Like most people I have erotic dreams from time. Usually they involve no-one I know in the waking world, though very few occasionally I have found myself in bed with people I knew. When I see them next, I remember the old joke: “I dreamed about you last night” – “Did you?” – “No, you wouldn't let me.”
We can hardly be held responsible for our dreams; or at least, for the dreams that rise unbidden when we sleep, rather than our waking fantasies. This is just as well. In dreams I have killed and been killed; I have been the recipient and the donor of grievous injuries. Half a dozen times, I have danced with Her Majesty the Queen, which is all the more strange as I don't dance.
Again like most people in most of their dreams, erotic or not, I am every age and no age. Some of the girls, on the other hand, have been very young: some of them young enough that had I been found in bed with them in the waking world, I might still be in prison. I can still remember two dreams of this kind, a few days apart, even though they were many years ago. My partner in both was a friend's daughter: we were both enjoying ourselves (and one another) considerably. On both occasions I said to her in the dream, “We really shouldn't be doing this,” and we stopped. I awoke feeling guilty despite, or perhaps because of, the pleasure we had given one another and despite having stopped.
In another kind of (slightly) erotic dream, there has been no real sex, just loving cuddles in the nude. These are pleasant and I don't really feel guilty about them at all. I had one of those the night before I wrote these words. She was not somebody I know and, dreams being the way they are, I am not at all sure how we ended up in bed together. But erotic dreams are events, not relationships; which gave rise to the following thought experiment about morality. Imagine an attractive fifteen year old girl: you'll see why she is fifteen in a couple of paragraphs.
First, instead of an unbidden dream, I could entertain going to bed with her as a deliberate fantasy. This is Jimmy Carter's “I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times .” Well, it's not something to be proud of, but equally, I can't flagellate myself over the occasional idle fantasy. Every now and then I'll see a pretty face, a well turned leg, a pert bottom: the teenage boy I once was will inevitably fantasize a little.
Second, I might try to seduce her in the real world. This, incidentally, is why I gave her age as fifteen. In the United Kingdom, this invites a jail sentence. In France, where I live now, it's perfectly legal. The law, therefore, is hardly relevant to the moral dimension. More depends on who I am, and what my intentions are. If I am eighteen; am in love with her; and expect to marry her; well, maybe it won't last, but it is hardly a vile perversion. If I am sixty, then I am probably just a dirty old man, and she needs to be protected from me. But if I am twenty? Thirty? We're back to intentions again, with side orders of hopes, dreams and memories.
Third, she might be a prostitute; I might decide to use her services. At this point, if I am caught, it strikes me as reasonable that I should suffer severe punishment. Few if any fifteen year olds willingly prostitute themselves: she is doubly a victim. It is true that I have never visited a prostitute of any age, nor wanted to, but I don't think I'm flattering myself unduly when I say that this is is a simple matter of respect for women and girls and indeed all human beings.
Fourth, imagine her as a slave girl. Yes, they still exist to this day, but to make life easier, imagine that I am an ancient Roman. A citizen of ancient Rome, that is, not Silvio Berluscone. After I have bought my fifteen year old in the slave market, I may treat her well or badly; I might even free her; but there is inevitably a relationship. It must be impossible not to have some sort of relationship with your slaves, not least because you are responsible for them. How would I (or you) treat a slave? Try to look at it not just from the 21st century, but also from the Rome of 2000 years ago, where you would be thought odd if you could afford slaves and did not keep them.
Fifth, let us delve into the realms of science fiction and imagine her to be a highly developed sexbot, bought outright in much the same way as a slave girl. Now it starts getting really strange. If she is sufficiently real-seeming, can I have a relationship with her? One can, after all, have a favourite camera or motorcycle, but can it be a relationship? Perhaps. I think of my BMW motorcycle. that seems to get us out of trouble when we would almost certainly have fallen off a less forgiving machine. We even say things like, “The old girl wouldn't let me fall off: she got me 'round the corner all right”. In A Gift of Wings, Richard Bach tells a similar story about an aeroplane. Thus do we attribute reciprocity to well-loved machines. Might my sexbot seem the same? Might she be the same? Is this a relationship? It gives a new meaning to Cliff Richard's “crying, talking, sleeping, walking, living doll”.
Sixth and finally, let us go back (almost) to the dream. What if I could buy a drug that would guarantee erotic dreams? Or even, which is probably a little more difficult to engineer, allow me to choose my partners and activities? Whom would I choose? Would it be someone I knew? Would I ring the changes, or stay with the same girl? Given that it would all be in my head, like the unbidden dream, would I be betraying anyone?
Is there, then, a difference between an unbidden dream; an idle fantasy which we scarcely resist but soon discard; and a deliberately purchased erotic dream? Probably, yes. The bought dream is quite akin to pornography, and most people disapprove more or less of that. Then again, barring the level of sexual detail, there is no great difference between competently written pornography (a rarity, but it does exist) and a romantic novel. How much do we want to control our dreams and imaginings? And how much do we want to allow others to control them?
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Text copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017