[Books, general > Levine]
Harmful to Minors is a controversial book that examines our cultural attitudes towards childhood sexuality
Judith Levine radio interview transcript, April 23, 2002
Catherine Lanfer: Good morning. Welcome to Midmorning. I'm Catherine Lanfer. A controversial book on child sexuality, published by the University of Minnesota Press has prompted a national debate with critics calling on Governor Jesse Ventura to try and halt the book's publication.
Author Judith Levine argues that today's youth, while bombarded with sexual images, are shielded from any real information and advice that would help them attain a healthy sexuality. But it's her contention that some sexual relationships between minors and adults can be healthy ones, but has critics, such as House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, calling for the book to be stopped.
We're going to talk today to Judith Levine. She's the author of Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex. She joins us by phone from the New York area. Good morning.
Judith Levine: Good morning.
CL: Now, you write that this book is about fear. What do you mean?
JL: I think it's a moment -- well, it's a long moment; twenty years -- we've really been gripped in a height of anxiety about children and sexuality.
We're worried about children, and I think legitimately so, because many of the public supports their families, and for children have been disappearing because of budget cuts and so on, and we've always been pretty nervous about sexuality in general and, in particular, about children's sexuality. What I show in the book, I think, is how what I call, 'The sexual politics of fear', have come to dominate our thinking about parenting, and our policy at every level.
CL: Before we get to that phrase, 'Sexual politics of fear', I want to go back to an even more basic one. What are we talking about when we talk about 'child sexuality'? Those, usually, are words that we don't like to see co-joined.
JL: Right. Very good question. Most people in America, when you say the word 'sex', they think of 'sexual intercourse'. Certainly, Bill Clinton said that, and about 90% of adults and kids will say that's what sex means. Sexuality is a fact of life from the beginning, from infancy. It means, to me, not only touching but thinking and fantasizing, the body for pleasure. Of course, there are many kinds of pleasure, going swimming or eating food, that are not sexual. But sexual intercourse is one very small part of sexuality.
CL: You say 'Sexual politics of fear'. Again, what do you mean when you throw that phrase around?
JL: In the last 20 years I'd say, people, including those who are now my detractors have, I think, exploited people's nervousness around child sexuality, to push for policies that would really kind of rid our public's face, and certainly our children's lives, of any information or images or literature about sexuality.
The most blatant example of this is Abstinence-Only Education -- the Federal Government is about to reauthorize for another half billion dollars -- kind of education which teaches kids one message only, and that is that the only appropriate and safe sexual behavior is that which takes place inside heterosexual marriage. They are also forbidden to talk about condoms or contraception, abortion or homosexuality, or sexual feelings at all.
Now, 90% of Americans have sex before marriage and more than 50% of kids -- teens -- have sexual intercourse. And of course there's a bunch of kids who are gay and lesbian. So, this kind of education leaves out most people, and the other thing it does is apparently doesn't stop kids from having sexual intercourse. When they do have it, unfortunately, they do so without condoms. And so, Abstinence-Only Education really puts our kids' lives at risk.
CL: You're accused of saying that sex between adults and children can potentially be a good thing. Give us the nuanced version of this.
JL: Okay. I never say that sex between adults and children -- prepubescent children -- can be a good thing. I don't believe it can ever be a good thing. So, charges that I am advocating or condoning, or even representing as benign, sex between adults and children, are absolutely untrue and unfair.
There are many teenagers; the majority of teen heterosexual girls, and probably gay boys, have their first sexual experiences with people who are one to three years older than them. Those people may be legal adults.
About 10% of teens, girls at least, have those experiences with people who are five more years older than them or more. Usually, they're pretty close in age; we're talking about, say, 17 and 22.
What I say is that those kinds of relationships vary. They can be anything from good to terrible and everything in between. But what I say throughout the book is that what makes sexual experiences good or bad are the conditions under which people have them. If those girls go into such relationships not empowered about their own limits or their own desires, whether if they go in feeling sort of alienated from their families, or their schools, or their communities, or their friends, then they are likely to be in great danger. But they would probably be with boys their own age as well.
So, what I'm saying is, it is not ipso facto harmful to a teenager to have a relationship with a legal adult who's a few years older than her.
CL: Alright. Now, of course, given the context of the different sex scandals that we're seeing within the Catholic church, this has led many to see that as an incendiary statement. Now, let's put it in context again.
JL: To me, the lesson of the Catholic church is this: Sexuality always happens inside of a culture; inside of a context. I mean, I think if you wanted to design a long-term study that would prove the point of my book, it would be the Catholic church.
If you have a culture that rigidly enforces ignorance about sexuality, intolerance of homosexuality, secrecy and punishment around sex, and also demands of young people absolute obedience to authority, then you are going to put kids in harm's way where sex is concerned.
We cannot tell kids, "You have to obey us about not having sex", and then expect that they're not -- you know, they're not going to obey us when somebody else after tells them they have to have sex.
So, quite the contrary, I don't think I am encouraging the kind of behavior that some priests, a few priests, in the Catholic church have been practicing. Rather, I think I am arguing for an atmosphere and an attitude opposite to what began in the Catholic church, which would be more protective of children.
CL: Alright. And what is it that you think that we are protecting children from?
JL: Well, 'we' is a question that -- we're a diverse country. What we ought to be protecting children from are, certainly the big ones, pregnancy before their time, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, and also, I think, confusion, violence, coercion, all of those kind of things. Instead, I think we are trying to protect them, number one, from exaggerated perils. Thankfully, there are not millions of pedophiles out there trolling the streets for little kids.
CL: Yeah. I'm going to stop you, because I have to say that I think that if the Catholic sex scandal wasn't going on right now, you might have more success making that argument that pedophilia isn't as rampant as we think, and yet with the media coverage, and the fact that there are those observers who say we could literally have thousands of victims; that, if you're an observer of all this, that does make you nervous--
JL: Right. Well, first of all, I think 'pedophile' is a word that's being thrown around in regard to the church that's incorrect and inaccurate. Most of those sexual experiences seem to be with teenagers, and I think that they are crimes of convenience, that if those priests were able to have relationships with adults without getting kicked out of the priesthood, they probably would do so.
So, I don't think it's like there are all of these pedophiles lining up to join the priesthood. Not withstanding the Catholic church, most scientists will say that about 4% of the population are pedophiles, and far fewer than 4% are actually acting on their desires. So, it's not a big huge peril to our kids. The chance of getting a sexually transmitted disease is way, way, way higher.
CL: I want to go back to something. You make the argument that there is the potential for a relationship between someone of legal adult age and someone who is a minor to actually be a healthy relationship, or at the very least, not to leave any lasting damage.
There are those, however, who are afraid that that puts us on a slippery slope. That even though you might be well-intentioned in making that assertion, that there are those out there who would like to advocate for pedophilia, or at the very least, for relationships that many of us find inappropriate. And they would use this as -- I think I've heard one critic say, 'Well, sure! Once you start saying that between ages 13 through 17 it's okay, and then the next thing you know, we'll bump it up to 12, and it will become younger and younger'.
JL: Yeah. Well, I don't really think there's anybody out there advocating for pedophilia. Even pedophiles are unhappy about being pedophiles. It's a compulsion that most would really be much happier not to have.
So, I do think that the repugnance that we feel about that is pretty firm in our culture, and pretty firm throughout the world and throughout history. So, this idea that we're, as the right says, 'Defining deviancy down', I just don't think it's true.
The fact is that teenagers have sexual lives, and that a fair number of them, probably millions every day, are actually involved in what would legally be called statutory rape situations. Most kids, you know, if that were so harmful, we would see a lot more sexual misery among teenagers. So, my tendency would be to look at this from a child welfare standard rather than a kind of criminal standard.
And what I mean by that is, let's look at each case. Let's not drag everybody into court. If a young teen is having a relationship that is harmful to her in the view of her parents and other adults, then let's deal with what's going on in that kid's life, because I think that sex is more a symptom than a cause.
CL: [... Explains ands asks for reactions ...]
CL: We've got Judith Levine back up on our phone here. Judith Levine? We've got a lot of phone calls here. Let's try and take some of them. JL: Okay.
CL: Let's go to Mary, who's calling us from Minneapolis. Hi, Mary. Mary: Hi. How are you? CL: I'm okay. M: I've not yet read the book. It sounds very intriguing. What I'm calling about is that I think there is a definite part of society that belongs to NAMBLA, and finds it perfectly acceptable to espouse sex with six-year-old boys. CL: Let's explain what NAMBLA is. M: Oh. Sorry. CL: That would be the North American Man/Boy Love Association. M: Because it's the Man/Boy Love Association, and one of the priests, mentioned in the New York times, of course, was an active member of NAMBLA in the Catholic scandal. And so, the comment by the earlier caller that all of society finds this repugnant, or something to that ilk, I think that's not the case. And I've gotten into rather vivid arguments with a couple friends who are active members of NAMBLA, and I'm intrigued to ask what the author thinks about that group and that position. CL: Alright. Thanks. JL: Thanks, Mary. Yes, you're right, I misstated that nobody thinks this is a good idea. NAMBLA is a small group, and you're right, they do espouse sex between adults and even young children.
I think they're wrong, but you know, in a democracy, we allow even minority opinions that we hate to be spoken. So, the question to me would be whether those people are actually going out and doing anything about it.
Again, pedophilia represents a very, very small number of people. And so, what I'm saying is, I don't think that reading propaganda that would support doing this is going to make anybody, who didn't otherwise want to do it, go out and do it, and I think that the weight of societal values is really, really against it. CL: What do you think we teach kids about desire? JL: Nothing. We teach them that it's dangerous, it's pathological, it's criminal, it's going to get you pregnant -- or, in fact when you read the Abstinence-Only curricula, it tells kids that it's harmful in many, many ways; everything from depression to death is going to be what you get from desire. And also, we teach them that if you desire, it's sort of an automatic slide down into behavior.
People can think and fantasize and do a little bit of sexual behavior. I think we really need to teach kids how to go slow and know their limits, and not do stuff before they're ready for it. They certainly learn restraint in many parts of their lives. CL: What and why do we need to teach kids about sexual pleasure? JL: Sex is valued very highly in our society. You know, as much as we think of ourselves as puritanical, we also see sex as kind of the sine qua non of adult fulfillment and maturity. And so, for better or worse, we value it a lot. Our society is just filled with all kinds of sexual images all over the place, and I think we even, as a nation, like pleasure. We invented the double fudge brownie and rock n' roll music.
Pleasure's a good thing! I mean, you know, in moderation, pleasure is great. So, if we are going to expect kids to grow up into sexually healthy and happy adults, I don't think we can expect them to just, you know, start at the age of 18, or 21, or whatever it is, without ever learning anything about their own bodies and their own feelings. CL: What prompted you to work on this book?
JL: Well, a few things. I've been writing about sexuality for about 25 years. And I think that debate, fears, and many of our big assumptions about sexuality are expressed and enacted through politics and practices around child sexuality. I think that the mantle of protection to children has been used by conservatives to perpetuate, to promote a much bigger agenda about kind of cleaning up our society. And again, I think that sexuality is such an important part of our lives -- it's an important part of our lives for youths as well as for adults -- that, to me, it was really important to speak up for it, and not always to think about it as a problem.
CL: Let's go to Alexandria, calling us from Chokio. Alexandria? Welcome to Midmorning. Alexandria: Hi. How are you doing? CL: Okay. A: I'm just calling to say, you know, I don't advocate pedophilia or pederasty -- I think it's terrible -- but I know this book, and I really wanted to back her up as that humans are sexual creatures.
To disallow or shame our children about sex creates a really dark idea about something that's absolutely natural. And for centuries, other cultures have expected older people in the family, or outside the family, to aid children or people of younger ages about sexuality.
And as well, our bodies reach sexual maturity between 12 and 16. And the Netherlands allow 12 and 16-year-olds to say, "Hey, I want to have a relationship with this older person", and parents can't stop it if a child wants it. And our culture not only ignores the fact that our bodies are sexually mature. Our mind and bodies are sexually mature. But we make people- CL: Now Alexandria, I'm going to stop you for a minute, because a 12-year-old is not necessarily sexually or emotionally mature. A: Well, I'm giving an age range.
CL: But even a 16-year-old, I think we can argue, is not necessarily emotionally mature. A: I would probably say that most American people from the age of 12 to 25 are not emotionally mature. CL: Well, okay. There we go. A: But I think that what I'm talking about is that if we shame people into it -- because they're going, "Even if you're 12, you're not emotionally mature", may have very intense sexual emotion, sexual feelings.
So what I'm saying is that if we put everything in the dark, then these sexual urges are become shameful. And if we have a place where we can learn and be open about these things, then they're going to grow up and not feel ashamed of these things that they're just struggling with. CL: Okay. Judith Levine? JL: Yeah. Thank you, Alexandria, for your comments. I agree with you, Catherine, that people between 12 and 16 are not, you know, completely mature.
There was some study of 300,000 people of all ages and they found that they are operating on an average maturity age of 16.
But sexuality, just like everything else; it's part of growing up, and so you gradually learn it. You gradually learn to deal with those feelings. You gradually learn to deal with your body.
I think that's the way we need to approach it, and I would say that there are two principles involved here that need to be balanced.
And so, we balance this respect for them with protection of them, and as in all child-rearing, that balance is going to shift toward autonomy, away from kind of watching over them and knowing better as they get older. And the best way to protect them is to prepare them for the autonomy that, eventually, they are going to have.
CL: Let's go to Chuck, calling us from Eagan. Chuck, welcome to Midmorning. Chuck: Hello. CL: Hi. C: I just wanted to say that I can really relate to what the author's trying to say. My family totally discouraged any kind of talk about sexuality. It was thought of as an evil thing; you weren't supposed to do it, it was bad. And we just didn't talk about it.
And I was sexually abused several times by babysitters -- actually, three different ones. I couldn't talk about it, and it turned out I wound up enjoying it. I wound up having this double life, and developed into a sex addict. I'm now in recovery, thankfully, but I think things would have been much different, had my family and the community I lived in which, early on -- we were Catholic.
We weren't after about 10 or 12 -- but if they'd been much more open to talking about it and considering it a normal part of life, and teaching me the difference between good and bad, I think I had some very serious consequences because of that.
JL: Thanks, Chuck, for calling. I got a very moving email from a women named Charlotte Vale Allen, who is the author of Daddy's Girl. It was one of the first memoirs of abuse -- and it's sold, I think, probably millions of copies since then -- but Charlotte said to me, she herself was the victim of long-term aggravated sexual abuse. She said, "I firmly believe that an educated child is a child who has a chance of protecting herself against sexual abuse." CL: You are saying in your book that the parents tend to worry about the wrong things -- or at the very least they have misplaced concerns -- that they think there's an epidemic out there of, say, of pedophilia, or Internet porn, etc.
You decided this example of this woman who said, "Children need to be educated so they can protect themselves against abuse", but my understanding is you think that we worry too much about that particular kind of abuse. I mean, how many kids do we know- JL: Well, you know, it's really hard to know how many kids are being abused because the definitions are so wide. They're broad. Any amount of sexual abuse is too much. I am trying to put in perspective how much sexual abuse there is out there. That is not at all to minimize the pain that a child might go through undergoing such a thing and having to recover from it later in life.
So, I'm not saying we should never worry about sexual abuse. I do think we should worry more about incest than we should about strangers, because that's what the statistics show us. CL: We're talking to Judith Levine. [ ... explains, invites ...]
CL: Among the many critics of this book is Robert Knight. He's the director of the Culture & Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America. He joins us by phone right now. Mr. Knight? Welcome to Midmorning. Robert Knight: Well, thank you for having me on. CL: Now, what prompts you to say that this book is evil? That seems like a very strong assertion. RK: Yeah, well, I've read the book, and it makes the case that consent can be given by children in terms of sexual relationships with each other and with adults. CL: Now, I'm going to stop you right there, if only because I had to make Judith Levine go through the same definers. When you say children, what age groups are you talking about?
RK: I would say minors. Say, under 16. This isn't just a legal issue. We're talking about varying degrees of maturity in the part of children, but you know, the law does have to draw a bright line at some point. And states have varying laws governing age of consent. CL: All right. So- RK: But I'm talking about mainly children. I would say prepubescent, maybe just slightly post-pubescent. CL: But we just talked- RK: Certainly not 17 or 18. I'm talking about 16 and under. CL: Okay, well -- and just to make sure that we're clear -- because in talking to Judith Levine, she's made it very clear that we're talking about children, and when those under the age of 12, she's not making the assertion that it's good for them to have a sexual relationship with someone older.
RK: Well, not someone older. She does encourage them to masturbate, to have sex with each other, to touch each other, to explore sexual topics; in other words, to sexualize these kids before they really know the importance of sexuality. CL: Well- RK: One reason we've always protected children is because sex is not just another human activity. It has profound lifelong consequences from new life to sexually transmitted diseases, to the formation of families. I mean, it's at the heart of morality itself. CL: I'm going to make sure I under- RK: She trivializes morality in this book.
CL: Well now, hey, and Mr. Knight, we'll give her a chance to respond in a moment here, but I just want to make sure I understand. You're saying that, for instance, you think that it is morally evil to say that it's alright for a child under the age of 12 to masturbate? RK: I think it's morally evil to encourage children to masturbate, because it gives them a false sense of what sexuality is about. This runs entirely against the Judeo-Christian view of sexuality as an important component of life, but one that is still governed by moral disciplines, and is best activated within marriage.
In fact, it's the only place where it's really safe is within marriage, because outside marriage, you're risking not only physical harm, perhaps an unwanted pregnancy -- the risk of abortion -- but all sorts of emotional damage. CL: Now, and I'm going to stop you- RK: I mean, when people have sex early, they've got all those phantom lovers in their heads, and that's one reason we've had so much marital break-up in this country is that early introduction to sex before people are ready.
CL: Okay. Mr. Knight, you say that the really only good place for sexuality is within a marriage. I guess that would lead us to ask, what about people who aren't allowed to get married? What about gays and lesbians, for instance? RK: Well, I believe homosexuality is inherently unhealthy and immoral, so, we shouldn't be encouraging anybody, if they have desires in that direction, to go ahead and act out.
You know, this idea that 'because you have an appetite for something, you're entitled to act it out' is one of our modern myths. If that were true, we'd be living in chaos. In fact, we're approaching sexual chaos, as the Internet's flooded with pornography, as you see more and more sexuality and foul language on television.
Most parents aren't worried about too much censorship as Ms. Levine worries about. Most are worried about shielding their children from this predatory culture that is openly sexualizing their kids and encouraging kids to explore sexuality, and without any regard to the people on the fringe who will be put over the edge by this.
You know, just because you see some sexual thing and don't go out and rape somebody doesn't mean it doesn't have a profound effect on you.
Research by Donnerstein, University of California, Santa Barbara, showed that teenage boys seeing run-of-the-mill porn films were far less likely to think rape was a big deal, and much more likely to think women really wanted to be raped. They got a completely different, wrong view of women's sexuality from pornography. CL: But I would argue that this book is not a porn film, Mr. Knight. RK: No, but it takes a pro-pornography stance and ridicules any what it calls censorship of pornography. CL: Mr. Knight? Where in the book, exactly, is it pro-pornography?
RK: The whole book is pro-pornography. I mean, have you read the whole book? CL: I have been able to read large portions of the book, and I guess my question to you would be, have you read the whole book? Because all the interviews I- RK: Yeah, certainly have. CL: All the interviews I read with you say that you have 'thumbed through it', which I have empathy for, by the way, but- RK: Since then, I have actually read the book, cover to cover. CL: Okay, great. Great. RK: Because I think I owe Ms. Levine that. CL: Okay. Well, speaking of Ms. Levine, I'd like to give her a chance to respond here. Judith Levine?
JL: Well, it's hard to respond, because I probably disagree with almost everything that Mr. Knight has said, but I would focus on one thing: His contention, and that those of others who agree with him, is that children and teens would not otherwise be sexual if we weren't sexualizing them or encouraging them -- those are the words that he used -- to be sexual, that is, through advertising and media, or through violence and coercion.
Throughout the world, and certainly every single scientist and child development expert and psychologist, and I would say parent, who's ever seen a child or known a child, understands that children are sexual.
Kids don't need to be encouraged to masturbate, they masturbate! Masturbation is probably the most universal behavior that is the most universally reviled. Kids go through all kinds of hell and pain and worry because they think they're sinful or bad or sick if they masturbate. Everybody does it.
The other thing I would say is that I think you can get an idea of Mr. Knight's worldview, but I think I might say a few things about Concerned Women for America. The organization was founded in the 80s to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment for women, it has run a long campaign against the teaching of what they called 'The lie of evolution' in public schools; it's also campaigned against the so-called 'Gay agenda', and says that gay teachers become teachers so they can molest children. And most important to our discussion, it has been among the primary opponents of comprehensive sexuality education.
That's the kind that 90% of American parents say they want for their kids, the kind that talks about everything.
In attacking SECUS, which is the main advocate for comprehensive sex education, CWA said that SECUS "Promotes promiscuity, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, incest, and pedophilia". So, in their view, all sex educators are advocates of pedophilia. CL: [... explains ... invites ...]
CL: Now, Mr. Knight? Ms. Levine? We're going to go to some calls now. We have David-
RK: Well, I think I ought to be able to respond, because she attacked my organization pretty harshly. CL: Well, then we'll go ahead and we will give you a chance to do that. Oops. There we go. Sorry about that, Mr. Knight. RK: Hello? CL: You're back on the air. RK: Okay. Concerned Women for America is a conservative Christian women's organization. I think you grossly misrepresented some of the organization's positions. But what I will say is that, in fact, Concerned Women for America is for the traditional view of sexuality; that it's a God-given thing, it's to be exercised between husband and wife, and that when it gets outside marriage, it hurts people.
Concerned Women for America does oppose homosexuality as a moral problem and also physically. It's very dangerous. The medical textbooks and studies are full of the dangers of homosexuality, especially for men.
And for SECUS and Planned Parenthood, and the organizations that Ms. Levine traces as her pedigree in terms of views of sexuality, they're promoting all this stuff and ignoring that millions of people are coming down with sexually transmitted diseases.
When you mention 'Comprehensive sexuality education', and saying that Concerned Women for America attacks that, boy, you're right, because that education basically says, 'all kids are going to do it, so let's give them condoms and teach them safe sex'.
And that has resulted in several million girls every year getting human patholoma virus, which is incurable. Condoms don't do a thing against it. Repeat: They don't do a thing to halt human patholoma virus, and all cases of cervical cancer are traced to human patholoma virus that kills five thousand women a year. CL: Mr. Knight? I'm afraid- RK: Now, how can you- CL: Mr. Knight? Mr.- RK: -defend the kind of- CL: Mr. Knight? I'm so sorry, but I need us to stay on track here. We're discussing a particular book. I'd like you to at least stay focused here. And if you could very, very quickly, just tell us succinctly, what are the dangers of this book as you see it? RK: Okay. I think it grossly misrepresents sex education. It quotes a number of pro-pedophilic authors, merely identifying them as sexologists and psychologists, but they've been promoting sex with kids for years, out of journals out of the Netherlands.
She seems to see no limits to sexuality of any kind, with kids or with adults, you name it. The age of 12; most parents can't see their 12-year-olds having a sex relationship with an adult, but Judith Levine's saying, "Well, as long as the child consents, there's no harm done and we can't prove there is." CL: All right, now, I'm sure that we could continue this debate with assertion and counter-assertion. I would like to weave in some callers. So, Mr. Knight, Ms. Levine, we are going to go now to John in Minneapolis. John, welcome to Midmorning.
John: Thank you very much. My question is in regard to this book -- I have not actually read the text -- but, is it meant to be viewed a textbook for parents? For kids? I mean, who's the target market on this book? CL: All right. Well, let's go to Ms. Levine. JL: Hi, John. The book was written as a trade book for parents, for teachers, for policy makers, psychologists; one of the people who reviewed it said that she thought that teens should read it, too. So, it's written in a popular style, it's not a textbook at all. CL: All right. RK: Yeah, I'll have to agree with that.
CL: I'm going to go to David in Richfield. David, welcome to Midmorning. David: Hi. Good morning. Was a very level-headed discussion until just recently, but I find that the whole premise of this book is good in promoting good talk around what people do, irregardless of what we as parents would like our kids to do, and I find it interesting that we're having an argument with someone who espouses a religious objection to sex, when indeed, most of the ancient religions viewed their children -- or what we would call children -- as adults, at for example, age 13. And now, suddenly, this has become very wrong, because of our puritan attitudes in this country.
So, I'm really enjoying the healthy part of this discussion and would appreciate further comments. CL: All right. JL: It's interesting what you said about children, and how children have been viewed in different times of history. One of the things that my book tries to take apart is what we think what is a child.
And indeed, the idea that the child is this kind of distinct creature, who is innocent of all sexuality, is a pretty new concept, historically -- it's only about 150 to 200 years old -- and, you know, in the 17th century, at 7 you could be a scullery maid, at 13 you could be married, at 14 you'd be a soldier, and at 18 you'd have kids, and by 40 you'd be dead. So, we have extended, I think, the period of childhood further and further and further, and in America, I think we do it longer than they do it in Europe even, where I think kids are less sort of infantilized than they are in the United States.
Robert Knight again
CL: Let's go to Robert Knight, quickly. Mr. Knight? RK: Well, first, I'd like to answer the gentleman who called in.
This mischaracterization of my position as being 'against sex' is nonsense. We're not against sex. We think it's wonderful. It's a gift from God. It's best experienced between husband and wife, and outside that, it creates all sorts of problems. It's at the heart of family life, to channel it into marriage. Different cultures have approached it differently, but all cultures, you will find a marital component, because they know that that is the source of kinship, social stability -- the best environment to raise children.
We protect children from sex not because they're not interested in it at all unless we teach them -- of course kids will have a natural curiosity -- but we know that sex has huge consequences, and that children cannot possibly understand those implications.
That's why we have an age of consent. That's why we try to shield our children from premature exposure to sexuality. I don't see anything out there on the scientific horizon that is credible that says it's okay to expose kids to sexuality without any restraints and it'll be good for them. The only thing you will see that poses that presentation is the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which Ms. Levine quotes in her book with that attribution until you get to the footnotes- JL: No, I do not. RK: -in support of that idea that kids ought to learn sex early. CL: I think that's a mischaracterization. We're going to go to Kevin in Mankato. Kevin, welcome to Midmorning.
Kevin: Good morning. CL: Hi. Kevin: My question is for the author about what we were just talking about in terms of -- I see this issue in a larger cultural context outside of just sexuality involving keeping children in the dark about a lot of different things until about the age of 25, and extending the age of childhood until about 25, and I'm interested in your comments on that. I'll take my answer off the air. CL: Okay, thanks. JL: It's kind of an interesting contradiction at the moment which is that, on one hand, there is an attempt, I think, to sort of keep kids ignorant and infantilize them and not give them responsibility or obligations as citizens, and at the same time, of course, kids are availed of every kind of knowledge, of every kind of media, because the mass media cannot segregate audiences by age.
And so, in some ways, I think kids -- not only around sexuality, but around the marketplace, around war, around commerce, around work -- are more like adults than they have been for centuries. At the same time, we're trying to keep them very distinct and different from adults. So, history is sort of working at loggerheads with ideology.
Robert Knight interrupts
RK: We're trying to protect children from the surge in pornography that's flooding the air waves and the Internet. And, by the way, I don't think it's impossible to differentiate audiences.
Television used to do it for years; made sure that sexually explicit or even indecent imagery and language was kept off when children were most likely to be watching. They just dispense with that and gave up, and said, 'Aw, the heck with it. We're going to sexualize kids whether parents like it or not. It's up to them to turn the television off.'
I think that makes Hollywood a very irresponsible actor in our community. CL: We are talking to Robert Knight, director of the Culture & Family Institute. That's an affiliate of Concerned Women for America -- conservative Christian group. We're also talking to Judith Levine [... etc. ... invites to call ...]
We're going to go to Mike. He is calling us from St. Louis Park. Mike, welcome to Midmorning.
Mike & again Robert Knight
Mike: Yeah, good morning. I would first like to offer the argument that Mr. Knight had said that some of these views in the book do not coincide with the Judeo-Christian view of sex. I don't think that the Judeo-Christian view of sex should enter into our laws.
I think that we're a society of humans, and that most people agree that religion is not the way to base our societal rules, because it obviously creates a problem.
But I'd like to talk about a relationship I have. I'm a 19-year-old college student. My girlfriend is 17, and we are sexually active. And I think that both of us were ready for that. It brings a great deal of happiness to us, and I'd just like to say that I take a bit of offense at Mr. Knight saying that such a relationship outside the context of marriage would almost definitely be damaging in way. I find it very fulfilling for both of us. RK: Well sex is fun, there's no doubt about it, but whether you go on- M: Well, no, that's not what I said- RK: Whether you go on to marry this girl, it really shows whether you really respect her or not, because otherwise you've got one foot out of the relationship when you're cohabiting, or just having sex with a person. You're not making a lifelong commitment, and that's what will eventually lead to greater happiness. I mean, don't you want to have a family someday and have kids? M: No, actually. Neither of us want to have kids at any point. And I- RK: Well, you're 19 now. That may change when you're 25. M: Oh, I recognize that. RK: You never even evaluate any-
Levine & Knight
JL: Can I interrupt here? M: I don't think that the- CL: Shh! JL: I'm 49, and I've had a relationship for ten years; a very long, committed relationship. We are not married. My partner and I intend to stay together for the rest of our lives, so we help us take care of our parents and each other's homes and lives and community and work.
I am as committed to this man as any married person, and I also resent being told that my relationship is less committed or less meaningful because I don't have a marriage license. RK: Well, all I'm saying- CL: I need to interject here. Excuse me, Mr. Knight. I just want to interject. Judith Levine, here we have a 19-year-old who's with a 17-year-old. Is this what you're talking about when you- JL: I'm really happy to hear from him, because- RK: No, they're older. JL: -because I think one of the main points of my book is, let's listen to young people about their real lives. It sounds to me like he has a happy and healthy relationship with his girlfriend.
He says he's committed to her; I believe him. We need to listen to kids and not just tell them what they think and what they feel, and those people who balance their own adult perspective, which is, of course, very important. That's why we guide kids. That's why we educate kids. That's our obligation with listening to them and their real experiences. So, thanks so much for calling. RK: Every time I hear the moral rules being broken, the standards being lowered, it's always, "Let's listen to the kids and have them tell us what they know."
It's as if older people haven't acquired any wisdom over the years. JL: Didn't I just say that we have an obligation to guide them? RK: Well, then why should we guide them if they already know where they're going? I think we have an obligation to teach them, and what you're saying is, "Let's leave it up to them to make their own choices, largely. We might be guides, but we certainly can't tell them what's right from wrong." JL: Yes, we can. RK: I think parents, in particular, have an obligation to tell the difference between right and wrong. In schools, in drug programs, they don't tell kids, "Here. You have a choice between toking up or dropping acid or doing what you want. We'll give you the pros and cons, but it's up to you to decide whether you're going to get into drugs or not." We tell them it's wrong. We know it's going to hurt them.
When it comes to sex, we've seen many people hurt by premature exposures to sex. We've seen millions of children aborted as a result of sexual experimentation, and yet we're told we should just leave it up to the kids -- maybe guide them a little, but let them explore their own feelings and desires. This is a recipe for disaster. CL: Mr. Knight? We need to get a few more calls while we have time here. We're going to go to Pedro in Minneapolis. Welcome to Midmorning.
Pedro: Hi. CL: Hi. P: I was kind of saddened listening to this. I'm a pretty conservative Christian. I guess what I'm saying is that it doesn't have to be, "Sex is bad". It's not like that. My mom raised me with a really healthy attitude toward sex and it was for marriage, but not at all scared of it or that it was bad, but that it was for marriage and it's beautiful. Very open about it. And I guess I was kind of disappointed with -- I can't remember his name -- the guy here against -- I guess he's speaking for me- RK: I just think sex ought to be in marriage. P: But you should've came prepared -- I'm sorry -- but you should've came prepared. Saying, "She says this, she says this". Well- RK: I've read her book. P: Give some page numbers and say, "This is where she says it. Right here. Quote. And here in the footnote it says, quote, page 173".
You know what I mean? But sex doesn't have to be, "It's bad". I mean, I had a really healthy -- growing up with sex, and I was a virgin until I was married, and to me it wasn't -- I don't know, it wasn't a bad thing.
And then one more thing about, 'The kids are going to have sex anyway'. Well, kids is having as much sex as before, because you see, all these kids with kids now -- were there that many illegal abortions going on? Or because you say they're going to have sex anyway, but where were the kids? JL: There are as many abortions in countries that have illegal abortion as those that have legal abortion. The difference is that women who have abortions in countries that prohibit it tend to die from them.
Robert Knight interrupts again
RK: But in the United States, there were very few abortions before it was legalized in 1973- JL: Not true at all. There were many abortions, and there were many deaths from abortions. RK: There weren't over a million a year. I don't think you can validate that. People generally- JL: There was a high proportion of women dying from illegal abortions. RK: There were a few- JL: And then there was also a high incidence of teen marriage. In the 1950s, America had the highest number of teen marriages of any country in the industrialized world. CL: I'm- JL: I think you might be able to look at those and say that's why we had so much divorce in the 60s and 70s. CL: And I'm afraid that I need to interject here. We have run out of time for both of you. Robert Knight, I appreciate you coming on this morning and giving us some of your time. RK: Thank you, Catherine. CL: Robert Knight is director of the Culture & Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America.
Judith Levine, I thank you for your time this morning. JL: Thank you.