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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25. No. 11. 1962

Sex: Let's Face it

Sex: Let's Face it

University education is recognized as a means to more knowledge than mere book learning. The student, traditionally, tests the values of the society from which he comes. He is uninhibited by definition, an eccentric by choice, and a rebel whose cause is ever changing. The community, on the whole, regards him with a tolerance as tender as it is non-comprehending.

One of the popular myths about students is a vague belief in their lack of regard for the sexual code of ethics current in society. The impression, certainly, is not one of New Zealand's 18,000 student as 18,000 young revellers engaged in continuous debauchery—the impression is just one of lingering suspicion.

It is impossible to be dogmatic about the sexual habits of students. Free love is discussed, it is impossible to say to what extent it is practised. Heavy petting (an ugly term for an act of affection) is common, reputedly. But the University is no hotbed of lasciviousness. The trouble here, as in the community outside, is the lack of a coherent, realistic attitude to a topic shrouded in confusion.

Sexual attitudes could become the source of deep hypocrisy in the New Zealand national character. There is no enlightened discussion at a public level on a topic essential to the very maintenance of life. A realistic approach may dispel the undertones, the embarrassment and the puritan remnants which tend to obfuscate any balanced formation of public opinion on sex. What sententious moralizing that is heard publicly on sex does not square with actual practice. It is possible to postulate, but impossible to prove that, more money, fewer inhibitions, and the decline of the influence of the church has loosened society's sexual patterns. Parents tell us in our generation the sexes mix more easily than formerly. It is generally admitted there is more freedom in relationships between the sexes now than in the reign of Queen Victoria. Our practice seems to have got out of line with the publicly accepted ideas about sex. To profess publicly a morality which does not exist in the individual is damaging.

Last year there were twenty-two instances of brothel-keeping, nineteen abortions, and 198 peeping toms reported in New Zealand. In I960 there were slightly over 700 convictions for sexual offence. This is not a high incidence in a population approaching three million The Police Department's annual report for 1961 listed offences against the licensing laws in excess of seven thousand. If Tab turnover and Golden Kiwi lottery sales are an accurate indication New Zealanders are even more addicted to gambling than to drinking. Moralists may call this vice, but it is unnecessary to express an opinion on this. People decided they wanted to indulge in off-course betting—so the Tab inevitably became a national institution. If people decide, many of them have decided, that they want to drink in hotels after six o'clock then, in time, the legislators must allow them. The cumbersome machinery of government may be slow to move, but it will move with pubic opinion when it moves at all. Society's values will be embodied in the law by one means or another—that is democracy.

Our dilemma over sex cannot be cured so easily. The law defines public opinion in a negative fashion—as a series of prohibitions. For rape the maximum penalty is fourteen years. The need for this type of provision is obvious. The justifications for the severe penalties against homosexuality, sodomy, incest and bestiality are more complicated. These punishments seem to be meted out on the general criterion of moral disgust. But these have been crimes for generations—and if that is the way most people feel, in a democracy that is the way the law must be.

With drink and gambling, reformative laws have been dictated by public opinion—the position may be unsatisfactory from ethical viewpoints but it is at least clear. But the law can do little for society sexual mores. Yet far from being an excuse for neglecting sex, this is the most powerful reason why public opinion should be solid on the matter. If it is not, liberty will bring licence. Nevertheless, the subject of sex is a void in New Zealand public opinion. The newspapers are cautious, the NZBC silent, the films censored. True, the convictions are reported, often sensationally. Outraged cries are heard from time to time from women's organizations against the sale of contraceptive to minors. Yet as far as it is safe to generalize on such a vague issue, New Zealanders as a group have no crystallized public opinion on matters pertaining to, for want of a better word, sex.

Perhaps this is good. Sex is essentially a personal matter. Its twin Functions are procreation and the fulfilment of the individual. For as long as anyone can remember it has been carrying out these functions satisfactorily. It could be argued that sex is not a public matter, except so far as legislation is required to prevent excesses and undesirable practises. That is not the contention of this editorial.

Sex is a bogey of New Zealand society—it is immature and escapist to ignore the fundamental place it takes in everyone's life. It is a question of approach. If sex is ignored and bottled up among the unmentionables, this is a tacit admission of failure to cope on a social plane with a problem basic to the individual. A balanced public opinion on sex would help to educate the individual to a sane appreciation of the importance and pitfalls of sex. In advocating a state of openness in regard to sex, which is not the same thing as a state of licence, the University could perform a social service to the community.—G.W.R.P.