New scientific insights regarding the sexual nature of man have considerably altered society's views on this subject in recent years. What was once considered "unnatural" is now recognized as perfectly normal and, in many instances, desirable, since such noncoital techniques can add appreciably to the pleasure and satisfaction gained by both partners in the sexual act.
Most modern marriage manuals and experts in the field of sex education endorse a natural freedom in the love play that accompanies coitus; they indicate that the intimate preliminaries that precede the actual act of intercourse can be extremely important to the success of the coitus itself; they conclude that no intimacy that brings pleasure to both partners in the relationship should be considered improper or taboo.
This quote from Sexual Harmony in Marriage by Dr. Oliver M. Butterfield is typical: "Any position is proper which permits full satisfaction for both parties. All parts of the body are proper for use if they can be made to contribute to the general goal without giving offense to the taste or feelings of either partner, and if neither partner is harmed thereby."
D. Stanley Jones states, in a volume published by Medical Press: "Many of the variants of conventional sexual technique which were formerly regarded as perversions are now acknowledged as playing a legitimate part in the fore-pleasure that leads up to happily consummated intercourse.... It is now recognized that any form of body manipulation which can be used as an adjunct to mutual sex orgasm may in no way be regarded as a perverse or unnatural addiction."
Dr. Albert Ellis writes, in an article published in Marriage and Family Living: "The only true sexual 'perversion' is a fetish or rigidity which convinces an individual that he or she can only have satisfactory sex relations in one method or position. The great majority of sexual 'perverts' in this country are not sadists, homosexuals, exhibitionists or similar deviates, but 'normal' married individuals who only enjoy one method of coitus...because they are afraid or ashamed to try the dozens of other sexual variations that are easily available to them."
The attitude of most organized religion has also changed in this regard. A majority of the contemporary Protestant and Jewish clergy who offer guidance in this area expound the same enlightened viewpoint on the naturalness of noncoital sex as do the secular experts. The Catholic Church holds a similar view, restricted only by the dictum that the natural end of the sexual association must always remain coitus, and thus procreation.
But in offering such sound advice, the marriage counselors, educators, scientists and clergy are actually inviting their fellow citizens to commit criminal acts in their bedrooms—acts that are prohibited by law almost everywhere in America, with lengthy prison sentences prescribed for the guilty.
Almost all the U.S. sex laws are woefully unrelated to the realities of contemporary society, but the disparity is nowhere more evident than in legislation designed to suppress "unnatural" sex behavior.
Until quite recently, every state in the Union had a sodomy law and/or similar legislation on "perversion" and "crimes against nature." In 1961, in a moment of rare sexual enlightenment for a U.S. legislative body, the lawmakers of Illinois repealed their statute on sodomy, which was typical of those described in this editorial, including the usual prohibitions against unnatural acts with man or beast. As of this writing, none of the legislatures of the other 49 states has seen fit to follow in Illinois' lead. Nor is the current Illinois position as rational or permissive as this particular legislative action suggests. For the lawmakers repealed the state's sodomy statute, but left standing those for fornication and adultery. This puts Illinois in the interesting position of being more tolerant of homosexual than heterosexual sex; of permitting "unnatural" acts between partners of the same or opposite sex, while prohibiting acts of "natural" intercourse. (See letter of comment on this matter from Charles H. Bowman, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, who was Chairman of the Drafting Sub-committee of the Joint Committee to Revise the Illinois Criminal Code, in The Playboy Forum in this issue.)
Ploscowe writes, "While it would appear that there is a definite softening of the legislative attitude toward the crime of sodomy in certain jurisdictions, there is no uniform profile of improvement or progress in this area. Here and there, retrogression in the form of increasingly severe penalties may be observed.
"Formerly, sodomy in Arkansas was punishable by a minimum prison term of five years. But in 1955, owing to the fact that juries for a long time had evidently displayed reluctance to condemn defendants to five years' imprisonment for the crime, the Arkansas legislature reduced the minimum penalty to one year. [In five states the minimum sentence is still five years and in one it is seven.]
"In a counter direction, just a few years earlier, Arizona, which previously had on the books a one-to-five-year range of prison penalties for sodomy, in 1951 increased the limits to five to twenty years.
"The severity of the penalties against sodomy and crimes against nature in so many jurisdictions indicates that the law has lost little of the abhorrence for aberrant sex behavior expressed by the early text writers [i.e., Blackstone, quoted earlier]. It is even more clearly revealed in the laws of states like Wyoming and Indiana. These states punish a completed act of sexual intercourse between a man and a girl under 21 as fornication, with imprisonment of three months and six months respectively. The masturbation of such a girl in those states would be sodomy, punishable by maximum imprisonments of five years and fourteen years respectively."
Prosecution of Homosexuality
All of the methods of sexual gratification that are commonly employed in a homosexual relationship are prohibited under our sodomy laws; and the statutes are more frequently enforced against homosexual than heterosexual partners. What is less commonly recognized is that almost all of the prosecutions for homosexual behavior are against male, although acts of female homosexuality (lesbianism) are quite common.
Kinsey states, "Our search through the several hundred sodomy opinions which have been reported in this country between 1696 and 1952 have failed to reveal a single case sustaining the conviction of a female for homosexual activity. Our examination of the records of all the females admitted to the Indiana Women's Prison between 1874 and 1944 indicates that only one was sentenced for homosexual activity, and that was for activity which had taken place within the walls of another institution. Even in such a large city as New York, the records covering the years 1930 to 1939 show only one case of a woman convicted of homosexual sodomy, while there were over 700 convictions of males on homosexual charges, and several thousand cases of males prosecuted for public indecency, or for solicitation, or for other activity which was homosexual. In our own more recent study of the enforcement of sex law in New York City we find three arrests of females on homosexual charges in the last ten years, but all of those cases were dismissed, although there were some tens of thousands of arrests and convictions of males charged with homosexual activity in that same period time."
Several of the state statutes on sodomy do not apply to female homosexuality, including those of Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Wisconsin. A footnote to the Georgia statute states: "Crime of sodomy as defined in this section cannot be accomplished between two women; hence person convicted in indictment charging her with sodomy, both participants in act being alleged to be females, will be discharged on habeas corpus on ground that she is being illegally restrained of her liberty, in that indictment on which she was convicted was null and void."
Heterosexual cunnilingus (mouth-genital act performed upon the female) has been held not to be "the crime against nature" by the courts in Illinois (prior to repeal of Illinois' sodomy statute), Mississippi and Ohio, and the decisions would presumably apply to homosexual cunnilingus as well. There is also some doubt as to whether the laws in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska would apply to female homosexuality. In those states in which sodomy includes fellatio, but not cunnilingus, a heterosexual act of oral-genital intercourse performed by a female upon another female is not.
The legal leniency shown female homosexual behavior is consistent with the traditional religious attitude on the subject. The ancient Hittite code condemned only male homosexuality, and that only under certain circumstances, and made no mention of homosexual activity among females. Similarly, the references to homosexual activity in the Bible and in the Talmud apply primarily to the male. The condemnations were severe and usually called for the death of the transgressing male, but they rarely mentioned female activity, and when they did, no severe penalties were proposed. In medieval European history there are abundant records of death imposed upon men for sexual activities with other men, but very few recorded cases of similar action against women.
This inconsistency in attitude toward male and female homosexuality is probably a result of the differing social and legal status of the sexes in the past. Being socially less important than males, the private activities of females were more or less ignored, except where another man was involved. (We have previously commented upon the manner in which our modern prohibitions against adultery grew out of the early concept of women being the property of men; thus to use another man's wife sexually was a crime against property; the moral significance was not added until later.)
The prosecution of male homosexuality in the United States is not declining; if anything, it is on the increase. Ploscowe notes, for example, that during the ten years from 1930 to 1940, the New York City Police Department reported a total of 1396 arrests for sodomy, or an average of only 139.6 per year; during the eight-year period from 1950 through 1957 (the last year in which sodomy statistics were listed separately), a total of 2637 arrests were listed, an average of 329.6 per year. The great majority of these arrests were for homosexual acts, and these figures do not include the many thousands of additional arrests for homosexual behavior on other than sodomy charges.