Sex and money – we need to talk

Sex and money – we need to talk

10 Mar 2015

Calm down now. This post does not address the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of wealth or any other aspect of paying for sex. It is about taboo subjects.

A combination of embarrassment and distaste tends to prevent the discussion of topics that should properly be addressed. Hence our nation’s ludicrous history of sexual secrecy with its toxic residue of unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and child abuse. Absurdly, forty years after homosexuality was legalised in England, the CEO of BP felt it was necessary (in 2007) to go to court to stop himself being “outed”.  

You might think that the sexual inclination of a CEO or any employee is of no interest to anyone else. But a judgemental attitude persists in the UK and it motivates people to behave as if work relationships have to be furtive. Indeed, many organisations take this much further and require all relationships between employees to be confessed. The implication is that such behaviour is sinful.

It is quite true that good or bad relationships, sexual or otherwise, can influence the way that people behave at work. And it is essential that unwanted sexual attention is prohibited. But this no excuse for prurient gossip dressed up responsible human resource management.

A purely practical point is that many single people who work long hours will spend half their waking time in the company of colleagues. It is nonsense to pretend that professional relationships will not merge with personal life. But I have known couples who have gone to extreme and potentially damaging lengths to disguise relationships that started at work. And once the lying starts it is hard to stop.

You think that employment law gives protective rights to woman who become pregnant? It doesn’t if they feel that they must retire to protect the identity of the father whom they met at work. I know of a case just like this.

In the UK, a similar damaging reluctance accompanies discussion of financial affairs. While a certain restraint is appropriate when discussing both sex and money – as the Facebook generation might find out to its cost – there is nothing shameful about needing either.

And need is not greed. It is not immoral to want the money that you need to live your life and to support the people around you who are too young, old or infirm to look after themselves financially. If admitting to wanting money embarrasses you, take a look at the charitable sector. There are 180,000 charities in the UK with 900,000 full time employees between them. In pursuit of our money, they compete actively and shamelessly with each other. Charity is big business with tax breaks.

The charitable payment website Just Giving takes 5% of all money raised, plus fees to the charities themselves for registering and card payment costs (for actually effecting the money transfer) are extra. Its moral glow allows this company to charge richly and because it can, it does.  

The bottom line is that there will always be someone who will take advantage of your financial diffidence. There will always be someone who wants to sell you something that you don’t understand – and they will imply that the fact that you don’t understand it is the reason why you should buy it. If it were simple, it couldn’t possibly be worth so much, could it?

John Kay in his excellent book ‘the long and the short of it’ writes:

“When assets are difficult to value, they will be owned by people who overestimate that value”.

My take on this is those assets will be owned by people who were too embarrassed to confess their ignorance and to ask ‘what exactly is this garbage that you’re trying to sell me?’ It is barely exaggerating to say that we could have avoided the whole financial crisis if normal people had been less shy and more demanding. 

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