sex, then on the face of it there seems to be no firm argument for preventing freely consenting adults from pursuing sexual pleasure in whichever form they desire.

Leaving aside the merits of this change, making the best of an emancipated world requires us — as Locke and Rousseau realised — to equip citizens to navigate it. It therefore follows that sex education isn’t just an option but a necessity: if you accept the premise that emancipation is good, then sexual emancipation and the free, consenting expression of desire is also good. And given that children need direct moral instruction prior to attaining full liberal citizenship, good liberal parents have an active duty to provide instruction to their children, from the earliest possible age, in the full range of acceptable modern sexual expression.

From this perspective, filling the heads of five-year-olds with information about polyamory, or masturbation, or non-binary identities, isn’t a precursor to sexual abuse at all — even if it’s done against the wishes of that five-year-old’s parents. Rather, it’s a vital part of preventing such abuse.

This, then, is the objective The Family Sex Show claims for itself. A Q&A explains that the show was aimed at ages five up because “sexual development and behaviour in children starts from birth”, and “it’s important that children are supported in their exploratory development, safely and comfortably”. To this end, The Family Sex Show proposes “an alternative to porn”: that is, a show “offering intersectional, feminist, non-binary, anti-racist and sex-positive [sic] take on Relationships and Sex Education”. This material will, the show promises, “use pleasure as a vehicle for consent”.

I admit I’m less than reassured by the prospect of anyone using “pleasure” as “a vehicle for consent” in material aimed at my five-year-old. For if predatory Tories and Romans tell us anything, it’s that dark desires are an unpleasant constant in (especially male) human nature that no amount of “awareness” can mitigate.

I have no doubt that The Family Sex Show’s erotic evangelism is well-intentioned. But however sincere its objective of helping to educate young people to enjoy modern sexual liberation in a healthily autonomous way, it remains stubbornly true that there is more than one set of reasons why an adult might seek to “educate” pre-pubescent children about “pleasure” and “consent”. Even the best-intentioned “educator” may still be paving the way for someone more predatory.

So while the term “groomer” is unfair in the sense that the intent behind most of this infant erotic proselytising really isn’t initiating sexual contact with those kids, it’s also entirely justified. For this is precisely what preschool porn evangelism enables in practice. By normalising the idea that pre-pubescent children should engage with sexual material, The Family Sex Show in practice carries water for genuine paedophiles.

If we want to push back against the liberal syllogism that got us to the point where “educators” determinedly ignore the obvious slipperiness of this slope, we need to look again at its premises.

Contraceptive technologies are here to stay. But we needn’t accept as self-evident the argument that followed the contraceptive revolution — that all desires are fine provided consent is given. This is simply not true. Not all desires, or expressions of sexual desire, are good. Some need to be repressed, and if necessary oppressed, in the interests of protecting the vulnerable.

We can argue about which desires should be repressed, and the nature of the oppression in extremis. But what we can’t do is offer sex education to children on the premise that education and consent can replace this need for limits. For when it comes to children, there is such a thing as too much information. And when it comes to sex, there really is such a thing as too much freedom.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

“I have no doubt that The Family Sex Show’s erotic evangelism is well-intentioned.”
Well I bl**dy well do not. The people pushing this are dressing up their own perverted inclinations as freedom, choice, education. emancipation and all al those other BS words so beloved of the left
It is abuse pure and simple and the fact that we even tolerate discussion of it is a sign of the malaise and sickness that is rampant in Western society.
There response has to be forceful and final

Last edited 2 years ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Claire Dunnage
CD
Claire Dunnage
2 years ago

“It’s a homegrown British version of an increasingly ferocious front in the American culture war in which both sides are entrenched, and convinced of their own righteousness.”

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Claire Dunnage

The Second World War was just an increasingly ferocious front in the political philosophy war in which both sides were entrenched, and convinced of their own righteousness.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

And to think they took away prayer from schools at one time.

R Wright
RW
R Wright
2 years ago

Certain educated individuals say that the ‘slippy slope’ is a fallacy. I doubt it. Twenty years ago we were talking about civil partnerships. Ten years ago about same-sex marriage. Now, about the rights of children to make decisions. In ten years it’ll be about a right for children to sleep with adults. Not much later than that we’ll presumably be discussing the rights of corpses and animals to have intercourse. While I am obviously not comparing the former with the latter, the principle applies that there are always new frontiers to be broken down. There are always new rights that have to be brought into existence. The cultural Forever War must last forever, until the progressive utopia is eventually realised.

Warren T
WT
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  R Wright

This is the history of our world and it never ends well.

Alastair Herd
Alastair Herd
2 years ago
Reply to  R Wright

The fact that Section 28 was only repealed in 2003, by 2014 we had same-sex marriage and this year we have 5,500 children waiting for Tavistock shows it’s not so much a slippery slope but a water slide.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  R Wright

Your neighbor’s gay marriage will never affect you at all.
Yeah. Right.

I am going to quote a commenter over on Rod Dreher’s blog at TAC, since he said this far better than I can:
—–
“How does my gay neighbors’ marriage hurt mine?” Imagine someone asking this question: How does my neighbor’s counterfeiting hurt my money? Marriage, like money, is by its nature a social reality. When the state says that Bob and Fred are “married” it is implying that my marital union with my wife will no longer be legally recognized as one tightly tethered to sexual complementarity. In the same way, when my neighbor counterfeits my money, it is simply not worth the same as it was before he counterfeited. Same-sex marriage, in an analogous fashion, robs us of the knowledge of how real marriage is ordered toward the common good. It is a form of conjugal counterfeiting.”
—–

This is the best response I have ever heard to the “gay marriage doesn’t affect you” argument the left deployed for years. I wish I had heard it in 2010 when we were debating whether women can marry other women instead of in 2022 when we can’t even agree on whether women are real.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian Villanueva
Jp Merzetti
Jp Merzetti
1 year ago

Beg to differ. I’m surrounded by same sex couples. I need to be indoctrinated or coerced, or gaslighted, but I fail to see how I would be “enlightened” into believing or being convinced that the value of my marriage to myself or my wife is in any way shape or form, diminished or diffused by what any of my neighbors do. I would have to believe that the purpose of marriage is in some way defined only by heteronormative reality and by no other form of reality that might be just as instructive and meaningful. Who am I to decree otherwise? Marriage is not a base and an animal thing for the purpose of procreation only (and of course there is the fact that many gay and lesbian couples do raise children) but it is also full of many fine layers of nuance, limited only by the capacities of the participants involved. As to same-sex marriage as a tipping point into the wild and wooly world of complete abandonment of biological reality, truth and fact, scientifically backed and unassailable to a shrewd and intelligent society – I disagree on that one, too. As to this “counterfeiting” bit – negating another human being for any reason, let alone their sexual preferences (unless they happen to be “minor-attracted persons”) is in fact, a slippery slope we would not wish to encourage. Same sex attraction is, in short – not counterfeit at all. To judge it so is kind of like a rank attempt to play god. We might do well to remind ourselves that an awful lot of hetero people have wreaked considerable evil in this world. Normativity is no guarantee of almost anything, let alone tight morals.

Kieran Saxon
Kieran Saxon
2 years ago

There is a very important concept in the UK and US of *in loco parentis* (in the place of a parent).
Basically – the authority of any teacher is derived from being a proxy for the actual parent. This also brings with it the obligation to welfare, or acting in the child’s best interests. It’s the basis for authority and accountability.
What we have seen in the last 2 years is a disregard for this concept as militant unions pushed for school closures that damaged children, on the basis of a seasonal respiratory disease that was negligable risk for healthy children. No parent would ever have made those decisions, and this is reflected in comments from UK Minister for Education Nadim Zahawi that school closures were wrong.
The growth of grooming from bad-faith activists similarly breaches this concept. They are not acting in the best interest of the child, who, rather than being treated with understanding, compassion and informed guidance, are being pushed into medical treatment up to and including bodily mutilation.
The wider problem is that the argument on lockdowns, gender and sex education as outlined in Mary’s ‘steel man’ haven’t been won (and the same for CRT). It is a small and organised social movement that is avoiding real debate and deliberately bypassing democratic checks and balances to inculcate the next generation, irrespective of harm to children, and in cases deliberately pushing for harm. The grooming ideologies, in particular, are trying to resolve problems that don’t exist, or if they do, do not warrant the hugely damaging intervention they are undertaking.
In loco parentis is foundational to the entire concept of state education. In the face of a movement to disrupt it and the existing equilbrium between state education and parental authority & accountability, the choices are:-

  1. Isolate and marginalise the harmful movement, restoring equilibrium.
  2. Accept radicalised gender and divisive race ideologies and the consequent harm to children.
  3. Accept gradual dissolution of state education system as parents pull children out of schools and find alternatives.

Pretty clear the first option is the only acceptable option for parents in the real-world, across the broad normal political spectrum.

S Mc
SM
S Mc
2 years ago
Reply to  Kieran Saxon

Well said!

Brian Villanueva
BV
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Kieran Saxon

No one has breached the “in loco parentis” duty of care. There is simply a disagreement about what constitutes the child’s “best interest”.

I agree with you that it’s insane. But teachers/ social workers / judges / doctors will insist they ARE acting in the child’s best interest. The entire “affirmative care” model is based on that, which is why the powerful are working so hard to suppress any evidence to the contrary.

As CS Lewis said though: “when you’re on the wrong road, the most progressive man is the one who turns around first.” Guess that makes us progressives.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

Do not assume that these people are acting in good faith. Their motives include a determination to enrage those with more conventional views. The backlash is not merely predictable, it is the object of the exercise.

Christian Filli
CF
Christian Filli
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Yep. At this point it’s hard to distinguish between good intentions and deliberate provocation. Whatever helps fuel the ‘outrage machine’ that modern media has become is fair game, and it will obviously not end well if we continue down this path.

Mechan Barclay
MB
Mechan Barclay
2 years ago

I think the point is that even “if” we were to assume good intentions, that the sex show does not provide actual proper education anyways. If they are not acting in good faith, then the outcomes(giving stupid ideas to children) can be disastrous.

Drahcir Nevarc
RC
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

*Do not assume that these racist groomers are acting in good faith. Their motives include a determination to enrage those with more conventional views. The backlash is not merely predictable, it is the object of the exercise.

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Probably true – but there are others who deliberately try to outrage those with different views. Some call it ‘owning the libs’, I believe. Are you sure you have no beams in your eye?

miss pink
miss pink
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

I agree. I think Mary is being very naïve if she thinks that these people are acting in the best interests of children. Outside groups who run sexuality and such courses in schools are frequently activists pushing their message.

Drahcir Nevarc
RC
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

“The Family Sex Show proposes “an alternative to porn”: that is, a show “offering intersectional … anti-racist … take on Relationships and Sex Education”.”
In other words it’s straightforwardly racist. Disgusting.

Penny Mcwilliams
PM
Penny Mcwilliams
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Not sure that I understand your reasoning?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

You understand it perfectly well. Stop being disingenuous. The ideology of intersectionalism and so-called anti-racism is straightforwardly racist. You don’t need this explaining to you.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago

Let me explain it in simple language.
Just like a white person believing that non Whites are inferior is racist
Similarly, “anti racism” or in other words, accusing white people of being inherently evil, responsible for “systematic racism” or being responsible for all the ills of society is racist.

Simple concept really.

Last edited 2 years ago by Samir Iker
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

She knows this perfectly well. She’s just woke-trolling.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago

Sex education is important but should also be age appropriate, pre pubescent is not age appropriate!
As I explained to my kids(teens) the reason we have an age of consent is because sex requires maturity. Sex is only consequence free when contraception is used but if it isn’t then there are still unwanted pregnancies and STI’s to deal with. Many young people still have the “it won’t happen to me!” mindset which, while important for positive risk taking, is sure sign that you’re not yet ready for sexual relations.

Richard Pearse
RP
Richard Pearse
2 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

What about moral education? Possible health or pregnancy consequences (though causing utilitarian inconveniences) do not inspire virtue (aretē – human flourishing) – what about learning courage, temperance, justice and prudence in addition to faith, hope and charity?

Jim R
Jim R
2 years ago

It seems obvious, if rarely acknowledged, that by ‘normalizing’ the progressive view of sex and gender in young children, more of them will grow up overwhelmed by the new ‘choices’, uncertain of their sex and gender and hence become members of those LGBTQ communities. Like all movements, the primary goal is to preserve and expand membership. Groomers indeed.

Julian Pellatt
C
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim R

Destruction/elimination of the nuclear family (a bedrock of western capitalism and Christian democracy), along with the ‘patriarchy’, is a cornerstone of cultural Marxist strategy in its quest for total revolution. The ‘sex-positive’ agenda attacks the very core of the nuclear family paradigm by weakening the parent-child bond.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

And to think we took away prayer from schools at one point and seek to replace it with this rubbish! A 180 degree shift.

Harry Child
Harry Child
2 years ago

Mary you need to give the names of the high ranking Labour members who supported PIE as this is a serious issue if they ever become a member of a Government. The rampant hypocrisy by Labour over party gate pales into insignificance when dealing with the future lives of young children.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Harry Child

It was principally Harriet Harperoffspring.

Jill Mans
J
Jill Mans
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Along with her husband Jack Dromey, and one-time Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
AA
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Jill Mans

Didn’t the wretched Home Office also fund PIE to the tune of £70,000?
No doubt someone received a Knighthood for his devotion to duty.

Also was that the same Dromey who claimed on his expenses for the hire of ‘heavy duty’ porn videos? Or am I thinking of someone else?

Last edited 2 years ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Jill Mans

Indeed, thanks for correcting my omission.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

I doubt I will get much approval for this but I think sex education is mostly pointless. Mostly young men and women figure out what to do and what gives each other pleasure.
We seem to be a society that believes that no-one can manage their own lives without expert guidance. I’m very sceptical about, for example, classes on consent – my suspicion is young men (in particular) realise that they need their partner’s enthusiastic consent to have a good time. Those, that don’t, probably don’t care, so a lecture on those will make no difference. Of course, there are exceptions to this but people have managed to live together since forever – hardly without trouble but with plenty of successes.
Reflecting on this, there probably is a place for a little sex education and a little discussion with adolescents about their relationships but let’s be cautious about what adults can teach children about this.

miss pink
miss pink
2 years ago

Thanks, I absolutely agree! How did the human race manage to reproduce without sex education at school, I wonder?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

Conversion therapy is always viewed as going in one way: converting homosexual children to heterosexuality. No-one ever thinks of the grand-scale conversion therapy that is being applied by educators, politicians, celebrities, and journalists to remove healthy gender roles in order to sexualize and debase children.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
2 years ago

Children do not have the ability to give informed consent as adults do. The age at which they do is debatable and the law in each country dictates that age. In most places it is over 13 and in many 16, 18 or 21 depending on the issue at stake. People who have minority sexual interests have every interest in bolstering their numbers and catching them young is the best tactic. Parents should have control until, say 18, with full disclosure of every doctrine being pushed on their children and a veto thereon. Anything else is a route to abuse.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 years ago

This article was way too generous towards the groomers. Don’t ascribe them any good intentions. They’re satanic cultists and deserve to be driven out of society, for the good of everyone.

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

As Mary recognises there are people who want to educate children about sex in terms of their ideological views who are not themselves child molesters but in their wake come those who are. She mentions the availability of contraception but not sexually transmitted disease. Contraception is not always reliable particularly if operated by the immature and any parent is bound to want to protect their children against unwanted pregnancies, disease and exploitation. The weakening of parental authority by those with an ideological agenda is inimical to that whether they are intent on personally sexually exploiting our children or not which is inherently difficult to discern.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

They say they are not child molesters

ARNAUD ALMARIC
AA
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

‘They’ were pushing for the age of consent to be reduced to four!
Even the wonderful Ancient Greeks would have thought that was obscene.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I think it should be raised to 40, by which time everyone should have lost interest

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 years ago

“… The Family Sex Show proposes “an alternative to porn”: that is, a show “offering intersectional, feminist, non-binary, anti-racist and sex-positive [sic] take on Relationships and Sex Education”.
Most taboos in Western society have been overcome by human rights legislation that favours minority interests. Child sex rights remains a taboo; but as the article suggests, ‘sex-positive’ activists are well on the way to disposing this one of very few remaining ‘no go’ areas in our ‘progressive’ democratic world. What next … incest …?

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

Indeed you highlight one of the next taboos likely to come under attack. Biologically it is unwise to produce children from a too common gene pool, but no doubt the argument will be advanced that there can be no objections to sex with siblings or your children provided contraception is used and they are all consenting adults – with adulthood being progressively defined downwards. The progressive parent may feel it is positively their duty to pass on their superior skills to their children in how to enjoy sex rather than allow them to fumble around with dubiously competent partners who do not love them as their parents do.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“parent may feel it is positively their duty to pass on their superior skills to their children in how to enjoy sex rather than allow them to fumble around with dubiously competent partners “ Pretty certain that was the justification given by Fred West’s parents and we all know how that ended.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago

And then there are those twisted pre-teen ‘beauty pageants’ that Americans seem to enjoy. Another example of gross adultification of childhood.
I feel like the Mexican president who lamented – ‘Mexico, so far from God, so close the the USA.

Sam Wilson
Sam Wilson
2 years ago

Wow. Thought provoking and challenging article. Childhood in a liberal culture is a sticky quandary, but Mary Harrington takes it head on. As repulsive as the (probably malicious) child s*x education programs are, the looming question is, “what’s the alternative?”

If right about little else, Rousseau recognized the sheer gravity and uniqueness of the question. There’s an intersection of spheres here that goes beyond other political issues like “who gets to vote?” and “how should healthcare be provided?”. Stretched to the breaking point here are the tensions between public and private convictions, between tolerance and duty, and between civilized members of society and their primal urges to parent well.

While I don’t think their pedagogical writings should be dismissed outright, it’s important to note that as bachelors and failed parents respectively, the recommendations of Locke and Rousseau should probably be taken with a grain of salt. There’s something incredibly unique about parenthood (at least as mine tell me) that in the same way that religion is only fully grasped by the believer, can only be understood by the parents themselves. Perhaps, when considering how to raise a generation, we should start with those “on the front lines”.

Last edited 2 years ago by Sam Wilson
Nunya Business
CB
Nunya Business
2 years ago
Reply to  Sam Wilson

Some could say this cedes ground that need not be ceded, but nevertheless the “alternative” is determining the appropriate age. Take for example the new Florida law which caused much Twitterati screeching. It only applied to grades K-3. Surely kindergarten is too early to be discussing a**l sex and drag queens?

Cantab Man
Cantab Man
2 years ago

Well reasoned as always, Mary.

As a parent, my goal is to help my children navigate the difficult job of growing up until their brain is fully (or nearly fully) developed which science tells us is between the ages of 20-25. This means not only helping them bandage a skinned knee or heal from a romantic relationship gone wrong, but also to hopefully guide them to minimize the negative impacts of youthful spontaneous or ‘groomed’ decisions that have lifetime repercussions (puberty blockers, addictions, dropping out of school, pregnancy, etc) until they are ready to make such weighty decisions that impact their entire lives.

Every kid is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But this is where (hopefully) evolution steps in with the love of a parent which is the best thing we have to a tailored approach for the intricacies of a child’s growing-up years.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cantab Man
Ian Stewart
IS
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

If the grooming and consequent sexual abuse of minors was a very rare event then we could accept that a practical approach to sex education for minors based on their age may be low risk.

But since the incidence of child sex abuse is just so common in our society – a significant percentage of all children, especially girls, experience abuse – we have to assume that groomers are likely to be active in our circle of activities.

Mike Hind
Mike Hind
2 years ago

Why do ideologies with roots in promoting obviously desirable outcomes always end up tending toward absolutism? My intuition is that it’s a socioeconomic dynamic. When each goal is unlocked those who promoted it need a new goal or they fade into irrelevance.

Isn’t this why Stonewall pivoted from its brilliant work to free gay people from ambient public and institutional bigotry to redefining what women and men are? Once gay marriage was accomplished they needed somewhere to go, or the funding (and their jobs) would have disappeared.

At the meta level maybe this is what the religion of Wokeness is for. Churches create material opportunities.

Wal For
WF
Wal For
1 year ago

The disingenuous notion that a 5 year old is possessed of a fully-mature ability discern reality from fantasy and can apprehend the potential consequences of an action fits hand-in-glove with the biology denialism of gender faith. The same pernicious thought that insists that a prepubescent child can make an informed decision to halt [irreversably] the development of their reproductive system denies the significance of that stage of physiological development.
Talking to kids about sexual pleasure, safety, responsibility and respect when they are moving into adulthood is appropriate. An antidote to the poisonous messaging of mainstream porn (as opposed to an “alternative” – wording which implicitly and uncritically endorses an industry that repackages the abuse of and contempt for women as normal sexuality) is urgent.
Teaching kindegarten-aged kids about polyamory and sexual identity is about as appropriate as teaching them to discern tasting notes in single malt scotch.

Ludwig van Earwig
Ludwig van Earwig
2 years ago

Australian PM Scott Morrison aptly described these “liberal groomers” as “gender whisperers”

Robert Pound
Robert Pound
2 years ago

…as did many of the now high-ranking Labour Party members

Surely the scandal of PIE was big enough as it is (it received Home Office grants from both Labour and Tory governments) without the need to make things up.
The only prominent Labour involvement in PIE was indirect: some Labour members (who later gained high rank) were involved with NCCL, which for a time had PIE as an affiliate. This does not mean, either, that those people agred with PIE’s views.
Anyway, the Labour members involved are not “now high-ranking”. On the contrary, they are all either dead, retired or in one case a backbencher who’s about to retire at the next election.
This may be a bit of text that you wrote 15 years ago but you can’t just recycle the term “now high-ranking” and expect it to remain permanently true; the clue is in the word “now”.

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Robert Pound

You make a valid point. The problem is that the current front bench have difficulty knowing what a woman is and are keen to demonstrate their virtue by kneeling in support of BLM, an ethically dubious organisation, so widespread scepticism exists that they will not be swept along with enthusiasm for yet another dubious leftist proposal that enables grooming and child abuse.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago

I am minded of the recent Jimmy Saville documentary and the sexual abuse suffered by an 11 year old girl who was frozen with what seems to me to be incomprehension at what Saville was doing.
There are, in Piagetian terms, stages to cognitive development at which teaching methodology and materials is gauged to be appropriate.
So too, IMO, for the teaching materials, concepts and methodologies involving sex and sexual behaviour etc.

Frances An
FA
Frances An
2 years ago

Ms Harrington’s realism and rationality about issues concerning sex and gender are refreshing and much needed. In the issue concerning children and sex education, the process by which we come to our conclusions is especially important and Harrington’s thought process is very clear. She despises leftist libertarians’ free-for-all approach which frames ‘sex as a kind of consequence-free leisure activity’. However, she also steers clear of the pointlessly prudish factions among the political Right by exploring different motivations for those who might support children’s sex education.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

Great essay, thank you.
There is an overarcher here which I doubt even Locke or Rousseau were aware of (although not impossible they dimly intuited some of it because Locke especially, was exceptionally bright). This is the fact that during their time and earlier, it was not possible for humanity to challenge our bio-genetic inheritance, so those humanist thinkers explored the limits of human behaviour in the context of that inheritance. The exploration of boundaries is of course the theoretical preserve of speculative thinkers, dreamers, and philosophers (or if you prefer, unproductive idiots) – until all of a sudden humanity is propelled in directions it didn’t exactly control, nor intend, driven by the trail winds of technological pressure, over a mere three centuries, the last of which at hurricane speeds, and now, boundaries swim into view all around.

Well, that’s where we are, and the question is, what comes next. Let’s rewind a bit, back to Roman times, when it was not uncommon to expose unwanted babies on the Palatine Hill, as the author has alluded when describing the absolute power parents had over their progeny. This type of behaviour was of course unexceptional across all of humanity at the time. That seems closer to one set of boundaries, those at the pitiless evolutionary edge you might find every living, breathing moment on the Serengeti – where you are half a step away from being no more than a seeming machine, designed for survival and propagation. Yet as Roman literature indicates, Roman sensibilities are completely comprehensible in our terms today. Then again, as the author has explored, we had a period of a few centuries when humanity inexorably moved away from *that* boundary, under the delusion or truth of religion (tick as you see fit). I don’t though necessarily buy the authors view this was a uniquely Christian thing (or more accurately a Judaism/Christianity/Islam thing) – one look at Hinduism/Buddhism shows the nexus of humanist ideas was more universal. It is however undeniable that the final leapfrogging strides towards technological control over our world and ourselves and our biology happened across a small number of Christian European countries. And now, within touching distance of computational replication of sentience and genetic self-reengineering, a different set of boundaries at the other end are all of a sudden in view – and boy are they uncomfortable – because they pose the very same question as before, but with an added bitter twist: are you just a machine, designed by random chance to survive and propagate, and if you can now see this, is the only way to impose your will on this pattern and mark it a lie, by self terminating? I won’t play this game any more because I’m just a pawn – and not even a pawn of someone or something? Is this where humanity, collectively, is heading?

Last edited 2 years ago by Prashant Kotak
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

Locke was a towering and shining light

ARNAUD ALMARIC
AA
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

He went to Westminster.

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
2 years ago

Which is more than can be said of Rousseau.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

“...the woman he repeatedly impregnated but refused to marry.
Someone we should all look up to for wisdom.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

“What’s perhaps less obvious, though, is that a culture of individual freedom also means defanging parental authority in general. This was tacitly acknowledged by Locke, Rousseau and the innumerable parenting pundits who have emerged by dint of writing books on how to raise ideal citizens. Each parenting manual says, tacitly, that just being the child’s parents doesn’t make you right by definition. As a parent you have to be doing it right as well, where “right” is defined by the larger project of shaping ideal citizens to enjoy freedom.”

I disagree. This is only true if we introduce a third form of authority into the equation that possesses a sufficient degree of power to define the ideal shape of society and the ideal kind of citizens that exist within it. In other words, the State. It is of course obvious that the State has in recent decades supplanted parental authority, but that is only because the State has supplanted most naturally arising civic and social institutions. It is not logically inevitable that the State must do this, merely that it has obviously happened anyway irrespective of whether or not it is a good idea.

Oliver McCarthy
Oliver McCarthy
1 year ago

Normalising perversion and stealing children’s innocence are two sides of the same coin.

R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

OK, groomer

Joe Lornett
Joe Lornett
1 year ago

Hi

Last edited 1 year ago by Joe Lornett