Never mind that the contemporary psychiatrist knows, and will gladly tell any who care to listen, that books, and pictures, and pamphlets and papers that deal openly and honestly with sex have little or no effect upon human behavior and whatever effect they do have is healthful, rather than injurious, to society; never mind that the science of psychiatry has revealed that it is the repression of the natural sex instinct, and the association of sex with guilt and shame, that cause the hurt to humankind—producing frigidity, impotence, masochism, sadism, homosexuality and all manner of sexual perversions, social and psychological ills, neuroses and psychoses; never mind that all of history documents the utter impossibility of curbing the normal sex drive, of keeping the male and female free from this sin on the flesh; never mind that modern research into sex behavior has revealed that America's own Puritan attempts at sexual suppression have failed to halt or seriously hinder the "immoral" sex conduct on the majority of our adult population and resulted in nought but frustration, aberration, agony and heartache; never mind that any effort to regulate or control the private sexual morality of the adult citizens of the United States is contrary to the principle of individual freedom that is the very foundation of our democracy, and is in conflict with the most basic guarantees of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Never mind—for such arguments are based upon reason. And there is nothing reasoned or rational about our society's attitude toward sex. It is based, instead, upon irrational conglomeration of prejudice, superstition, fear, faith, mysticism and marlarkey.
Sex, Religion and the State
The contemporary Judaeo-Christian concept of sexual morality stems—as we have indicated in some detail in the previous issues (The Playboy Philosophy, August and September, 1963)—less from original Judaic law or the teaching of Christ than from the extreme antisexualism of the medieval Church, which viewed all sex, both in and out of marriage, and even marriage itself, with extreme distaste; and Calvinist Puritanism, which extended the antagonism toward sexual pleasure to include all pleasure in general.
Both the medieval Church and Calvin's Puritanism ruled their respective European societies with an iron hand, through the ecclesiastical courts and control over the secular governments as well; both demanded obedience of church law—both tortured, imprisoned and executed heretics.
The Church of the Middle Ages established penitential laws regulating every aspect of sexual life, including not only fornication and adultery, but masturbation and even involuntary nocturnal emissions; the Church also decreed the days of the week and the weeks of the year in which it was permissible for the market to indulge in coitus, as well as delineating the sexual techniques to be used between man and wife in order to remain free from sin; the sexual act was permissible within marriage only and for the single purpose of begetting children—the pleasures of sex were supposed to be kept to a minimum by the pious and it was the pleasure attendant with the act, even more than the act itself, that was thought to be sinful; women were held in extremely low esteem and a number of religious leaders of the period denounced them as the principle source of sin and the cause of mark fell from the grace of God (it was in this time that the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was given its sexual interpretation, with Eve cast in the role of the temptress—although Christian authorities of every denomination agree that the "Original Sin" was pride, and there is no evidence in either the Bible or in any respected theological interpretation of the Scriptures to justify the idea, still held by many, that the sin was sexual).
John Calvin and his Puritan followers accepted sex within marriage as essentially good and opposed the celibacy of the priesthood, but Calvin warned against any "indelicacy" in sexual relations and exhorted the married to "restrain themselves from all immodest lasciviousness and impropriety."
He considered it an "inexcusable effrontery" for a wife to touch that part of her husband's body "from the sight and touch of which all chaste women naturally recoil." Puritanism was an essentially joyless religion—in sex and in all other aspects of daily life. And sex outside the bonds of marriage was damned as the worst of all possible sins. William Graham Cole, Ph.D. and noted member of the ministry of the Presbyterian Church, previously assistant professor of religion of Smith College and presently President of Lake Forest (Illinois) College, states in his book, Sex in Christianity and Psychoanalysis, "Calvin...could not believe that God would under any circumstances fail to vent His anger against fornication, and he extended the sense of the Seventh Commandment to cover that as well as the other forms of sexual vice....
"Sodomy Calvin regarded as a particularly heinous crime, since not even the beasts, he said [quite incorrectly], are guilty of such a perversion of nature. Calvin had clearly no experience with the sexual behavior of animals. Bestiality, sexual relations with a member of another species, is another sin repugnant to the modesty of nature itself, and the law very properly [in Calvin's view] prescribes the death penalty...." Dr. Cole states that Calvin also "spoke with approval of the severe punishment meted out by Hebrew Law [for] sexual intercourse during menstruation.
The person was punished by exile, and Calvin felt the punishment fit the crime, for he regarded any guilty of this as downright degenerate...." In Geneva, Calvin attempted, unsuccessfully, to impose the death penalty for adultery, but later, in England, under Puritan rule, adultery was made a capital offense punishable by hanging, and some citizens actually were hung for the crime.
It is not our intention to dwell upon the irrational aspects of such religious doctrine; in a free society, each religion should be free to teach whatever it pleases, rational or not, and each individual free to either accept or reject the belief. What concerns us here is the extent to which this antisexualism has been projected into secular society and has even found its way into the laws that govern our land.
In the last installment of this editorial series we examined the extent to which religious beliefs on sex are reflected in our laws governing marriage and divorce. Marriage, in our society, is a church-state license to engage in sex and almost all sexual activity outside of marriage is prohibited by statutes on fornication, adultery and cohabitation in most of the 50 states.
We oppose these laws—not as an endorsement of either premarital or extramarital sex—but in the firm belief that such personal conduct should be left to the private determination of the individual and is not rightly the business of government in our democracy. This belief is shared by a great many legal and religious leaders in America, who have been among the most outspoken in the current criticism of our archaic sex statutes.
The legal view was expressed by the American Law Institute, when it authorized a Model Penal Code for sex in 1955 recommending that all consensual relations between adults in private should be excluded from the criminal law, since "no harm to the secular interests of the community is involved in atypical sex practice in private between consenting adult partners and there is a fundamental question of the protection to which every individual is entitled against state interference in his personal affairs when he is not hurting others."
The religious view is expressed by Father James Jones of the Episcopal Church, who has observed that when personal sexual behavior is governed by the state, it is less likely to effectively change the behavior than to make it hidden or secretive, thereby making more difficult the task of religion in dealing with the moral issues involved.
The religious view is confirmed by the facts: Although 37 of the 50 states have laws against fornication and 45 have statutes prohibiting adultery, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and associates, in their monumental study of U.S. sex behavior, published in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, found that the majority of adult men and women in America admitted to having sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Kinsey's studies established that the sexual experience of adult Americans varies widely—depending upon social and educational background, with 67 percent of the males with some college education, 84 percent of those who attended high school but did not go on to college, and 98 percent of men with only a grade-school education, having engaged in premarital sexual intercourse; approximately 50 percent of all females have coitus prior to marriage and, unlike the statistics for males, this figure increases for women of higher education, with some 60 percent of the females with a college education having had intercourse before marriage.
Although both the social taboos and the statutes are far stricter regarding adultery. Kinsey estimates—taking into account the high degree of cover-up he found among men in this portion of his study—approximately 50 percent of all married males have sexual intercourse with women other than their wives at some time during their marriage. In Kinsey's study of U.S. females, 26 percent of all married women admitted having engaged in extramarital intercourse; the females with a higher educational background showed a slightly higher incidence, with 29 percent of the wives with some college education admitting to extramarital sex. Here again, as with the married males, Kinsey found a considerable hesitancy on the part of the wives to divulge the facts related to marital infidelity—a problem not experienced by the researchers in those portions of the survey dealing with premarital sex, suggesting that the true percentages for extramarital sex among women are somewhat higher.
Using only the minimal estimates supplied by Kinsey and his staff, however, it is safe to say that one out of every two U.S. husbands, and something more than one out of every four wives, will engage in extramarital intercourse at some time during their marriages; in addition, nearly all of the males and one half of the females have premarital intercourse. Quite obviously the U.S. laws prohibiting fornication and adultery are having little effect upon the behavior of a sizable portion of our society.