PEOPLE & THINGS: Sexual maturity (I)
By Peter Wickham | Sun, July 15, 2012 - 12:00 AM
The circumstances surrounding the “dismissal” of Reverend Charles Morris two weeks ago speak volumes about the level of “spiritual maturity” in this island of ours.
That issue requires a separate treatment. However, on this occasion, an effort will be made to speak to the issue of “sexual immaturity” which is a close cousin of the spiritual variety and equally as dangerous.
Some weeks ago, I presented these ideas to the Barbados Family Planning Association’s annual general meeting and I am happy now to share similar perspectives with the NATION’s family.
The term sexual maturity is normally associated with the stage in the life of an organism when it can reproduce. However, this is a more physiological definition that prioritises the changes in the organism’s structure and make-up which allows it to either facilitate conception or carry offspring. This definition is important, but to my mind it ignores the fact that as humans we are very special organisms.
In addition to being at the top of the food chain, we are also unique organisms, in that we also have sexual intercourse for reasons other than procreation. Indeed, the reality is that we often have more intercourse that is not in pursuit of procreation.
To this reality is added the fact that we tend to attach emotions to our acts of intercourse in a way that is also unusual in the animal kingdom. We therefore love and are loved and, while a few other species do that as well, it would be agreed that emotional attachments are somewhat rare within the animal kingdom and we are therefore unique.
Sexual maturity therefore needs to be seen as a much broader concept and one that goes beyond the physiological and speaks to the sociological. It is as much about the individual’s ability to reproduce as it is about the social implications of that individual’s desire to have sexual intercourse.
Moreover, it is about that individual’s desire to have sexual intercourse and the impact this desire will have on the broader society, for better or worse, good or bad. This conception appreciates the fact that when two individuals have intercourse, it can have implications for several people who are not in that room but bear the consequences of their sexual act.
As societies evolve, the concept of societal sexual maturity also evolves and it is therefore not surprising that globalization has impacted on this phenomenon as well. As such, we see the way in which sexual relations between individuals across borders have had social implications in both their “home” countries and in many instances, in third countries. We therefore cannot speak about sexual maturity if we don’t appreciate the extent to which this concept is local, regional and international. Our appreciation of the concept therefore has to be in sync.
In an effort to address the reasons why there is a need for sexual maturity, the AIDS crisis is a good place to start since it could easily be argued that this pandemic is at the stage that it is now, largely because we have been sexually immature for such a long time.
We know that HIV/AIDS can be spread in ways other than through sexual contact, but we are also aware of the fact that in most instances sexual contact is the source of the problem.
If one examines the statistics on HIV/AIDS prevalence among people in the 15-49 age group in a few countries, the case becomes clear. At the higher end, there is the case of Uganda which has an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 6.5, while the rate in Barbados is 1.4. At the lower end of the scale are countries such as the United States and Britain where the rates are 0.6 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively.
Although there are obvious socio-economic factors that separate the countries mentioned and we appreciate the extent to which socio-economic conditions impact on HIV/AIDS, there is also one factor that distinguishes Uganda from Britain and, to a lesser extent, Barbados.
To my mind, this factor is a lower level of sexual maturity that is also prevalent across Africa and, to a lesser extent, the Caribbean.
In Britain and the US, a higher level of sexual maturity has resulted in HIV/AIDS prevalence rates that are generally less than “1”. One can find no better example of Ugandan sexual immaturity than the 2009 Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill which was intended to prohibit any form of sexual relations between people of the same sex and prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations. This bill is colloquially known as the Kill The Gays Bill.
I refer to this as an example of sexual immaturity because it attempts to regulate an aspect of human sexual behaviour which is normal, natural and clearly popular, by the imposition of draconian legislation intended to “stamp out” such practices. The motivation for this legislation is not relevant at this stage, but it is important to point out that this bill attempts to speak to a highly irrational aspect of human behaviour which is our emotional self.
Fundamentally, the bill attempts to regulate who gay people like, love and have sex with and is akin to telling a white person that he should not have sex with a black person. The illogic of this type of legislation is profound and provides a perfect example of the type of societal impact that sexual immaturity has in Uganda, with one of the highest prevalence rates in the world. Clearly, the entire society pays a price when we are sexually immature.
Another example is presented by the Catholic Church which has maintained a consistent policy against contraception. It weighed in early on the HIV/AIDS crisis by arguing that condoms did not prevent AIDS and would therefore not be “encouraged” among its membership.
The Catholic Church’s position on sexual issues is fascinating since Catholics are expected to take advice on sexual behaviour from a person who has no medical training and who, more important, has never had sex. It is also interesting that the Catholic’s Church’s position seems to have little impact on Italians who are as sexually liberal as their Western European neighbours.
In contradistinction, we have the Nigerian case where people such as the Archbishop of Kadunan Diocese say: “The church will continue to believe that the indiscriminate use of condoms encourages promiscuity and aggravates the situation.”
He is of course speaking in a country with a prevalence rate of 3.6 and in a way that one could argue is most irresponsible.
In fairness, the position of the Catholic Church has evolved somewhat and now Pope Benedict XVI is willing to condone condom use for male prostitutes, but not yet for sexually active heterosexuals who are perhaps in the greatest need of such protection.
• Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).
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