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THE BIG PICTURE: Sex and sensibility


Ralph Jemmott

THE BIG PICTURE: Sex and sensibility

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From an educational standpoint the recent episode involving sexual activity between two students is a legitimate cause for concern.
Schools exist to enhance not only cognitive development, but affective learning, that is, to try to promote good values, attitudes and sensibilities, to foster, in Steven Pinker’s now famous phrase “the better angels of our nature” or at least to sublimate our more animal instincts. This is done in the interest of guaranteeing some level of moral probity, without which life might become poor, nasty, brutish and short.
Human sexuality is perhaps one of the most problematic areas in life. It is problematic before it is, of course, essential to the perpetuation of the species and involves very animalistic instincts, in some ways not highly distinguishable from lower species.
However, in humans – who are ostensibly made in the image of God and possessed of a soul – sexuality can also be a reflection of love and caring, bonding and belonging. In its less adulterated forms it can reflect a genuine desire to love and be loved.
Human sexual activity therefore runs the gamut, from the sacred, to the profane, to the exploitative, to the perverse and degrading. It can be reduced to a cheap and sometimes not-so-cheap saleable commodity. Human nature being what it is, sexual activity too often reflects our baser rather than our nobler sensibilities.
 Sex is an appetite, some say second only to hunger and thirst. A friend used to say that if the creator made anything sweeter than sex, he must have kept it for himself. Like most appetites, if left uncontrolled and undirected, it can be destructive and this does not apply only to young people. Unwholesome sexual lifestyles indicate a weakness in the elderly, the most brilliant and the most highly placed. 
There are conflicting facets in every culture. Barbados, in spite of a puritan element, was always a highly profligate society, perhaps no worse than in any other part of the world. Young men (and women), in the midst of what Erma Bombeck called the “hormonal firestorm”, with testosterone and estrogen flowing like the rivers of Babylon went in search of conquests and sometimes love.
It is said that men use love, or the pretence of love, to get sex. Women use sex in the hope of being loved, sometimes finding the one but not the other. This was as true in our grandparents’ day as it is today except that the taboos of inhibition and prohibition are less efficacious.
Much of today’s sexual revolution is driven by a phenomenal evolution of the technology that is very difficult to control and through which most young people can meander with greater ease than many adults.
Clearly, it is the prime responsibility of parents to look to the psychosexual development of their children. However, let’s face it, some parents of all classes have very little to pass on. Neither parent, school, church nor society can guarantee a fail-safe way of protecting children from any social scourge, be it drugs, or sex or whatever.
We spend a lot of money on schools and must therefore not look on helplessly and witness their degradation as they perpetuate the very same pathologies they were designed to combat. To say that sexual encounters in schools have been going on for a long time and leave it at that is to ignore civic responsibility. With the technology, we have moved from furtive sexual contacts to dangerously imperilling behaviours with far-reaching individual and societal consequences.
While it is true that schools reflect society, the school must not themselves become sites for drug use, bullying and overt sexuality. As much as is humanly possible, the school, as the only compulsory agent of socialization, must hold the fort against decay and not surrender its authority to the wild-eyed liberals who have deconstructed every sacred belief we once held dear. 
People must know that when they send their children to a school, that school represents a high level of social probity, that they are not abandoning the children to clear and present dangers that might engulf them.
In dealing with bad behaviour there is a certain level of institutionalized incompetence in Barbados as a whole. Schools need to gird up their authority not only with rules, but with meaningful sanctions.
But in response to qualitative and quantitative increases in deviant conduct, we seem content simply to urge and plead and beseech rather than to punish. Attempts to sanction are met with a defence of our rights and uncivil liberties.
Following the suicide of a student as a result of Internet bullying, Wendy Craig, a leading psychologist at Kingston University in Canada, noted that in the age of Internet and Facebook, children need to be more morally engaged than ever before. To do this we must strengthen all the institutions that build moral fibre.                
• Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and social commentator.

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