The Amorous lives of Adolescents

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  • From Chapter 16 The Public School Phenomenon
    Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy   Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1977  ISBN 0 340 22373 1. [Out of Print]


Chapter 16. The Amorous lives of Adolescents (p366-67)

... The third course, which most co-educational schools struggle to follow, is to prevent any love affairs taking place at all. It is not surprising to find that Bedales is among this group. It is interesting to see at Bedales today, which I may say in every other way seemed to me a fascinating, stimulating and extremely successful schoolhow Badley's anxiety in this sphere still makes itself felt. You can sense it in the architecture. It is strangely open: common rooms open onto corridors, no real studies, just rooms for the sixth containing five or six people. It seemed impossible to be alone with someonewithout it feeling secret. They have mixed-age same-sex dormitories of four or five, and these are clearly a valuable and cohesive force: the older look after the younger, they stop bullying, you can be with your friends, etc.   Yet, was there not in the enthusiasm of the staff some element of relief that they were also so, wellsafe? Certainly the staff are quite clear, and also worried. They dislike talking about it. It is not a moral issue exactly but if anyone is caught, they must leave. The pupils on the other hand, or the half dozen or so I spoke to, did not seem particularly concerned. But they gave a more vivid picture of staff anxiety: "They panic easily, especially if there is drink about. They imagine everyone pregnant." One boy who had been caught but exceptionally, not expelled"The power of debate")said they positively welcomed homosexuals. There are four or five known homosexuals in mixed-age dormitories who certainly wouldn't be expelled. They're "ill". I suddenly remember  Mr Moorsom describing how he fell in love with a boy at Bedales in 1903 and walked about with his arms round him and no one minded. But I realised what was wrong when I wandered unheralded into the girls dormitories one afternoon. I had wandered at will, and without difficulty, over girls schools before now, and over other co-educational schools. Nothing had happened. But this afternoonwithin two minutes of entering the buildingI was pounced on almost simultaneously from two sides. In the distance a third figure was advancing at speed. It was like Colditz. In this areacentral to the school's ideology as progressive, one of its earliest traditionsBedales was, a sit had been for many years, in the grip of total society fever.

The point is that sexual behaviour is one of the hardest things on which to judge for other people. "The possibility," said Kinsey, commenting from experience, "of any individual engaging in sexual activity at a rate that is remarkably different from one's own, is one of the most difficult things for even professionally trained persons to understand. "We have seen that individual variations are the normpeople start to develop widely differing times, anything from nine to seventeen; variations of activity range from one orgasm a year to dozens a week. And all these differences are at their height in adolescence To suppose that everyone can confine himself to one level of activity at any particular time is absurd; for some it is easy, for some difficult, for some impossible. And it seems impossible for even the most intelligent educators, when discussing this subject, to appreciate they are legislating for some people whose needs are bound to be quite different from their own. They may advocate total freedom and indulgence; there will be some for whom it is a matter of complete indifference. They may insist on abstinence and self-denial; there will be some for whom it is intolerable.

     1977 Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy