Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teenage Mutual Fornication!

Teenage sex is becoming an issue in Singapore. With its moral baggage and sensational newsworthiness, it proves for a good distraction from other atrocities and injustices committed by the government. And that probable proves my point, because I'm not going to talk about the state, but about teenage sex. I can now imagine Nelson from the cartoon, The Simpsons, pointing his finger at a random person and mockingly exclaim, "HAH HA!"

The dominant rhetoric is Westernisation and the influence of the morally liberal/loose media. Blame it on the media. Unfortunately, I believe this is true to an extent. Media images do sometimes give us new ideas. However, teenage sex is not new.

(mind you, I refer to teenage sex as in sex between teens, not adults and teens, although inter-generational sex is an interesting topic on its own)

Yes, our George Lim Heng Chye's (love that guy) and other moral policemen/women will claim that our values, and in some instances, our Asian values are eroding. For those of us who know a little bit of Asian history, we Asians were probably the most sexually liberal "savages" around. Kama Sutra, pillow books, old Samurai teaching young boy Samurai the "ways" of the Samurai, young boys fellating older men in Papua New Guinea, ethnic Malays and Chinese children getting married, and so on. (heck, spitting can also qualify as an Asian value, so too is squatting to excrete.)

The reason why these observations fly off the radar of the "Asian values" rhetoric is not because this sexy bit of our history is censored out, but rather the term "Asian values" is constructed. It captures the ascension of the East Asian and recently South East Asian economies. It also serves to counter the "liberal Western democracies" by making exceptions to our generally authoritative governments which claim to have their own "Asian democracy". Perhaps what is authoritarian, totalitarian, or fascist to the "morally corrupt Western whities" is considered an "Asian brand of democracy".

And somehow along the way, when Victorian values of morality crept into our Asian lives through our colonial masters and became accepted as the norm and thought to be natural, we stretched the vulvae of "Asian values" and stuffed it with sexual morality. So nicely intertwined, seems credible and legitimate. What was previously socially constructed has been naturalised, left unquestioned and unchallenged.

So it is a bit ironic when we discuss teenage sex and talk about Asian values for example. We are using conservative Western ideas of morality to challenge Western ideas of sex. We "Asians" are merely vessels and subjects of "Western" discourses.

Teenage sex is a weird thing too. Attention was previously focused on kids from lower socio-economic homes, lower education, lesser-to-non English-speaking, and preferably ethnic minority. Of course, these serve to legitimise the Confucian brand of education and our general education system, with morality tales like "if you don't study hard, you'll be a screw-up".

So police (and moral police) stakeouts will be at HDB flat staircase landings, and various nook and crannies of the heartlands and malls frequently by the lower-to-middle income populace. Just like in Little India, when you have more surveillance and police around, you will have a proportionately larger number of "crime" and arrests.

What we know little of is of kids of privileged homes made possible by hardworking working parents, making good old teenage love in the comforts of their rooms. How can the moral police budge in and "arrest" them?

Actually, I personally believe that teenage sex is not wrong. Sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies are the problem, not teenage sex.

The problem of teenage sex is the same with HIV education and gay sex. You cannot teach safe teenage sex when teenage sex is illegal.

Teenage sex is socially not acceptable because of its socio-economic implications. If you have unwanted pregnancy from teenage sex, the couple concerned are unable to make the financial commitment, and there is a financial domino effect in the (extended) families affected.

Moreover, we live in a country where the most privileged from of pregnancy is adult wedded pregnancy. Wonderful perks and incentives. But you get little or none if yours is premarital and/or teenage. Such an institutionalisation makes teenage sex and pregnancy all the more stigmatised.

In the industrial period, where there is a segmentisation/division of labour (in the case of the factory), children are stripped of their previously "adult" privileges, that is smoking, drinking and having sex, because they are not required to work. Children and teens become dependents. It did not help that Victorian morality also dominated and created the discourse that healthy children are asexual and void of erotic feelings. The loss of "adult" freedom is balanced with legal and constitutional infrastructure that sought to "protect" this "vulnerable" group.

Teenage sex disrupts the middle dream of pursue good education, getting a good job, in the Singaporean case, getting the 5 or 6 C's, earning that million, then finally getting a spouse of similar stature/achievement and squeezing out 2, 3, or more kids if you can afford it/them.

I can't use the word "moral" here, because we might define in accordance with how someone like George Lim Heng Chye would. But I would like to ask, what is ethically wrong about teenage sex? What is ethically wrong about a teenage sex that observes an adult standard of responsibility and safety, or love for that matter?

In 2004, newly appointed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong s/o Lee Kuan Yew @ founding father of modern Singapore (such a long name, huh?) identified our Singaporean youth to be the future. It is your normal political rhetoric that holds an almost universal truth. Youth IS the future any way. Ironically, it is the youth who are almost as, if not more sexually active than us adults.

The government wants Singaporeans adults to bang for babies, but most of us are not heeding. At the same time, we take out our frustration and give attention to teens who fuck for fun. I love the alliteration. That's the plight of our population today - adults just want to fuck for fun, and some teens deliver the babies. Ironic, as I said, because the youth are truly the future.

Still, I do not understand why all the attention is on teenage sex and the attempt to "solve"/"cure" it. Teenage sex is not the disease. Society is the disease (what's new from me, right?).

The idea and presence of teenage sex challenges a lot of authority, ideology and assumptions that we support and hold, and upon which many systems, structures and institutions stand. Their relevance are all questioned and challenged. Teenage sex shows us and also exposes the institution of marriage for example, that OMG WTF 0_0 :o!!!! there can be sex without marriage between two adults? What travesty? What blasphemy?

Again, what is wrong with teenage sex? What is wrong with a teenager who is sexually active, but is not (or not related to) pregnant or infected with an STI?

Why are we so obsessed with disciplining sex any way? We have famine, homelessness, wars, political turmoil, genocide, gang violence, death penalties, economic downturn, exploitative sex, slavery and we want to take care of teenage sex too?

Much of the rhetoric is concerned with how teenage sex is bad based on its sanctions, punishment, and outcomes. What about addressing the inherent wrong-ness of teenage sex? What about addressing how teenage sex is ethically wrong?

I think that we Singaporeans are not dealing with teenage sex properly. I liken it to a thirsty Singaporean who travels to Johor Bahru for a glass of orange juice. Yes! It doesn't make sense, you can just drink the damn water from any tap in Singapore!

Teenage sex is so stigmatised, considerably taboo and morally/religiously contentious. There are so many authorities, societal (and its history), legal, religious and economic, that emphasise its wrong-ness. We dare not question why it is wrong in the first place. It is wrong because of its consequences, and that's all we know about it.


Weiye said...

I think that the "Asian Values" is very much a rhetoric of the west to romanticize Asians/ Asia, especially during the colonial era.

It is then taken up/ adopted by the postcolonial subjects to further perpetuate their stands and power.

Someone wrote about that.. hmm... was it Homi Bhabha? Can't remember.

Glass Castle said...

Weiye: Inoue Tatsuo has written an excellent piece on this theme. A few years ago I also wrote a paper deconstructing the 'Asian values' argument in several parts insofar as it applied to democracy - I can send you my bibliography if you're interested, there is quite a broad literature about this out there.

- Jolene (