On September 21, within the Spanish Parliament’s Equality Commission, the Minister of Equality of the Government, Ms. Irene Montero, made controversial statements regarding the new law on sexual and reproductive rights promoted by her Ministry. Her words are reproduced verbatim below, respecting repetitions and confusing grammatical constructions in order to avoid adulterating their content.
The Minister, in her speech in reply to the response of the parliamentary spokespersons in the Commission, said that:
“Sex education (which) is a right of boys and girls (…) regardless of who their families are, because all boys, girls, children in this country have the right, have the right to know their own body, to know that no adult can touch their body if they do not want to, if they do not want to, and that this is a form of violence. They have the right to know that they can love and have sex with whomever they want, based – of course – on consent. And those are rights that are recognized”.
It would be wrong for this Observatory — which is not a socio-political observatory but a bioethical one — to start a drift towards political criticism. Its years of continued research, dissemination and scientific study accredited in areas such as Biology, Genetics, Biotechnology, Philosophy, Anthropology, Medicine and Law, cannot be substantiated (in what would constitute a clear reductionist exercise) in the criticism of political statements issued by those who, in the exercise of their position, have not used a high-standard scientific or academic curriculum. This Observatory, as its founder always wanted — and as its worthy successors also want — disseminates, discusses, complements or addresses the contributions to Bioethics from leading universities and publications, not from populism or ideological currents.
Nevertheless, with a sense of responsibility, the author of this article accepts the commission received to review the preceding statements from a reasoned bioethical paradigm. And he does so because the person making them has the potential to translate their content into laws and policies that could disregard the dignity of the child, either by interfering in their biological and psychological nature, or by contributing to their moral decay in the most vulnerable stages of their personal development.
Without further ado, I shall proceed to the critique:
A) On her appeal to the right of minors to sex education
In her speech, the Minister of Equality reiterated that children have the right to sex education. And indeed, they do. However, the Minister forgets that this right is stated in a broader and more complex way than she does. What children have the right to, in the strictest sense, is to be educated — in sexual matters as well — by their parents or guardians and not by the State, whose main task is to contribute to the full exercise of the educational duty of parents through the organization and provision of a universal, free and quality education system.
Although the family, the educational epicenter where society is formed[i], exercises its educational action in an informal, spontaneous and natural way, the parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children and their right/duty stands above other groups or people, Including school or state. Because the family is prior to the State, which presupposes it. In fact, the individual is incorporated into political society from the family and by the family. Not the other way around. Therefore, family education is a moral obligation of parents and a right of the child, who needs it in order to establish his or her personal aspirations, values and motivations that will lead him or her to personal fulfillment.
A good family education, in fact: a) promotes proper personal development and positive feedback of its members; b) allows the development of a scale of values and adherence to the rules of conduct that lead to personal fulfillment; and c) promotes appropriate social development.
Only when family education is dysfunctional, for pathological or psychosocial reasons, can the State alternatively assume the task of guiding the building of the child’s personality. But under no circumstances can mainstream values or the law be used to allow the State to displace the family from this role. First, because the law is not just for the mere fact of being law, not even when it results from the will of the people. This is because, secondly, the history of the twentieth century has recorded atrocities committed in the name of the highest values backed by the will of the people or by ‘enlightened’ policymakers. The Third Reich was a “community of values” (nation, race and health) that rose above Human Rights. Marxism also understood the State as an agency of “supreme values[ii]. Similarly, democratic states can also become tyranny when they use State institutions to boycott certain moral convictions, which are legitimate.
Children, therefore, have the right to be educated, but to be educated by their families, not by the head of a Ministry whose entry into office arose due to the cession of a government that, in its weakness, had to cede quotas of power to a minority parliamentary group and populist ideas that do not represent the entire population. Because of their status as persons, children are entitled to be educated and not “domesticated” or “indoctrinated” or conformed to a certain community of values. And the family, in a primary and irreplaceable way, is the central place of that human education.
B) On the right to know one’s body
The knowledge of one’s own body is embodied in the acceptance of its sexual nature, its capabilities and limits, knowledge that transpires through family relationships and the psycho-emotional, moral and spiritual orientation received from parents with the help of scientific knowledge (anatomy, biology, genetics, etc.). What the child has the right to, in short, is the protection of their family so that no one can confuse them on the path that leads to this acceptance that occurs, naturally and sequentially during childhood and adolescence.
The family, in fact, protects the child from interference that could influence his normal development. It constitutes, as has been written, a basic social relationship, which within the sphere of an intimacy open to the rest of societal space and through the gift (of love) as its own instrument, brings together the sexes and generations[iii]. In the family, in fact, the child discovers himself as a man or a woman, as a child and as a sibling, as co-responsible with others for himself and for those he loves.
The acceptance of one’s own body therefore requires the educational and loving support of the family. This is because, since childhood, while we experience a profound unity with our body, we also perceive that we are not “identical” to it. Somehow, we know that we “are” our body (since pain or pleasure in the body is experienced as pain or pleasure), but we relate to our body as something we “have” but never entirely, for we also feel that weight, decay, and other natural laws shift, often regardless of our will.
Precisely for this reason, some anthropologists have come to postulate in man two distinct beings that are linked to each other and are forced to live together (body-soul/matter-spirit/cognito-res extensa/being in itself-being for itself). These are dualistic anthropologies that, like the head of the Ministry of Equality, seek to form in children the idea that they are a conscience that, sometimes, inhabits the wrong body; a mind enclosed within a biological substrate; a self-perception enclosed in an original natural prosthesis. From that perspective, conscience could also consent to the use of a child’s body.
However, in common experience, we perceive ourselves naturally as a unique subject of our intellectual actions and our bodily actions. Somehow, “he who” develops, eats and walks, is also “who” thinks, reflects and loves. Matter and consciousness, the objective and the subjective of our nature do not exist as independent beings, but are aspects of the same living compound. And, therefore, knowledge of the body is the acceptance of one’s self and not the feeling evoked after the palpation of one’s own body and of others’ bodies to establish similarities, differences or preferences. Irene Montero Gil would know this if she knew the criticism of Descartes, Locke, Hume, Parfit or Sartre himself, and her sources were not limited, as it seems, to the subjectivist (and certainly minor) philosophy of Judith Butler or Paul Beatriz Preciado, or the 1968 Marxists.
C) On the right of children to consensual sexual relations
a. There is no such right. Sexual freedom and Marxism
The Minister’s statement on the right of children to have consensual sexual relations is undoubtedly an attack on the natural morality and rationality of our species. There is no such right. Instead, there is a fundamental right of the child not to be subjected, under any circumstances, to the aberration of the use of his or her body for the obtaining of sexual pleasure by anyone. Moreover, this is something that should be understood without too much effort by anyone whose perversions, pathologies or ideological heritage aligned with the events of May ‘68 in France have not led them to break all connections with the ethics of the human species, conducting themselves as if we had no dignity.
On the ideological basis of the ill-named Sexual Revolution, in fact, Marcuse’s appeals to pleasure and the body as temples of liberation[iv], coupled with the proclamations of Foucault and Deleuze[v], helped to conceptualize sexual desire as a requirement of free will and as the genuine “revolutionary instance”[vi]. Leaving its debt to the proletariat definitively behind, the new Marxism emerging behind the graffiti on the walls of the Odeon Theatre, the headquarters of the Paris revolutionaries, linked social freedoms with personal emancipation from any extrinsic norm or morality. “To question the society in which you live”, read one of the graffito, “you first have to be able to question yourself”. In short, it sought to question the institutional truths and norms with which society, morality, religion, and even nature itself, structure the personality of the individual[vii]. In the face of all natural ethics or morals, New Marxism described the body as a “desiring machine” that demands emancipation from extrinsic, bourgeois and religious morals[viii]. In addition, they appealed to the relationships between language, power and politics, laying the foundations of the culture of “performativity” that today stands as a pillar of queer culture.
However, as is well known, all these champions of sexual freedom, self-proclaimed progressives for their fiery defense of the sexual rights of groups that, at the time, were especially vulnerable because of their sex or sexual orientation, ended up becoming entangled in their own arguments to the point of signing a manifesto in favor of all sexual practices, including sex with minors. In fact, in 1977 they sent a letter to the French Parliament calling for the repeal of the laws on the age of consent and the decriminalization of all consensual relations between adults and children under the age of fifteen[ix]. Among the intellectuals who signed this abhorrent petition were Simone de Beauvoir, a muse of Marxist feminism, and her lover, Jean-Paul Sartre, who, after his passage through existentialism, would end up embracing Stalinism, an ideology that scattered the Gulag Road with corpses on the way to Siberia. Signatories also included, of course, Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Jacques Rancière and all those who make up the intellectual frame of reference of the contemporary radical left. In addition, in 1979, these authors published two open letters in French newspapers defending people arrested on charges of statutory rape, in the context of the abolishment of laws on the age of consent.
No, Irene Montero did not let herself be carried away by a dialectical outburst, nor did she make a mistake. Irene Montero believes, in fact, that minors can have consensual sex. And not only her, but all those who embrace her ideology. The same ones who, if at the time they handed out condoms in schools, implying to minors that they can have sexual relations, must admit that they can have sex with whoever they want: with their classmates, their siblings, adults, or even with their parents’ friends. All of this in order to subvert traditional, conservative, religious and patriarchal morality, if not directly fascist. There is nothing more moral than consent. Yes means yes. No means no. And that is enough.
b. Reductionist concepts of freedom
Now, that child whom we do not allow to take part in decisions that affect him, such as the inclusion of vegetables in his daily diet or daily school attendance… does he have the ability to consent to a sexual relationship? Because freedom, understood in its broadest sense, is not limited to “civil or social freedom”, that “external” freedom from all coercion and violence, which is recognized for each person in the context of their social interactions; to this area of so-called “political freedoms” which must, in fact, be recognized by law and protected by security forces.
This concept of freedom — firmly rooted in the liberal tradition, although not so much in the socialist states — is not the one that can be invoked to claim the hypothetical right of children to consent to sexual relations. On the contrary, what must be guaranteed for this type of practice is “freedom of will” or “inner freedom”, which refers to the psychological phenomenon of freedom, to the free will of man, which in philosophical terms is called “free will” and constitutes the sine quae non condition for self-determination. Freedom from oneself, from internal drives, ungoverned emotion, one’s own ignorance and lack of experience, overflowing imagination, is necessary to be able to freely consent.
Not even in the implausible case of a relationship desired by the minor would we speak of true freedom. In fact, thinking that freedom is about doing what you want is intellectual poverty. Animals do what they want, and that does not mean they are free, but beings that live chained to their instinct. Freedom, on many occasions, is manifested in the ability to act from the will in the face of desires, being able to carry out the good act that we do not feel like doing or abstaining from the bad one we do. Whoever does only what he pleases is a slave to his appetites. This is attested to by the experience of gluttons, drug addicts, violent people, rapists, gamblers or kleptomaniacs. Freedom, in short, is only possible in those who possess the four great virtues to a sufficient degree. Thus, it is known that the natural use of freedom is to follow the reason that deliberates the best (prudence), helping to decide the right thing (justice) and mastering the impulses (strength and temperance).
Moreover, we are not free by virtue of apathy about good or evil, as if the only important thing were our ability to choose. Rather, there is in every man a prerogative that urges him to personal fulfillment, to the attainment of life and, consequently, to act and choose with regard to the radical completion of his actions and choices for the good in itself.[x] Because, as anyone who has the least introspective capacity does not take long to understand, the definitive question about our fulfillment and perfection is not about what we expect of life, but, in every circumstance, however serious, what life is expected of us: what others expect or could expect, especially those who love us; what our very dignity expects of us; and for believers, what God himself expects[xi].
Therefore, important decisions in our lives often require that our freedom allows us to lose the ability to choose: this is attested by our own professional orientation, marriage and the commitments it carries with it (children, regime and place of life, etc.). This is not a limit, but the full realization of freedom. Because I am free, I can renounce.
c. Three requirements of freedom, which are not met in minors
In the Equality Committee of the Congress of Deputies, regrettably, no one censured the Minister her for unfortunate theory by reminding her that freedom, in order to be given, requires three conditions that rarely occur in children. The first is that there should be full use of reason so that there can be deliberation, that is, so that we can make a prudent decision. People who have not achieved the use of reason or who lose it (children, people with dementia, in a coma, asleep, drug addicts, drunks, mental disorders) do not have enough freedom, because they cannot deliberate. In fact, in a trial, these conditions would be taken into account in order to reduce — or even exempt — the corresponding penalty for the commission of an offense.
Children have limited freedom because they do not control their inner springs: imagination and reason. If in a school we announced the arrival of the Kings for the inauguration of the sports pavilion, there would be children waiting for a white steed leading a royal figure with a red cloak and crown. This is just one example that allows us to vividly understand that a minor could voluntarily consent to sexual relations seduced by the loving discourse prepared, based on his experience and inquiry, by an adult who would only like to make perverted use of his body, subsequently discarding it as used merchandise. A context of seduction, introduction to a simulation of adult life, to promises of true love would have more influence on someone without experience, without malice or knowledge, than on an adult and experienced person.
Because, in fact, ignorance and error also limit freedom. When you do not know what is going on or you do not have elements of judgment, you cannot exercise freedom properly. When you have the wrong idea of things, you are not completely free. Freedom needs truth. Ignorance and error also enslave. Therefore, a child does not decide his/her diet, whether or not he/she should attend school, or the subjects that should make up his/her curriculum. For now at least, because of the turn that the parliamentary pacts are taking, anything could happen.
The second prerequisite for freedom is that the individual masters himself; that with his reason he masters his impulses and outbursts to avoid compulsive behavior or let himself be carried away by passions or by some serious or pathological dependence. The exercise of freedom requires a clear head and an orderly heart; mastery over the emotion that comes from the virtues of strength and temperance. And this is something that cannot be asked of a child, in whom conduct is — especially in sexual matters — compulsive in nature.
Finally, for freedom to exist, there must be no physical violence or moral coercion that forces us to do what we do not want or prevents us from doing what we want. In a situation of inequality (due to age, status, knowledge, etc.), coercion and fear can decisively influence our decisions in such a way that confronting it is only possible with non-demandable doses of heroism.
d. A brief final reflection, dedicated to the Ministry of Equality
Madam Minister, in many areas, you have spoken out in favor of restricting fundamental freedoms on the basis of the supposedly superior moral view of your ideology. On this occasion, however, your doctrinal Marxism goes hand in hand with the most vulgar neoliberalism, placing self-determination above all moral criteria. Could you not take just a few minutes to reflect beyond the twisted web of your ideological assumptions?
You would see, if you did, that freedom is not the end of human life, but only the means to guide us towards the ends that are truly worthwhile in themselves. That is why, before choosing, it is important to discover the ends towards which freedom is worth directing. More than the ability to choose, it is the ability to respond.
Choosing is a sign of freedom; but if freedom were only being able to choose, the place of maximum freedom would be the market. And if you argue that, you should give up your ideology. No, Madam Minister, freedom is not limited to choosing with indifference. Having a sexual relationship and not having one is not the same thing. Entering into sex with awareness and maturity is not the same as compulsively and with immaturity. It matters.
As Viktor Frankl (who did indeed suffer fascism) pointed out, “Freedom is not the last word […]. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness”. If you believe that minors cannot be held criminally responsible, do not grant them freedoms for which nature has not yet prepared them. Because freedom, Madam Minister, to be real — and not mere adolescent fantasy — must be framed by the limits of our own nature, our social commitments and natural morality. And our nature is evolving; people go through different stages of development, which gradually equip us to complete actions that, originally, are possible only as potential, but not as an act.
To a large extent, human fulfillment consists of responding well to what life itself asks of us – in every-moment-of-our-life. And so the fundamental question at the end of life will not be, am I free? But, what have I built with my freedom? And, every psychologist agrees on it: a minor initiated into sex early will have to struggle more to finally achieve the harmony of body, spirit and psyche that leads to personal fulfillment.
Madam Minister, your words discredit you. A public office cannot uphold ideologies that were already definitively dismantled in the last quarter of the last century. You cannot play with the integrity of children. But you hold a freely appointed position, not directly elected by popular sovereignty. Consequently, keeping you in your position discredits primarily the one who appointed you to it.
Please, more science and less foul ideology.
Enrique Burguete Miguel
Bioethics Observatory – Institute of Life Sciences
Catholic University of Valencia
[i] Parada Navas, J. L. (2010). La educación familiar en la familia del pasado, presente y futuro. Educatio Siglo XXI, 28(1), 17–40
[ii] Spaemann, R., & Llano, A. (2004). Europa: ¿Comunidad de valores u ordenamiento jurídico? / El carácter relacional de los valores cívicos. Madrid: Fundación Iberdrola.
[iii] Ros Codoñer, J. (2018). La familia como relación social. Correlatos 1(1), 11-41
[iv] Marcuse, H. (1955). Eros and civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. (J. García Ponce, Trad.). Boston: Bacon Press. Spanish version available at http://www.portalalba.org/biblioteca/MARCUSE%20HERBERT.%20Eros%20y%20Civilizacion.pdf.
[v] ‘Les intellectuels et le pouvoir’, Entretien de Michel Foucault avec Gilles Deleuze. L’Arc, 4 March 1972, pp. 3-10.
[vi] Deleuze, G. y Guattari, F. (1972). L’Anti-Oedipe. Capitalisme et schizophrénie. Paris: Minuit, 36-37, 42 y 458.
[vii] Burguete, E. Revolución Sexual y neovitalismo. Los servicios gestacionales en la reconfiguración social, como reproductor, del colectivo queer. Cuadernos de Bioética 30 (99). May 2019-August 2019 Spanish Association of Bioethics and Medical Ethics: 159- 170
[viii] Courtine, J.-J. (2011). L’invention du corps. In: Canut, C. and Prieur, J.-M. (dir.) (2011). 1968- 2008. Evénements de paroles. Paris: Michel Houdiard, pp. 277-284 (283). Cited in Sanchez-Prieto, J. M. (2018). Entre el mito y la crítica: la memoria del 68 francés. Arbor, 194 (787): a432. https://doi.org/10.3989/arbor.2018.787n1005
[ix] «Lettre ouverte à la Commission de révision du code pénal pour la révision de certains textes régissant les rapports entre adultes et mineurs». Archives Françoise Dolto. Paris: Association des Archives et Documentation Françoise Dolto.
[x] MELENDO y MILLAN-PUELLES, Dignidad: ¿una palabra vacía?, Eunsa, 1996, pp. 56- 61.).
[xi] Frankl, V. (1986). El hombre en busca de sentido, Herder, Barcelona (7ª), 118