Thursday 13 July 2023

We are still Puritans


My view is that if something is not illegal it ought to be permissible. So long as it harms no one else it is a matter for the people involved and no one else. The law should not be used by politicians to try to improve public health. If someone wants to drink three bottles of vodka every day, it is a matter for him. There are of course issues to be taken into account with regard to the cost of treating someone exercising his freedom to smoke and drink and take part in dangerous activities. It might be reasonable to tax cigarettes and alcohol to pay for the treatment of smokers and drinkers. But these are details. Most of us value freedom. Except on one particular issue, we remain Puritans.

Until around 1960 the only permissible sexual relationship was within a heterosexual marriage. You had to dress up in ugly clothes, take black and white pictures with relatives wearing strange hats and later that evening you were permitted for the first time to have sex so long as you were wearing curlers in your hair, had on a long pink nightgown and neither you nor your husband had any idea what you were doing and above all did not enjoy it.

Since then, gradually but increasingly we live in a world where because God is dead everything is permitted. A man who becomes a woman can claim to be a lesbian and expect to have sex with a woman who remains what she always was even though he retains his male anatomy. It is mere prejudice for the lesbian woman to object to her using her penis in the traditional manner. So too a woman who becomes a man expects to be able to have a heterosexual relationship with a woman even though two sockets are unlikely to power up the TV let alone create a baby.

Both of these circumstances would have been inconceivable to the couple fumbling with the long pink nightdress in 1959 on their wedding night.

It is hard to think of anything that is not sexually permissible today. Weird and wonderful sexual activities take place where it is not at all clear who does what to whom. Yet despite, or perhaps because of ditching nearly all of our pre 1960s Puritanism on one issue it is as if we still wear Elizabethan ruffs and wide brimmed hats.

The story of the BBC presenter paying £35,000 for dirty pictures shows all of us at our most judgemental and puritanical. The full story has not yet been told and there are aspects which are still confusing. But the police say that no crime has been committed and are not going to investigate. In that case the story ought not to have ever made the newspapers.

We live in a society where, unfortunately, due to its permissiveness underage sex between school pupils is routine. Under most circumstances the police are uninterested and will not prosecute anyone, nor indeed will parents be told. I suspect lots of 17 olds have slept with 15-year-olds without being prosecuted either. Children today are completely unlike their counterparts from 1940s British films who even as 16 and 17 olds were treated as children and expected to behave as such even if a year later they might be married.

I think it is for this reason that words like nonce are flung around in circumstances that would have baffled the people who invented the word nonce. It is because everything is permissible that we react with such hysteria to the one thing that is not permissible even as we accept that it is permissible too at least if the age gap is only a year or so.

But the law regarding the age of consent has little if anything to do with age gaps. That is merely something that we made up very lately to be puritanical about. Age gaps in human sexual relationships are historically commonplace. Catherine Howard married Henry VIII when she was around 16 years old. She may have been as young as 15. But no one at the time thought this anything unusual. Still less perverted. The Tudors would have been bemused that we thought a man could become a woman and then a lesbian while describing marrying someone of childbearing age as perverted.

The UK has age of consent laws that permit people to have sex when they are 16. There are some exceptions involving people in positions of responsibility like teachers. Indecent pictures however can only be taken of people under 18. But this means that someone who is 100 years old can have sex with a 16-year-old and can equally pay for indecent pictures of an 18-year-old.

You may disapprove of this in which case you can campaign either to raise the age of consent or to change the law so that it says for instance that it is illegal for someone 10 years older to have sex with a 16-year-old or view pictures of an 18-year-old. But then this would forbid a 70-year-old from marrying a 60-year-old.

What you cannot reasonably do is condemn someone for doing something that is not illegal because you disapprove of it. This is mere puritanism and a return of the curtain twitching of the 1950s that disapproved of people having sex outside of marriage.

Phillip Schofield was condemned and forced to resign because of a relationship that was both consensual and where both parties were above the age of consent. It matters not one little bit when he met the other person. There are any number of people who first met their wives while they were underage including Prince Philip who met Princess Elizabeth when she was 13.

It matters not one little bit how old Phillip Schofield is or what age gap there was. That is a matter for him, and the other person involved. No one else.

So too with Huw Edwards. It is sleazy to pay someone £35,000 for dirty pictures. But how that person spends the money is not the business of the person who pays it, otherwise your employer would be responsible if you bought an axe and used it to murder your wife.

If the police are not interested and do not think a crime has been committed, then either the pictures were not explicit, or the person involved was over 18 or indeed the whole story was made up. But the mere fact that no crime was committed ought to mean that there was no story.

It is nobody’s business if a married newsreader likes looking at dirty pictures of a teenager. It is nobody’s business if he has an affair. It matters not one little bit if he is more than 40 years older than anyone else involved.

We have an age of consent for a reason. I don’t believe anyone in anyway should break that law and all law breakers including children ought to be prosecuted. But that is a matter for the police. But if two people are over the age of consent, what they do with each other is their business not mine.

It may disgust you that much older men find teenage boys or teenage girls sexually attractive. You might prefer that Hollywood stars only went out with people their own age. You may deplore age gap relations, but so long as they are legal, they ought to be permissible. Who am I to condemn someone for doing something that is permissible?