I read in the news yesterday that PM Imran Khan is extremely concerned about the ‘growing obscenity and vulgarity’ in society.

Apparently, the PM feels that its exposure to obscenity that leads to crimes like rape and sexual abuse in society. Social media and apps like TikTok are harming our socio-religious values and should be blocked. TV and film content has been asked to look into as well.

When I read this, my first reaction was to smile. I am guilty of looking at everything through a therapist’s lens and that’s where the smile came from. Our esteemed PM—I am assuming—believes that exposure to the world and suppression and control is the key to cleansing our society of immorality.

I wish the PM would learn a thing or two about human psychology to understand how ineffective and counterproductive these steps would be and might lead to more societal chaos.

Sex. This three-letter word is something we do not talk about. A few will say why is there even a need to talk about it. Sure, I am not asking anyone to make it dinner conversation and yes, it is something private to all. But it’s not as simple as this. The shame around this topic is one of the major reasons that contribute to sexual frustration and sexual violence. It’s a bad word; that’s what parents tell children. Something so essential to human existence has layers and layers of shame woven around it, especially in our culture. From personal shame it becomes a collective shame seeping into the fabric of society, and by putting bans, the government is reiterating it as something immoral and shameful.

I remember how difficult it was for me to even say sex as a middle-aged woman for the first time in a therapy session when working with an adult who had sexual difficulties. I started blushing, embarrassed to the core and wondering later what I was so ashamed of and whose shame was I carrying.

I know of many married women and men who don’t have intimacy in their marriages for years but don’t express it feeling shame for expressing their basic rights and needs.

Suppressing thoughts and feelings never work. What we resist persists. Don’t think about oranges and if you are reading this, you thought of oranges didn’t you?

Freud, the father of psychoanalysis believed that consciously and sub-consciously human behaviour is all directed towards satisfying sexual and aggressive instincts. A sexually frustrated society will be an angry society and combined with factors such as illiteracy, exposure to violence at a tender age, lack of opportunities to a happy life will lead to a weak internal moral compass and tendency to commit heinous crimes such as rape.

Freud also believed that both these aggressive and sexual tendencies could be sublimated into ‘socially useful achievements, including artistic, cultural, and intellectual pursuits.’ This supports when I say that opportunities to education, sports, fulfilment of basic needs such as food and safety can also reduce sexual frustration. Now when the reality of Pakistan is that the majority of our population is struggling with these essential needs where do you think that anger and frustration will go?

Social media in my opinion provides a platform for sublimation. Isn’t it better for someone to express his or her anger through a Facebook post than actually taking it out on someone in person? Isn’t it better to sexually fantasise about someone on your screen than acting on that impulse inappropriately? Apps like TikTok, which are mostly harmless, actually allow these young individuals to express parts of their psyche that are repressed freely. The government can look into regulating some of these platforms but it should be done mindfully and not blindly.

The openness that the media exhibits today and which the government wants to confine, in reality normalises many things reducing the attraction to them. It actually creates ‘paradoxical intention which in psychotherapy is the deliberate practice of a neurotic habit or thought, undertaken to identify and remove it.’

I strongly disagree with the mindset that exposure means giving ideas to people. These ideas already exist in us and work has to be around channelising them in a healthy manner.

Controlling ‘immoral content’ will only cause repression, which will cause more mayhem within us. If the government thinks that this repression of thoughts and feelings sexual or otherwise will tame the hungry beast, then they are in for a surprise.

Zara Maqbool

The writer is a UK-CPCAB (Counselling and Psychotherapy Awarding Body) registered individual and couple psychotherapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool@yahoo.com.