Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sons and Lovers

As we come up to Mothers' Day, I thought I'd point you in the direction of two contrasting stories that have emerged this week - both about mothers' relationship to their sons, both causing a bit of a stir in the press.

Julie Myerson has hit the headlines on the back of her latest book, a reworking of the real life conflicts which resulted in her barring son Jake from the house. Should she have put all this in the public domain? The general concensus is no.

Meanwhile, Lucy Baxter is going public with a completely different problem. Her son Otto, 21, has Down's Syndrome, and as a result is finding it difficult to have the normal sexual experiences that a lad of his age wants and expects.

Now, I'm not a mother, so my insights will be limited here - but I'm far more moved, and far less outraged by the the second story than the first. It feels to me absolutely commendable - and very farseeing - that Lucy should be fighting publicly for her son's right to a happy, healthy sex life; his mother is not only doing him a good turn, but doing good for all the other physically and mentally handicapped youngsters (and oldsters) who aren't seen as sexual beings, and who are therefore denied an outlet for their passionate feelings.

The slight nose-twitching that has been going on in response to her speaking out seems to me to be utterly unwarranted. Why should Otto be penalised simply because he has a medical condition? Why should we not support him simply because he does not tally with our view of 'fit'. Why should we not see him as a sexual adult who needs and deserves the pleasure and comfort of an intimate relationship. As Lucy Baxter says, "it's society who has a learning disability" in this respect.

As for Julie Myerson? Yes, her child's drug habit is heartbreaking and everyone sympathises. But perhaps she could learn a lot from Lucy Baxter's support of her son as he tries to make that difficult transition to individuated adulthood.

And perhaps both Julie and her son should thank heaven they don't have the challenges that the Baxter family faces, day in and day out...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Naked as nature intended?

I for one will be tuning in to BBC 2's Horizon tomorrow at 9pm for a fascinating glimpse of what we sexologists consider our daily bread: nudity.

The programme will be exploring just why human beings feel embarrassed when they take their clothes off - and, by means of a series of exercises, will be attempting to lower the embarrassment factor for a group of volunteers. Apparently the exercises are so successful that at the end of the filming process, the group walks to their 'take-me-home' taxis stark naked. Gripping stuff.

Of course what interests me most here are the sex-related implications. Apparently we humans are socialised into a wariness of nudity in order to keep sexual temptation to a minimum, avoid infidelity and maintain social stability. Mmm.... I do fail to imagine everyone suddenly jumping into bed with everyone else just because the clothes are off. Nudist camps, by dint of intelligence and respect, manage not to generate daily orgies - and speaking for myself, seeing a naked man who I'm not personally involved with is a turn-off rather than a turn-on. Nevertheless, I get the point.

But I do still have a problem with the backlash that such socialisation creates in society. Because I'd be a rich woman if I had a pound for every advice-seeking letter from a reader who's hung up about their body, hung up about physical intimacy, hung up about getting naked even with the person whom they most love and desire.

Our emphasis on nudity may be keeping us all safe from making love indiscriminately - but it's also keeping us from being at ease with our bodies, and from being unembarrassed and comfortable with other people's bodies. It's also making us wary and inhibited in the very arena and in the very relationships where we should be most open, trusting and uninhibited.

Not to mention the fact that what's forbidden immediately becomes more fascinating. (I'd love to see some studies exploring whether people who are at ease with nudity are less prone to using pornography. I strongly suspect they are.)

So I'm with the Horizon group. No, I won't be walking naked to pick up the next taxi that I hail. But I'd love to live in a world where doing exactly that was entirely possible!