Sex for sale

Father Bill Kirkpatrick, a former psychiatric nurse, has been an Anglican minister in Earl's Court for 16 years, and for 12 years has worked with HIV sufferers

The church lays guilt on people to support its ongoing traditions. It has taken its view of homosexuality as wrong from the tradition of Pauline theology, and doesn't seem to have been able to take in the advances of psychology and psychoanalysis, which have helped us to understand the basis of people's behaviour.

I deal quite a lot with people who are ashamed. But, as I see it, there is a place and a need for the sex industry, provided it's properly regulated.

Initially, rent boys feel shame about their sexual behaviour: they have to get used to the idea of being a person who has sex with men. They try to turn their feelings off, because at first they think sex is disgusting; the only way they can cope is by becoming detached. Most manage to cope with it eventually, and, if they later lead ordinary lives, they block it all out. So shame doesn't necessarily enter into it. Not all rent boys are homosexual, only about half. Of the others, 30 per cent are heterosexual and the rest don't know.

Some of the punters are very good to the boys. Some will have them to live in their homes and look after them for two or three years, partly because they want to care for someone. But, mostly, the sex industry is about passing encounters.

People with HIV don't feel shame if they've come to terms with who they are - but only a minority have. The majority of homosexual men I've been alongside have not shown shame unless so much has been laid upon them by their families that they can't shake it off. Families tell them, "We want grandchildren," and that makes a person very insecure.

On the family's side, they feel shame because of what they may have done to their sons by rejecting them, or by not wanting other people to know that their son died with Aids.

Everyone wants to be accepted when they're dying. When I conduct the funeral, the family may say, "Don't tell people my son died of Aids - say it was cancer." Other families can accept the remaining gay partner as a member of the family. But people often don't know how to handle one surviving member of a couple - it's as though half of them has disappeared

Angela Lambert

Pride and Predjudice

Theodore Dalrymple works as a doctor in an inner-city community strong in Muslim values.

For most of our lives, unless we are psychopaths,

we do not do as we please. Fear of the consequences generally restrains us.

Shame, or disgrace in the eyes of others, is a powerful force for social cohesion: it maintains standards of conduct. Unfortunately, these standards of conduct are not necessarily desirable in themselves. In many of our schools, for example, children are shamed into apathy and ignorance. Failure is success.

Among immigrants from India and Pakistan, the fear of shame before the rest of the community exerts a powerful influence on individual behaviour. This means that the social disintegration seen in the surrounding white population has been avoided, so far at least, and explains in part the comparative economic and educational success of these groups. On the other hand, fear of the ill-opinion of the community can exact a terrible personal toll and often reinforces the grossest of prejudices.

I have seen countless young women condemned by their own families to continue to live with men who rape them repeatedly and beat them unmercifully. Were the young women to leave their husbands, not only would the rest of the community regard them quite literally as prostitutes, to be preyed upon at will, but they would bring such shame upon the rest of the family that younger siblings would have difficulty in finding marriage partners.

The personal happiness or even safety of an abused woman often counts for nothing, even in the eyes of her own parents, who would prefer the real risk of her murder to the sullying of the family's reputation by divorce. The fear of shame thus sometimes acts as a licence for unspeakable vileness.

Shame drives apart couples who are of different religion or caste. Parents blackmail their children with threats of suicide, should they persist in bringing shame upon the family by consorting with a Muslim, or a Sikh, as the case may be. If the unfortunates caught in this dilemma choose to defy their parents, they may be cut off entirely. The consequences for younger brothers and sisters can also be severe: education may be denied them, for fear of a repetition of the shameful event, and they may even be physically incarcerated at home. Not a few young girls are sent back to Pakistan to avoid the morally contaminating influence of school. Needless to say, this unreasoning attachment to old standards by immigrant groups is reinforced by their horror of what they consider, not without cause, to be the shamelessness which they see all around them.

Neither unthinking permissiveness, nor unthinking restrictiveness, is attractive. Standards should be neither so flexible as to exclude nothing, nor so rigid as to permit nothing. Shame, like most other social mechanisms, has its uses and abuses