chapter  8
44 Pages

Sexual conduct and sexual misconduct

The biblical injunctions opening this chapter are a compelling reminder of the powerful emotions and attitudes aroused when sexual matters are described and discussed and, in particular, so-called deviant sexuality. Because of this, the material in this chapter is not the easiest to discuss, for the following reasons. First, emotion often obscures objectivity (most notably when sexual offences within a family context are being dealt with and those against children more generally). Second, the borderline between so-called normal and deviant sex is not always easy to delineate. As I have suggested elsewhere in this book, legislative proscription can (and does) change over historical time. Third, persistent sexual offending is not easy to eradicate, partly because patterns of sexual preference and expression are often likely to be laid down quite early in life. A good deal of success or otherwise will most often depend on the capacity of those given the task of dealing with such individuals to engage in what I can best describe as ‘dispassionate compassion’. Fourth, although recent substantial changes in the law have gone some way to reflect changes in the light of clinical experience, the success or otherwise of such changes is still to be determined (see later). Finally, in writing about all these matters, it is not always easy to steer a clear path between unambiguous description and being accused of indulging in a degree of vicarious prurience and indeed voyeurism. Emotive responses have long historical roots in religious texts such as the English Bible, as can be seen in the quotation that heads this chapter. In a short but excellent survey of historical perspectives on sexual deviation, the forensic psychiatrist Dr Harvey Gordon reminds us that:

Whilst it is almost certainly the case that all human societies through history have imposed limits on the types of sexual behaviour regarded as acceptable,

a degree of variation across cultures has occurred, whilst within certain cultural traditions, change in sexual mores may occur over time. Religious interest tends to be more associated with moral condemnation of sexual deviance and the secular with greater liberalism.