Monday, 2nd May 2022
Why do some people think it is okay to “early sexualise” children?
Why do some people think it is okay to “early sexualise” children?
Educating children on healthy relationships, understanding consent, what’s appropriate and how to treat people is of primary concern to me. As a society, I believe we need to offer clear protection and support, and share key education and innovative awareness to current demographics and other vital sectors of society, thus ensuring the sensible prevention of child sex abuse/ exploitation.
I am genuinely concerned by the unconcerned ignorance of some, especially those in power, regarding the conversation of child sexual exploitation. If you read my recent article for ManDad Media about MPs Khan and Blunt, you will get a feel for my thoughts on this; no consideration is ever given to the developing young adult and the broken life they will have to live because of the atrocities they have endured by their abuser. As I have said before, I don’t care who you are; when it comes to sexually abusing children, there needs to be zero tolerance and instant dismissal.
I have seen the collateral damage that the early sexualising of children can do. Because of this, I focus on key messages, personal experiences and blogs that can provide new thought processes and angles to this conversation.
Reducing child sex abuse (CSA) and child sexual exploitation (CSE) needs an army of people. Currently, this army relies heavily on survivors and a few allies – it needs to be the other way around, but sadly due to the uncomfortable nature of this conversation, it seems that we could have a long wait. Over the last few years, I have really noticed that allies only talk to me about CSA when they have been directly affected by it, then they join the growing army of survivors that are scattered around the world. Allies will only grow in number when the topic becomes a more open conversation.
Children need to be children, growing up with good, healthy experiences – the foundations that will underpin their future. With ever-growing societal pressure on children, relinquishing that foundation in the name of taboo, ignorance, and lack of interest will significantly affect generations to follow.
With all of this in mind, I was genuinely shocked when I learnt about the ThisEgg theatre company. They were to perform The Family Sex Show at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May. I have taken some time to digest, absorb and pinch myself regarding the realities of this production which TheEgg say on their website is ‘a fun and silly performance about the painfully AWKWARD subject of sex, exploring names and functions, boundaries, consent, pleasure, queerness, sex, gender and relationships for ages 5 years +’.
5 years!! I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer ignorance of the description they share on their website.
I have tried to contact Josie Dale-Jones (who calls herself ThisEgg) and Tobacco Factory Theatres to find out more, but no one wanted to speak to me – funny that! I am an ex-professional dancer, the Founder of a Performing Arts School and a charity that is setting up to reduce child sex abuse. I truly believe children need to express themselves, learn, grow and develop confidence, self-belief, and determination in a safe environment. Still, I cannot for the life of me comprehend why you would want to do this through masturbation [the show discusses masturbation and include nudity]. I would be very interested to know how Josie came to the decisions she made and any facts or evidence behind her research because at 49 years old, with over 30+ years in this industry, and with a lifetime of personal experiences, never have I thought it would be a good idea to engage children in this kind of theatre. Children need to be children and develop that vital foundation of learning.
Thankfully the production was eventually cancelled after protestors made a lot of noise about the inappropriateness of it. However, behind closed doors, there have been private performances, as journalist, Sonia Poulton has discovered and shared. Sonia has been following this case for a long time and in doing so has been raising awareness on Twitter and Brand New Tube. She was recently told by 5 eye-witnesses that there were children in attendance at a private showing of The Family Sex Show in Bath.
The safe-guarding issues around this show are mind-boggling, and I have question after question circling in my thoughts. If children are being used as performers – How did any council support child licensing for such a show? Were the cast all subjected to DBS checks? Where were the parents of the child performers? What about the audience? Who was vetting them? This genre of production attracts paedophiles and those wanting cheap thrills. Normalising this behaviour on stage for children as young as 5 will not only contribute to difficulties with early sexualisation but potentially develop sexual offenders as they learn to enjoy something their brains can’t keep up with.
I spoke to Therapist Dawn Walton who said, “Understanding brain development is key when working out what is appropriate to teach children at each age. Emotions are the first to develop. We are born being able to emotionally experience what happens around us, and to us. The next significant milestone is the development of grey matter and the hippocampus, which happens at around 6/7 years old. With this development comes a limited ability to make sense of what is happening, and what our emotions mean. As the body changes in preparation for puberty, which often begins at around 8 or 9 years old, a child will begin to develop a sense of self that allows comparison with others. This is why many children, who were previously confident and outgoing, develop insecurities and anxiety in late primary school and early high school. The ability to understand consequences from someone else’s instructions, and to make logical leaps around cause and effect, is not fully developed until we are in our mid-20s. Prior to that, we are learning from experience”.
In that context, when it comes to this production, I see nothing fun and silly about sexualising children at 5 years old.
Dawn continues “If we introduce sex education, then we have to consider the capability of the brain to learn. Even in early adolescence, a child is still learning from experience. The risk of exposing anything too sexual to a young child with an under-developed brain is that you cause confusion where they do not understand the rules they have to follow. If you do something in public you are teaching, through experience, that it is an acceptable thing to do.”
I strongly believe The Family Sex Show is NOT a safe sex-education programme. I do not believe The Family Sex Show took into account the realities of exploiting children this way, and whilst they say “knowing your body helps knowing your rights”, I do not believe they took into consideration the realities and damage that this would cause. As Dawn says, “If we introduce sex education, then we have to consider the capability of the brain to learn” – something I do not believe has been safely thought through at all.
On their website they say, “The Family Sex Show puts the good stuff at the forefront of conversation and imagines a future where there is no shame; but a celebration of difference, equality and liberation”. Yes, but not with young children. A format such as this can create damaging thoughts in the long term for young people. And this early sexualisation compromises childhoods and futures. I have seen this time and time again through real-life experiences.
Clearly, there was little thought into the damage this exposure would cause to young minds. I would love to know how many therapists endorsed this show and what research supported the production. The website states that The Family Sex Show was made in conjunction with the School of Sexuality Education – I looked on their website and couldn’t see anything that referenced working with children as young as 5 years old.
The Family Sex Show offers content warnings, saying, “this show contains nakedness, it explores themes around gender, sexuality, bodies, pleasure, relationships and boundaries”. What it doesn’t say is that many are opposed to this production, including charities, child sex abuse activists, parents – the list goes on.
Sensationalising this subject is abusive. We have a duty of care to young people to safely guide them through their lives so that they can then enjoy healthy relationships, including physical connections, understand consent, and easily converse about body parts. I totally agree children need to know that a penis is a penis, a vagina is a vagina, but this should be included in biology and age-related development lessons. A 5-year-old does not need to consider masturbation. It is wrong for adults to express this conversation through nakedness and theatre. The guidance is irresponsible, unsafe, and damaging, whichever way you look at it.
Exposing young minds this early in life is damaging. I have seen first-hand the catastrophic effect this has on young people and adults. Being sexually aware at such ages does not stabilise development in this conversation. For this reason, I firmly believe that appropriate education helping children navigate through their early life will bring about a stable, safe environment for the discussion of sex.
It has also caused me great concern to learn through TheEgg website that Shoreditch Town Hall & National Theatre Studio are linked to this production and that the show is being developed at Battersea Arts Centre and Southbank Centre. I assume everyone involved has been DBS checked, local councils are up to speed with the licensing of any young performers and ultimately, have thought through the implications of their connection? I would hate to think that ignorant greed has got the better of everyone with this production.
Healthy ‘non-dysfunctional’ relationships are of great importance to young people. How can we educate children safely and healthily on sexual relationships, consent and respect if touring companies are flippantly using this angle to market their business and in my opinion, exploit children?
Many lines have been crossed here, and this isn’t ageism, as some journalists think it might be – this is a responsible adult who has learnt what damage is caused by the early sexualisation of children and the impact on futures and life. Over the last year, I have been pulling together my next book and have many months of research under my belt. I have spoken to many adult survivors of child sex abuse who as children, were exposed to masturbation. Some adults were as young as 5 when they discovered masturbation. They told me they began to fixate on this conversation, that it was a novelty, and they explored these sexual feelings which they had never known about previously whilst playing with their toys. It led to them missing childhoods, with some going on to prostitution early in life – this was all they knew from an early age and with that, they felt comfortable. Others struggled with relationships because their sex drive was too high for the average person to satisfy.
I am pleased Josie Dale-Jones has faced resistance. She was reported to have said, “children aren’t anxious about the idea of the show; it is adults who feel discomfort in something that is challenging their preconceptions”. Of course, children aren’t anxious about this, but ask them that question again when they are in their late 20’s or 30’s and when their brains have developed! Children have no clue about this stuff. I didn’t when I was 5, but as an adult, my observations and personal experiences have led me to understand the delicate nature of this topic – not well served by such flippant comments – essentially saying, “oh the kids will be fine”.
I work with young people in performing arts and in safeguarding at schools on this topic. I am also an ardent campaigner for survivors of child sex abuse and have been throughout my 25+ years in business.
I can categorically say that it is vital we allow children to develop and evolve safely, helping them to understand healthy relationships and the positive implications. Help them to understand support and love. Help them to understand what’s appropriate and what’s not. Teaching 5-year-olds, subject matter that’s beyond their years, is ethically and medically wrong.
Through my work as a safeguarding lead, I understand the importance of maintaining sensible guidelines when managing young people’s development. I work closely with various professionals to ensure safety remains the focus when working with young people and, of course, to open and recognise any untoward behaviour or red flags.
In my opinion, The Family Sex Show is a misguided piece of “entertainment” masquerading as education.
Article from EJ Taylor:
©Emma-Jane Taylor 2022 for ManDad Magazine, all rights reserved.
Image Credit: Laurie Fletcher
Written by Emma-Jane Taylor
*Emma-Jane is raising awareness for Project 90/10, a charity being set up to reduce child sex abuse through education, workshops, campaigns and in-house safeguarding presentations to parents, staff and young people.