Mark Twain expressed himself on America’s oft seemingly schizophrenic sexual attitudes in his Letters From the Earth, long suppressed by his family and just recently published for the first time: A fallen angel visits earth and describes, with some incredulity, what he finds there to archangels St. Michael and St. Gabriel. “There is nothing about man that is not strange to an immortal. His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists—utterly and entirely—of diversions that he cares next to nothing about, here on earth, yet is quite sure he will like in heaven. Isn’t it curious? Isn’t it interesting? You must not think I am exaggerating, for it is not so. I will give you details.
"The human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys—yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything—even his queer heaven itself—to make good that opportunity. Yet it is actually as I have said: It is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place.”
Religious puritanism pervades every aspect of our sexual lives. We use it as a justification for suppressing freedom of thought, expression and, of course, personal behavior. By associating sex with sin, we have produced a society so guilt-ridden that it is almost impossible to view the subject objectively and we are able to rationalize the most outrageous acts against mankind in the name of God.
But what sort of God would have man deny his God-given sexual nature?
Some members of our society sincerely believe that sex has a single purpose: procreation. As such, sexual activity is logically limited to coitus within the bounds of marriage, since children benefit from the presence of both parents, and a stable familial environment is best established within the bounds of wedlock. But life is more complex than that. To deny the true emotional and physical significance of sex in society is to turn our backs on all the knowledge about man that the sociological and psychological sciences have given us. In suggesting that the sole purpose of sex is the perpetuation of the species, we reduce man to the level of the lower animals.
So intimately is sex interrelated with the rest of human experience that it is impossible to conceive of a society existing, as we know it, without benefit of the primal sex urge. Most certainly, if such a society did exist, it would be a very cold, totalitarian and barbarous one. The existence of two sexes, and their attraction for one another, must be considered the major civilizing influence in our world. As much as religion has done for the development and growth of society, sex has done more. The tendency in modern times to reduce the differences between the sexes and create the cultural illusion, if not the physical fact, of a single sex has grave implications for society and we shall explore them at length a bit later.
Stimulation and Sublimation
Religiously inspired sexual suppression is harmful to society: It is never desirable to have a significant gap between the professed principles of a society and its actions; as with an individual, any serious conflict between beliefs and behavior produces emotional instability. When it is a normal physical drive that is being rejected, the resulting trauma is apt to be more severe; when an entire nation attempts to deny a basic urge, the results can be catastrophic. Human sexual behavior remains relatively unchanged generation after generation, but man’s attitudes toward that behavior vary greatly.
As recently as 1959, in the preliminary report of the California State Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature, there appeared the following statement: “It is still the principle of our nation that premarital and extramarital sexual activity is an undesirable thing, and anything that incites or lures or glorifies premarital or extramarital activity is objectionable.”
On such a premise, the censor and the prude are free to do their dirtiest deeds—ban our books, suppress our speech and take from us any semblance of free choice in our most private affairs.
If the report of the California State Subcommittee is to be taken seriously, then the “pornographic literature,” with which they were concerned, is only one small and relatively insignificant aspect of their problem. If they really considered objectionable “anything that incites or lures” men and women into premarital and extramarital intercourse, they would have to face up to the banning of all tight or revealing clothing, bathing suits, romantic music, dancing, liquor, perfume, makeup and—if those ads from Mad Ave are to be believed—most every deodorant, mouthwash, toothpaste and hair oil on the market. And even after that, their job would not be done.
Kinsey has listed a seemingly endless number of sources of erotic stimulation reported in preadolescent boys, including such nonsexual stimuli as taking a shower, punishment, fast elevator rides, skiing, sitting in church, boxing and wrestling, swimming, anger, being late to school, seeing a policeman, being alone at night, looking over the edge of a building, big fires, marching soldiers, seeing name in print, running away from home, fear of a big boy, long flights of stairs, motion of a car or bus, receiving report card and hearing the national anthem.
Kinsey has commented that preadolescent boys are sexually aroused by “a whole array of emotional situations, whether they be sexual or nonsexual.” By his late teens the male has been so conditioned that he rarely responds erotically to anything except direct physical stimulation or to psychic situations that are for him specifically sexual; in the still older male even physical stimulation is rarely effective unless accompanied by the proper psychological atmosphere. The pattern is a continually contracting one in which a person responds initially to a wide variety of stimuli which then becomes more specific, through experience and conditioning, as he matures.
Kinsey stated: “For most males, whether single or married, there are ever-present erotic stimuli and sexual response is regular and high.”
If any group like the California State Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature ever hoped to eliminate those “objectionable” sources of stimulation that might serve to “incite or lure” the unwary into premarital and extramarital sexual activity, they would be doomed to failure before they began. For even if they could successfully eliminate every anticipated source of sexual arousal, the potent human sex drive would simply affix itself to some other psychological and/or physical stimuli. And the danger of attempting to eliminate the more direct heterosexual sources of stimulation in society is the obvious possibility that the sex urge will become conditioned to less socially desirable stimuli.
In The Playboy Panel on “Sex and Censorship in Literature and the Arts” (July 1961), Dr. Albert Ellis commented on the diversity of sexual stimuli thusly: “How can you ban desire? Some people go out on the street and look at a clothesline with drawers hanging on it and get aroused. Should we therefore censor clotheslines?”
Which reminded Publisher Barney Rosset, of Grove Press, of a book by the French new-wave author Robbe-Grillet, about a man who derives sexual stimulation from a piece of string. Rosset said: “He sees this piece of string throughout the book and concocts extremely erotic fantasies around it. He uses it in various ways; it might be a clothesline in one instance, and the next instance he is imagining tying a girl up with this piece of string. It gets down to almost anything being used as subject matter for erotic fantasy.”
Judge Thurman Arnold then warned about the danger of removing one source of sexual stimulation only to have it replaced by another more objectionable one: “Human beings can be trained like Pavlov’s dog, so that they are stimulated by sights and sounds completely unrelated to the things they desire. A strict standard of obscenity contributes to such unhealthy training. Taking the pin-up girls away from American soldiers would not make their minds more pure. It would only mean that they would be aroused by some less healthy or attractive substitute. At the turn of the century the old Police Gazette had a nationwide pornographic appeal. A dance called the cancan in which the chorus girls kicked up their legs covered with black stockings was wicked and highly stimulating. Today a person with an appetite for pornography would not pay ten cents to see either the magazine or the dance. This is how censorship makes material sexually stimulating which would not have any stimulation at all if that censorship did not exist. And that is why anything but the most tolerant standards creates an unhealthy psychology.”
The possibility of conditioning a person to less healthy erotic stimuli is especially pronounced in the preadolescent period and we think about this whenever anyone tells us, somewhat self-consciously, that he enjoys Playboy himself, but he doesn’t like to leave it around the house where his children might get hold of it and look at the pictures. We wonder just what sort of stimuli this parent would like his children to associate with sex instead of the beauty of the human body.
This attitude is prompted by this mistaken idea that the sex urge is only aroused by the more obvious erotic stimuli and that without them it would remain quiescent. But if a normal child is denied sexual stimulation by beautiful images he will be stimulated by ugly images; if a child is not stimulated by heterosexual sources, he will be stimulated by homosexual ones. And with any luck at all, the misguided parent will succeed in passing on his own feelings of guilt or shame to his offspring also.
A related misconception surrounds Freud’s theory of sublimation. A great many people assume that the basic sex urge itself can be “sublimated,” with the need for sexual fulfillment being redirected into other, more socially acceptable, activities. This is untrue. Dr. Theodor Reik has stressed that the primal sex drive, while easily satisfied, “is entirely incapable of being sublimated…. The satisfaction of this particular urge cannot be fulfilled by the substitution of another goal.”
Reik points out that it would make as much sense to try to convince us that other natural urges, like thirst or hunger, could be redirected into the accomplishment of cultural achievements, as to suggest that man’s basic sex drive would be put to such use. What can be used for cultural achievements is, rather, the energy of ego-drives, says Reik, of which love itself is one of the main ingredients, along with the need for social recognition, competitiveness, vanity and vainglory, its less popular relatives.
Before Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his associates of the Institute for Sex Research, at Indiana University, published their first two volumes, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), social scientists had at least a general knowledge of the extent of human sexual activity, but the public knew very little of the matter. There had been sex surveys published before, but never so extensive or so scientifically accurate. The first “Kinsey Report” hit the American people like a bombshell. Here was indisputable scientific evidence (though a great many tried to dispute it) that our entire society was living a lie. We were professing one set of standards and living quite another. In a moment, it became clear that all manner of sexual behavior previously considered abnormal by most was not only normal, but commonplace. Hidden guilts over secret sexual indiscretions were now relieved through the knowledge that much of the rest of the chastity-loving American public was practicing the same indiscretions quite wantonly, while preaching a completely different set of standards. We had come to grips, at last, with the true sexual nature of man.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male became an immediate best seller at $6.50 a copy and the small scientific-book publisher that had produced the hefty 820-page volume was unable to keep up with the demand. Every major magazine in America reprinted, paraphrased or commented on it. Ordinary people, on buses, in offices, and over cocktails, were discussing frequency of sexual outlet, premarital, extramarital and homosexual activity, using words like orgasm and masturbation that were previously seldom used in polite company and fellatio, cunnilingus and pederasty, with which they had not even been acquainted before.
In a moment, it became clear that our commonly accepted sexual mores were woefully unrealistic and our sex laws totally unrelated to the facts of human behavior. Quite reasonably, one might have expected this revelation to have precipitated a complete re-evaluation of our sex standards and a thorough overhauling of out absurd sex statutes. No such thing occurred.
There is always a time lag between the acquisition of knowledge and the social and personal changes which might be expected to ensue; where deep-seated traditional beliefs and ingrained behavior are involved, the cultural lag is considerably prolonged. To be sure, a sexual revolution is taking place in the U.S., but 15 years after the publication of Kinsey’s first book, we still suffer under much of the same social pressure and suppression as before.
What did Kinsey’s two volumes on American sexual behavior reveal? Eighty-five percent of the total male population had had premarital intercourse. With extramarital intercourse, Kinsey’s researchers found a greater tendency for cover-up or outright refusal to answer questions than in any other part of the study, especially among the older married males of better-than-average educational and social levels. Kinsey considered the social consequences attendant on the revelation of adultery to be the primary reason for the reluctance of many to contribute to his research and believed that this reservation also affected the statistics that were gathered, by perhaps as much as “10 to 20 percent.” He wrote: “…allowing for the cover-up that has been involved, it is probably sage to suggest that about half [50 percent] of all married males have intercourse with women other than their wives, at some time while they are married.”
Fifty-nine percent had had some heterosexual mouth-genital experience; 70 percent had had relations with prostitutes; 50 percent had had some homosexual contact and 37 percent had had homosexual contact to orgasm; 17 percent of all men raised on farms had had animal intercourse (the percentage of animal intercourse for the entire male population is much lower, because of the lack of opportunity for such contact among men raised in the city); 92 percent of the total male population had masturbated to orgasm and this figure jumped to 96 percent for male college graduates, when considered separately (Kinsey felt that if the tendency for cover-up were eliminated from the statistics, the percentage would have been closer to 98 for the total male population).
As to the sexual activities of American women, Kinsey and his staff found that 64 percent had “responded to orgasm” by one means or another prior to marriage. Forty-eight percent had had premarital intercourse; and among college graduates, this figure increased to 60 percent. Twenty-six percent admitted to extramarital intercourse; among college graduates, the number of wives who admitted to having intercourse with a man other than their husband, while married, was 29 percent. Forty-three percent had had heterosexual mouth-genital experience; when the better educated of the youngest generation included in the female sample were considered by themselves, the figure was 62 percent. Twenty-eight percent had had homosexual contact to orgasm. Twenty-eight percent of the female sample, with only a grade-school education, had masturbated to orgasm; 59 percent of the females with a high-school education had reached orgasm through masturbation; the percentage is 57 for those females who graduated from college and 63 percent for those with a postgraduate education.
Kinsey found that educational background had a marked effect upon the sex lives of both men and women, with the lower educated male being less inhibited about ordinary coitus than his upper educated brother (98 percent of the lower educated men had had premarital intercourse) and the upper educated female being much freer than her less educated sister; the better educated of both sexes proved less inhibited in all sex behavior other than ordinary coitus, however (including variety of positions, mouth-genital contact and homosexual experience).
A Nation of Hypocrites
If the vast majority of all American men and nearly half of all women engage in premarital intercourse and one half of the married males and one quarter of the females of extramarital intercourse, one might rightly wonder who the California State Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature had in mind, when they stated that Americans still find such activity objectionable. Who’s objecting? Or are we really such a nation of hypocrites that we take exception to such behavior for anyone else, while engaging in it ourselves? In many ways, it appears that we are just such a nation of hypocrites. The sexual activity that we pompously preach about and protest against in public, we enthusiastically practice in private. We lie to one another about sex; and many of us undoubtedly lie to ourselves about sex. But we cannot forever escape the reality that a sexually hypocritical society is an unhealthy society that produces more than its share of perversion, neurosis, psychosis, unsuccessful marriage, divorce and suicide.
Now we can accept the argument that it is some flaw in the nature of man, some weakness or devil in the flesh, that produces our sexual yearnings and behavior; we reject as totally without foundation the promise of the prude, who would have us believe that man would be healthier and happier if he were somehow able to curb these natural desires. Nor is it true, as some suggest, that those who indulge in early and frequent sexual experiences dull their capacity to enjoy and gain satisfaction from such experiences or invariably live to regret them.
Kinsey found that, contrary to popular prejudice, relatively few of the men and women in his study who had had premarital or extramarital intercourse reported regretting the experience. Nor is there any evidence that it harmed them. To the contrary, there is every indication that in most cases the experiences were beneficial. Kinsey reported that those who engaged in sexual experiences before marriage were more apt to indulge in extramarital activity after marriage, but he also found that premarital sex statistically increased a woman’s chances of getting married and of making a success of her marriage. Kinsey wrote, in his Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, “…premarital socio-sexual experience, whether in petting or in coitus, should contribute to [the] development of emotional capacities. In this, as in other areas, learning at an early age may be more effective than learning at any later age after marriage.” He also observed, “The record on our sample of married females shows that there was a marked, positive correlation between experience in orgasm obtained from premarital coitus and the capacity to reach orgasm after marriage.”
On the relationship of sex to a successful marriage, Kinsey wrote, “Sexual adjustments are not the only problems involved in marriage, and often they are not even the most important factors in marital adjustment…. Nevertheless, sexual maladjustments contribute in perhaps three quarters of the upper level marriages that end in separation or divorce, and in some smaller percentage of the lower level marriages that break up….” Kinsey found “considerable evidence” that sexual experience prior to marriage contributed “to the effectiveness of the sexual relations after marriage.”
The simple act of sex performed prior to marriage does not, per se, increase the chances of a successful marriage, of course. It is the attitudes that lead to the act that will determine how well a person adjusts both to sex and to marriage. There is a good deal more to sex than just the learned physical techniques (although the techniques themselves are largely underrated in our society and a majority of adults live out their lives with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the most vital of all human activities). Sex is often a profound emotional experience. No dearer, more intimate, more personal act is possible between two human beings. Sex is, at its best, an expression of love and adoration. But this is not to say that sex is, or should be, limited to love alone. Love and sex are certainly not synonymous, and while they may often be closely interrelated, the one is not necessarily dependent upon the other. Sex can be one of the most profound and rewarding elements in the adventure of living; if we recognize it as not necessarily limited to procreation, then we should also acknowledge openly that it is not necessarily limited to love either. Sex exists—with and without love—and in both forms it does far more good than harm. The attempts at its suppression, however, are almost universally harmful, both to the individual involved and to society as a whole.
This is not an endorsement of promiscuity or an argument favoring loveless sex—being a rather romantic fellow, ourself, we favor our sex mixed with emotion. But we recognize that sex without love exists; that it is not, in itself, evil; and that it may sometimes serve a definitely worthwhile end.
We are opposed to wholly selfish sex, but we are opposed to any human relationship that is entirely self-oriented—that takes all and gives nothing in return. We also believe that any such totally self-serving association is self-destructive. Only by remaining open, and vulnerable, can a person experience the full joy and satisfaction of human existence. That he must also, thereby, know some of the sorrow and pain of this world is without question, but that, too, is a part of the adventure of living. The alternative—closing oneself off from experience and sensation and knowledge—is to be only half alive. The ultimate invulnerability is death itself.
This is not at odds with what we have previously expressed about the need for a greater enlightened self-interest in society. Too many people today live out their entire existence in a group, of a group and for a group—never attempting to explore their own individuality, never discovering who or what they are, or might be. Searching out one’s own identity and purpose, taking real pleasure in being a person, establishing a basis for true self-respect—these are the essence of living.
We believe that life can be a greater pleasure if it is lived with some style and grace and comfort and beauty, but we do not believe that these are the all of it. It is possible to become so caught up in the trappings—both the form and the accoutrements of living—that the real satisfactions become lost. Each man—and woman—should try to know himself, as well as the world around him, and take real pride in that knowledge.
The do-gooder, the prude, the bigot and the censor have no such self-knowledge and their concern is continually with the affairs of others. A concentrated interest in the affairs of others may produce some worthwhile ends, but it can also be the basis for the meddlesome disruption of other people’s private lives. We have always been a little suspicious of those too aggressively concerned with the welfare of their fellow man. This is not to say that man should not be willing to aid those less fortunate than himself. He certainly should be—and that willingness to help the rest of humankind should know no boundaries of race, religion or country. But when you help a man, you also rob him of a measure of his self-reliance; if, however, you help him to help himself, you give him the means of establishing his own life in his own way. If we truly respect ourselves, it is impossible not to respect our fellow man as well—we must respect his individuality, the things that make him different from us, that set him apart and make him a person. One of the things that sets man above the lower animals is the distinctly individual nature of each of us; we should be as proud of these differences as we are of the similarities that make us all members of the family of man.
What we believe in, first and foremost, is the individual—and in his right to be an individual.
If a man has a right to find God in his own way, he has a right to go to the devil in his own way, also. It sometimes happens that the man most other men would agree is surely “going to the devil” has, instead, discovered a new truth that is leading him away from established thought and tradition to a better way that, in time, other men will understand and follow. The Bible singles out the meek and the poor in spirit for special blessings. We’d like to add one of our own: Blessed is the rebel—without him there would be no progress.
Religion’s Changing Morality
We do not want to suggest that all organized religion is guilty of being antisexual. There is a growing awareness of the true sexual nature of man within the more-liberal elements of both the Christian and Jewish religions. Our quarrel is not, therefore, with the whole of organized religion, but only with that part of it that continues to deny man’s sexual nature and pits man’s body, mind and soul against one another.
It is, paradoxically enough, the Protestant side of Christendom, originally responsible for Puritanism and the strongest advocate of prudery and antisexualism—that is now forming a new, more liberal religious view of sex. While the official Roman Catholic position still holds that the principal function of sex is procreation and that sex is not to be indulged in for pleasure alone (Beginning Your Marriage, a Catholic handbook, sums up the position of the Roman Church: “The reproductive processes have not been entrusted to man primarily for his pleasure, but rather for the continuation of the species…. Although the immediate result of sexual union is intensely pleasurable physical release and a sense of intimate unity, these are the accompanying effects of the act and not its primary purpose”), a great many members of the Protestant clergy now share the view expressed by fellow theologian Dr. Seward Hiltner, who believes that no conflict exists between the flesh and the spirit of man: Since man is a “whole or total being, sex is good if it serves the fulfillment of man as a total being.”
In an article titled “A 20th Century Philosophy of Sex,” Joseph Fletcher, teacher of social ethics at the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently wrote: “The Christian churches must shoulder much of the blame for the confusion, ignorance and unhealthy guilt associations which surround sex in Western culture…. The Christian church from its earliest, primitive beginnings has been swayed by many puritanical people, both Catholic and Protestant, who have treated sexuality as inherently evil.”
In The Bible and the World of Dr. Kinsey, William Graham Cole, professor of religion at Williams College, put it even more strongly: “There can be no quarrel with the secular world at this point. It is right and the church has been wrong. Sex is natural and good…. It is attitudes which are good and evil, never things…. Those who take the Bible seriously must stop apologizing for sex…they must begin with a concession to the secular mind, granting that sex is natural.
"In its efforts to prevent irresponsible procreation, Western civilization has used the device of what Freud called the walls of loathing, guilt and shame. On the whole this method of social control has worked reasonably well, but a price has been paid for its success—the price of sexual perversion, which is the product of fear and anxiety…. The method of moralism has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, partly because it moves in the wrong direction and partly because it has based its case on fear.”
In “Religion and Sex: A Changing Church View,” David Boroff wrote in the August 1961 issue of the now defunct Coronet, “Much of Protestantism no longer wishes to be identified with repression and Puritanism. ‘In fact,’ says Professor Roger Shinn, of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, ‘repression is a Christian heresy.’ …In this country, Puritanism…has been hostile to the expression of sexual feeling. But in recent years, Protestant theologians have re-examined these concepts. They now argue that Puritanism, when it insists that sex is evil, is actually a distortion of Christian doctrine. These thinkers have been influenced not only by recent Biblical scholarship, but also by the findings of psychiatry—especially the revelation of the psychic damage that may be done by sexual repression.”
England is undergoing a not-so-quiet sexual revolution of its own, as Time reported in its issue of March 22, 1963: “…the British are deeply concerned with their search for what some call ‘a new morality’ to fit the hushed-up facts of life. ‘The popular morality is now a wasteland,’ said Dr. George Morrison Carstairs, 46, professor of psychological medicine at Edinburgh University, in a recent BBC lecture. ‘It is littered with the debris of broken convictions. A new concept is emerging, of sexual relations as a source of pleasure, but also as a mutual encountering of personalities, in which each explores the other and at the same time discovers new depths in himself or herself.’
"In a violently controversial report,” reported Time, “a group of the Religious Society of Friends attacked the onus attached to ‘a great increase in adolescent sexual intimacy’ and premarital affairs. ‘It is fairly common in both young men and women with high standards of conduct and integrity to have one or two love affairs, involving intercourse, before they find the person they will ultimately marry.’ …This, concluded the report, is not such a sin. ‘Where there is genuine tenderness, an openness to responsibility and the seed of commitment, God is surely not shut out.’”
The same month, Associated Press carried a story, datelined London, which reported that a Church of England pastor challenged religious taboos against extramarital sex: “In a sermon delivered from the pulpit of Southwark Cathedral in London, Canon D.A. Rhymes declared the traditional moral code implied that sex is unavoidably tainted. ‘Yet there is no trace of this teaching in the attitude of Christ,’ he said. ‘He does not exalt virginity over marriage, or marriage over virginity—He merely says in one place that some have chosen virginity to leave them free for the work of the kingdom.
”'Nor does Christ ever suggest that sexuality, as such, is undesirable or that marriage is the only possible occasion of any expression of physical relationship.’
“…Canon Rhymes said the moral code of today is being ignored because it is outdated. ‘We need to replace the traditional morality based upon a code with a morality which is related to the person and the needs of the person….’” The pastor concluded that if we want to live full and healthful lives, “we must emphasize love,” not an inflexible, impersonal and unfeeling morality.
The Ostriches of Sex
In the face of such a tide of reason and research from psychologists, psychotherapists, sociologists, mental-health experts and enlightened theologians, the firing of Biology Professor Leo F. Koch from the University of Illinois, as discussed in our fifth editorial (The Playboy Philosophy, April 1963), seems all the more incredible. For Professor Koch was removed from the faculty of the university for expressing substantially the same ideas, in a letter printed in the student newspaper, that the English pastor stated in a sermon from his pulpit. If anything, the professor was somewhat more conservative in his views, noting that “there is no valid reason” why premarital sex should not be condoned “among those sufficiently mature to engage in it without social consequences and without violating their own codes of morality and ethics.” For this he was publicly vilified and fired.
The occurrence prompted Dr. Robert A. Harper, President-elect of the American Association of Marriage Counselors to issue this statement: “As a veteran family life educator, marriage counselor and writer and lecturer on premarital and marital topics, I should like to state flatly that the conventional moral code regarding premarital chastity does a great deal more harm than good in contemporary American society. This code not only leads some young people into firmly fixed pornographic attitudes and prudishly repressive sexual behavior (from which matrimonial ceremonies, alas, cannot free them), but it instills guilt feelings in countless other youth who proceed to violate the stupid premarital taboos.
"Fortunately, however, a growing number of young people have been able to perceive the false, superstitious basis of the outmoded sanctions against premarital coitus and are proceeding maturely, stably, wisely, and happily with wholesome and desirable premarital sexual relations which greatly aid them in their marital sexual adjustments….”
In an article in Esquire titled “Sex: The Quiet Revolution,” David Boroff stated: “Attitudes toward sex among those who grew up after World War II…are strikingly different from those of earlier generations. It can be summed up in this way: Sex is one of life’s principal goods. The degree of pleasure one derives from it is a measure of one’s self-realization. And since the old moral sanctions have lost much of their authority, there is far less reluctance about premarital sex. In fact, Dr. [Albert] Ellis reveals that when he lectures on sex before college students, there is almost invariably a wild cheer when he endorses premarital sex. Before World War II, to be a virgin was good; today, after a certain age, it is bad. The loss of chastity is no longer the fall from innocence; it is the fall upwards, so to speak, to maturity and self-fulfillment.
"Paul Goodman, the brilliant author of Growing Up Absurd, was recently asked his view of premarital sex by a college student. ‘In sex, anything you get pleasure from is good,’ he said peremptorily. ‘And that’s all there is to it.’”
But the ostriches remain. The Realist, Paul Krassner’s impudent periodical of parody and social commentary, honored psychologist James E. Bender as “Unrealist of the Month” for his comment: “Anything more intense than a goodnight kiss, which should be nothing more than a gentle brushing together of the lips, should be reserved until marriage or, at least, until there is a definite engagement.”
And advice columnist Ann Landers, counselor of millions, still honors and promotes what she calls “white-flower girls” (virgins). What is more, in a recent syndicated column, she agreed with a reader that chaste girls should insist on chaste men for husbands. That such chastity before marriage is likely to promote sexual incompatibility after marriage is apparently less important than upholding the sex standards passed down from previous centuries, noted for their superstition, repression and perversion.
A horrified mother wrote to Miss Landers, because she had read a letter addressed to her son from his girlfriend and learned that the pair had been sexually intimate: “I am so shocked at the contents of the letter,” said the mother, “that I’ve been half sick ever since I read it. Both my son and the girl are 19. They have been intimate on several occasions. I can’t understand how two young people who were reared in respectable, Christian homes could have gone over the line of moral decency.”
Ann offered no word of wisdom to the suffering mother that might suggest that it was not abnormal for a 19-year-old boy and his 19-year-old girl to be sexually intimate; that this experience might be expected to heighten their chances of marital happiness, whether with one another or someone else; and that a majority of both men and women have similar sex experiences before they marry. Miss Landers counseled: “He [the son] should be told in plain language that the dangerous game he’s playing can wreck the girl’s life—and his as well. Countless teenagers have paid a devastating price for premarital experimenting. And they all thought it couldn’t happen to them.”
Never mind the “devastating price” that such prudery extracts from our marriages—the frigidity, the heartbreak, the frustration and divorce—that’s another problem, perhaps to be answered in one of next year’s columns.
This letter and response remind us of a story in Life that we read many years ago, when we, ourself, were an impressionable teenager. It told about a hapless young couple, who were in love, and whose parents would have been as deeply shocked as Miss Landers' correspondent if they had known that their children were being sexually intimate. The girl became pregnant, but they were both afraid to face the parental wrath that would follow either an admission of what had happened or a hasty wedding. And so, being a pair of foolish romantics, they decided to kill themselves. The girl read passages from Romeo and Juliet aloud to her boyfriend on the day they chose to carry out the suicide pact. The boy shot and killed her—and then lost his nerve and called the police. Both sets of parents stood by the boy during the trial and he was acquitted; the parents blamed themselves, but it was too late to make any difference. How long, we wonder, will it take for us to learn the devastating toll that such prudery produces?
Ann Landers expresses a point of view toward sex and chastity that is still common in America—and the heartache and havoc that it causes are incalculable. In an informative little booklet titled Necking and Petting—and How Far to Go, Ann tells us: “Civilized people are expected to curb their ‘natural instincts.’… Teenagers should realize that their sexual attitudes have a direct bearing on other people. It is not just a ‘private’ affair…. Teenagers who get into trouble injure not only themselves but their families…. If necking is the evening’s entertainment, something to do instead of going bowling or going to the movies, it is WRONG…. the basic rules for necking [are] … All hands should be on deck and accounted for. Four feet should be on the floor at all times. Count ‘em.
"And now, what is petting? Petting is necking that has gone out of control. It is kissing and hugging, plus wandering hands, with one or both parties reclining, and getting altogether too comfortable for anyone’s good. Petting is the forerunner of going all the way. THIS can lead to heartbreak, pregnancy, disgrace and a sudden, unenthusiastic marriage at an early age.”
Is it any wonder America has spawned generations that are frigid, impotent and sexually maladjusted? Dr. Kinsey stated, in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female: “A great deal has been written about the damage that may be done by premarital sexual activities, and particularly by petting; but relatively little has been said about the psychologic disturbances and subsequent marital difficulties which may develop when there is such condemnation and constant belaboring of any type of behavior which has become so nearly universal, and which is as likely to remain as universal, as petting is among American females and males.”
The Reader’s Digest is the most widely read magazine in the English language; with a monthly circulation of some 15 million, it is far and away the most influential in the entire world. This is all the more true, because it is so highly regarded by America’s impressionable middle class and the magazine is given wide distribution in U.S. schools.
In the July 1962 issue, the Digest reprinted an article which they first published in 1937 titled “The Case for Chastity” by Margaret Culkin Banning. The article was reprinted, the Digest said, because of the large number of requests for it from readers. In a brief introduction, the editors stated: “The problem it discusses is as acute as it was 25 years ago, and the sound advice contained in the article is, if anything, more pertinent.”
We’ll restrain the temptation to comment on a magazine that apparently believes sex has stood still in America over the last 25 years, and that any article written on sex attitudes in 1937 is as “pertinent” today as it was then, but because the article itself has reached such a very large audience and because it is filled with what we consider to be a great number of inaccurate and illogical statements, we feel a rather extended response is in order. Dr. Roger W. Wescott, of the African Language and Area Center in East Lansing, Michigan, former Associate Professor of Social Science at Michigan State University and a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association, expressed a similar criticism of the article in a recent issue of The Realist and we’ll refer to his comment at some points along the way.
In her opening paragraph, Miss Banning takes exception to “the frequent denial that any moral issue is involved in sex conduct.” But the sexually liberal deny no such thing. They argue, rather, that chastity is just another word for repression; that repression is harmful; that anyone who knowingly inflicts harm on another—including himself—is cruel; and that cruelty is immoral. In other words, as Dr. Wescott expresses it, “What the sexual liberals advocate is not the abolition of sexual standards, but the substitution of humane and reasonable standards for inhumane and unreasonable ones.”
Miss Banning next deplores the fact that young people “make up their minds with insufficient knowledge” about sex. This statement is misleading, in that it implies that those holding to the more traditional ideas about sex generally have more knowledge on the subject than do the sexually liberal and that they are more willing to impart this knowledge to the younger generation. Just the opposite is the case. This is, in fact, one of the major issues between the sexual liberals and traditionalists—with the liberals favoring more sex education for the young and the traditionalists generally opposing it. And as Dr. Wescott observes, “What little sexual education the traditionalists do dispense—whether it be formal or informal—is usually calculated more to intimidate than inform the young.”
Miss Banning then states, “We must remember that unchastity, common though it may be, is not the norm.” Since Kinsey found that upward of 85 percent of the male and 60 percent of the female population have premarital intercourse, we wonder what this writer means by “norm.”
In place of sex, Miss Banning suggests such “wholesome social activities” as “study, sports and domestic tasks,” implying, of course, that sexual activity is not “wholesome.” This suggests that the basic sex drive can be sublimated into more “worthwhile,” socially acceptable activities—a point of view that, as we commented earlier, Dr. Theodor Reik has taken great pains to label fallacious. Dr. Wescott comments: “…insofar as 'wholesome’ means ‘healthy,’ there is something paradoxical about the inference [that sexual activity is not wholesome]. For most psychologists and physiologists would define a healthy capacity or organ as one which has full and free scope for the exercise of its appropriate function. Miss Banning would presumably not deny that it is, before all else, walking which keeps the legs healthy. Yet she denies the implicit corollary that sexual inactivity can hardly lead to sexual health.”
Miss Banning next claims that the sexually liberal are too “casual” about sex and announces: “But it is revealing that no reputable physician is equally casual. No psychologist who has seriously investigated the problems of sexual relations outside of marriage treats them as trivial.” She thus suggests that the bulk of knowledgeable scientific opinion is on her side in this matter, when precisely the opposite is the case. And if, by “casual,” she means that the sexually liberal wish to see people less nervous and more relaxed about sex, she is certainly correct in that and most knowing psychologists certainly favor such a “casual” attitude.
And then, as we might expect, Miss Banning reaches down into her bag of tricks and produces that old scare pair—venereal disease and abortion. (Which rather confirms Dr. Wescott’s earlier comment about traditional sex instruction being intended more to frighten than enlighten.) As Dr. Wescott points out, Margaret Banning neglects to mention that venereal disease and abortion are equally real dangers within marriage as without (over half of all illegal abortions are performed on married women) and thus hardly valid arguments against a lack of chastity outside marriage any more than inside of it. The only real answer to venereal disease is, of course, not chastity, but a greater public awareness about the diseases (since both syphilis and gonorrhea are easily recognized and cured—which was not true in 1937)—and we must again remind ourselves that it is the sexual traditionalists, for whom Miss Banning speaks, who traditionally thwart attempts at broader sex education.
Abortion, the second specter revealed to our already presumably cowering youth by the lovable Miss Banning, with its potential aftermath of trauma, sterility or death, is again no argument against extramarital sex, but what Dr. Wescott calls an “indictment of a heartless and joyless social justice system.” For it is the illegality of abortion that forces it to be performed under circumstances that are often less than ideal and sometimes dangerous.
Miss Banning also condemns petting (Can she be a distant relative of Miss Landers?) on the grounds that “Early and casual sex experience often inhibits and spoils mature experience….” and, because it “is apt to create habits which…unsuit a girl emotionally for marriage.” (“The dean of a women’s college” is the source of this second psychophysical observation.) The writer is too delicate to specify what these evil “habits” might be, but the reader can only infer that they are the techniques for achieving orgasm. And with this reasoning, of course, we are taken out of the 20th century altogether and implicitly urged to revert to the Victorian view that women should regard sexual activity, not as their natural and joyously fulfilling birthright, but only as an unavoidable duty. Miss Banning’s statements regarding the harm in petting, whether before or after marriage, are wholly false—though it is certainly preferable to continue such intimacy through to coitus.
Miss Banning then warns against the influence of drinking (we had a feeling she would): “Alcohol inflames the senses, is an acknowledged aphrodisiac….” In this, of course, the dear lady is scientifically incorrect. Alcohol, as Dr. Wescott explains, is an intoxicant, not an aphrodisiac (Dr. Wescott adds: “In the strict sense of the word, no aphrodisiac has yet been discovered”) and is incapable of inflaming the senses. What it does do, the doctor goes on to explain, is dull the inhibitions and “permit more natural impulses to express themselves. There being few impulses more natural than the erotic, it is hardly surprising that alcohol therefore appears to sex-negators magically to magnify the sex urge.”
Miss Banning next comments that a girl may carry “into early sexual experience a sense of sin,” ignoring the obvious fact that it is those who would repress the natural sex urge who are responsible for promoting this notion of “sin”; and then: “The effect of unchastity on the nervous system is also serious.” Exactly the opposite is the case in those fortunate enough to be free from the stultifying, unnatural taboos which imbue the young with sensations of guilt and fear concerning the expression of their natural impulses.
Miss Banning then wags a warning finger at young lovers with the admonition that the circumstances surrounding premarital sex are almost always secretive, ill-housed and uncomfortable. “Think,” she says, “of the motels, the cheap hotels, the back seats of cars as an environment for ‘love.’ Hurried, watchful, fearful….” Once again her observation amounts to an indictment of a society too uncharitable to grant proper privacy, comfort and understanding to its youth.
“The promiscuous woman is usually in doubt of her attractiveness,” writes Miss Banning (who we are obliged to assume is chaste, but who we simply cannot picture as being very attractive), “and is seeking reassurance by repeated and varied experience with men. The fact of inferiority is also true of promiscuous men, who in such ways prove a virility which they secretly doubt…. Promiscuity makes people lose the greatest experience in life—love.”
As Dr. Wescott points out, this statement is difficult to discuss until we know what is meant by all the terms in it, especially “promiscuity” and “love.” “If ‘promiscuity’ is defined as ‘wholly indiscriminate mating,’” notes the doctor, “we can safely dismiss it as a pseudo-problem, since even [lower] animals show at least minimal discretion in mating. If, on the other hand, it is simply a slur-word for extramarital love, we may dismiss it as an antinom