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This article was published 28/4/2017 (1249 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Before its rejection in 1973 by the American Psychiatric Association, conversion therapy had gained notoriety within mainstream psychiatry. During counselling sessions, psychiatrists would attempt to suppress same-sex behaviour — something they considered pathological — by redirecting it toward the heterosexual norm. In other words, the dominant culture sought to impose itself on sexual expression deemed morally objectionable.
Even the Canadian government supported such initiatives. Although the Liberal Party under Pierre Elliott Trudeau passed Bill C-150 in 1969 — an act that decriminalized same-sex acts between consenting adults in private — many Liberal and Conservative party members were strong supporters of conversion therapy, preferring to "cure" homosexual people rather than incarcerate them indefinitely. The latter solution was no longer a viable option for then-minister of Justice John Turner. He admitted that law and morals were considered "two separate philosophical propositions."
Decades later, however, private morality continues to fall under the purview of criminal law. For instance, the Canadian legal system still punishes heterosexual men who participate in prostitution. "John school" has now replaced conversion therapy as a form of state-sanctioned brainwashing that attempts to label purchased sex as a repugnant, unnatural vice.
True happiness, reformers claim, can be found only in healthy, monogamous relationships.
Like reparative therapy, john school engages in psychological repression, a technique designed to deter men from seeking a preferred sexual outlet. Ottawa Citizen deputy editorial pages editor Tyler Dawson accurately refers to these therapy sessions as "creepy re-education nights run by the Salvation Army."
The indoctrination process works as follows: male audiences receive stern lectures concerning how prostitution is internally damaging to women; graphic slideshows then demonstrate how promiscuity leads to sexually transmitted diseases; and community members describe how their neighbourhoods are overrun with underage hookers, gang violence and contaminated needles.
For anti-prostitution activists, it’s not enough that johns change their behaviour: they must also change their preferences. Men are told not only that their sexual choices are wrong, but that no "normal" adult would engage in this kind of depravity. The state’s morality test is passed once johns accept the fact that their own self-centred male ego is the narcissistic root cause of female exploitation. This kind of ideological propaganda only perpetuates degrading stereotypes about male clients as predatory misogynists who engage in "paid rape." Like conversion therapy, john school instills a deep sense of self-loathing.
Of course, what johns are not told is that jurisdictions that legalize sex work, such as Nevada, require sex workers to use condoms and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. As well, johns are never informed about the differences in safety between indoor and outdoor sex work or how criminalization negatively impacts the health of sex workers.
As with the victims of reparative therapy, johns eventually stop beating themselves up over their sexual desires. They come to the realization that their behaviour is perfectly natural to them — a response to loneliness, the need for human connection and the desire not to be judged. Ultimately, they come to understand that their sexual behaviour should be shaped and directed by themselves, not by the paternalistic biases of the so-called professionals.
Undeterred, advocates of john school continue to stigmatize paid sex between consenting heterosexual adults in private in the same way that the state once stigmatized sex between consenting homosexual adults in private. Since tracking johns, "rehabilitating" them and incarcerating repeat offenders is about as productive as enforcing archaic sodomy statutes, the demise of john school should be welcomed by those who truly believe there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.
Punishing sexual desire to fit perfectionist ideals of sexual expression failed in the case of conversion therapy. John school will fare no better. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that moral crusaders have yet to learn.
Stuart Chambers, Ph.D., is a professor in the faculties of arts and social sciences at the University of Ottawa.
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